A shortage of parts and materials is forcing Sony to reduce or suspend production at five additional plants in Japan.

Japan disaster plays havoc with global supply of parts and products

Electronic companies and manufacturers in Japan are reporting further closures and delays in restarting after the Japan quake.

Global electronics and autos companies have been hardest hit by the turmoil, but in an illustration of how the ripples are spreading, global miner Rio Tinto warned the disruptions posed a threat to its expansion plans.

More than 10 days after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and 10-metre tsunami struck the northeast of Japan, manufacturers are struggling to get back up to speed as factories grapple with power cuts, crippled infrastructure and a shortage of parts.

Such is Japan's position in the global supply chain that companies from Apple to General Motors and Nokia are feeling the impact.

Toyota, the world's largest automaker, said all 12 Japanese assembly plants would remain closed until at least Saturday and it was not sure when they would reopen. Production lost between March 14 to 26 would be about 140,000 units. Toyota had hoped to have resumed assembly on Tuesday.

Electronics giant Sony said five more of its plants, mostly in central and southern Japan, were hit by parts shortages stemming from the disaster and would close or reduce output until the end of the month.

“If the shortage of parts and materials supplied to these plants continues, we will consider necessary measures, including a temporary shift of production overseas,” the maker of PlayStation games consoles said in a statement.

The plants make products such as digital and video cameras, televisions and microphones, Sony said.

A sixth plant in Chiba, north of Tokyo, was set to resume production, but it could be interrupted by rolling blackouts that are affecting some areas supplied by Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant.

Including two factories only partially restarted last week, 15 of Sony's 25 Japanese plants are currently affected. It has a total of 54 plants worldwide.

Japan's grip on the global electronics supply chain is causing particular concern. It produces around a fifth of the world's computer chips and exported 7.2 trillion yen worth of electronic parts last year, research from Mirae Asset Securities shows.

“There are a huge number of little bits of the high-tech food chain which are done nowhere but in Japan,” said Sam Perry, senior investment manager, of Pictet Japanese Equity Selection Fund. “Nobody else has the quality or the consistency, and in some cases the technology, to do it.”

Japan dominates with the supply of LCD film and sealants for semiconductors, among other areas, Perry added. “You simply can't do high-tech without Japan.”

Fujifilm Holdings, the largest producer of triacetyl cellulose film used in making LCD panels, said its main factories are all west of Tokyo and were not directly affected. It has other facilities in northeast Japan, but said any disruptions were unlikely to damage its earnings.

Konica Minolta, the second-largest maker of the LCD film, said its three factories in the Tokyo region had been affected by the rolling power cuts. Company officials declined to specify what these factories produce.

Camera and copier maker Canon, which has suspended all its domestic camera production until at least Thursday, said a lack of gasoline was affecting distribution and stopping staff getting to work in areas such as the island of Kyushu, where train services are minimal.

Nikon, which makes cameras and precision equipment, said it expects to resume production at all its north Japan plants by the end of March, but warned power cuts and shortages of parts could make a return to full production difficult.

Renesas Electronics Corp, the world's No.5 chipmaker, restarted operations on Saturday at a semiconductor plant in Yamagata prefecture, in northwest Japan, a company spokeswoman said - leaving output suspended at six of the firm's 22 factories in Japan.

Rio Tinto, the world's No.2 iron ore miner behind Brazil's Vale , is worried the disaster will disrupt supplies of mining equipment, tyres and parts, which could set back some of its expansion plans.

“The impact of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami have been many and diverse, and they affect us,” Rio's head of iron ore Sam Walsh said.

“Some steel mills have suspended operations and suppliers of heavy equipment, such as Hitachi, have been impacted,” he said.

Hitachi Construction, Japan's No.2 maker of earthmoving equipment, said five plants in Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo, closed after the quake. Three have partially reopened, but there is no timetable for re-opening the others.

Tsunami damage to the nearest port means Hitachi is shipping some products from Yokohama, near Tokyo.

Car makers are also struggling to get production lines restarted.

On top of Toyota's delays, Honda was also extending its production suspension until Sunday from Thursday. A fifth of Honda's leading Japan-based suppliers affected by the earthquake have said it will take “more than a week” to recover, Honda said.

In a sign of some return to normality, Japan's top three steelmakers reported some progress in restoring production.

Nippon Steel Corp said output at the three blast furnaces at its mainstay plant in eastern Japan had recovered to pre-quake levels, while JFE Steel Corp said two blast furnaces at its 10 million tonnes-a-year plant near Tokyo were now operating normally.

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