MEMS industry recovers from Japanese trauma

Although the Japanese earthquake and tsunami were successful in damaging supply chains and some technology components, the global microelectromechanical system (MEMS) industry has dusted itself off and kick started again.  

However, according to IHS iSuppli it got off relatively easily in the first place, with problems only with demand and not on supply. It added that in fact manufacturers of finished electronic products had “been more severely impacted than the component suppliers.”

For those not in the know, MEMS devices are found in gadgets and electricals such as smartphones and tablets.  They can also be used in automotive, medical and aerospace sectors.

Nine of the top 50 MEMS manufacturers are Japanese, with companies in this region selling around $1.38 billion worth of MEMS products last year. To put this into perspective this number was around 21.3 percent of the global market. Japanese firms Canon, Panasonic, Epson and Denso all rank among the Top 20 in the global MEMS space.

And it doesn’t end there with IHS iSuppli claiming that around 32.5 percent of MEMS sensors and actuators in value were processed—either partly or entirely—in Japanese facilities in 2010. This in turn led to high revenues for these companies.

However, it’s not just Japanese companies making parts in the country, with other firms including  Freescale Semiconductor, Knowles Electronics, Goodrich Corp. and Texas Instruments all setting up shop here too. If the effects of the quake had hit MEMS then of course these would have been affected.

Thankfully the damage was not as severe as initially feared due to geography and the fact that most MEMS fabs and foundries are located in southern Honshu, away from the disaster-devastated northern section of the island.

Unlike many industries which had kept their supply tight, those in the MEMS industry had  been “employing multiple fabrication plants for manufacturing before the quake and tsunami occurred, reducing the impact of supply disruptions caused by damage to a specific factory.”

That said, not everyone came off unscathed with three of the 22 most important fabs claimed to have had “sustained direct damage.”

IHS iSuppli research found that although 19 fabs potentially could be affected by the same logistical and power issues impacting all Japanese industries in the calamity’s aftermath, only three belonging to Freescale, Canon and Texas Instruments were hurt.

Freescale as a result has decided to close its 150-millimeter (mm) fab in Sendai, near the quake’s epicentre, and focus efforts on accelerating the transfer of MEMS production to its 200-mm Oak III fab in Texas. Canon, which makes printers and MEMS print heads in the city of Fukushima, site of the nuclear meltdown, also stopped production “after significant damage to the company’s plant”. However, it managed to repair the damage very quickly, with the plant completely operational again by the first week of April.

Texas Instruments’ Miho fab northeast of Tokyo  is also said to be up and running properly by the middle of  July following repairs on brickwork, water and electricity.