Analyst: No apparent fab damage from Japan quake

March 27, 2007 – A 6.9-magnitude earthquake that struck offshore northwestern Japan on March 25 likely has had negligible impact on Japan’s semiconductor production, with no reports of problems from the only major chipmaker with a presence in the immediate area, according to analyst firm Objective Analyis.

Sketching out a map of Japan’s fab sites (see image below), the firm noted that only Matsushita has wafer fabs within proximity of the quake’s epicenter (most of Japan’s wafer fabs are on the southern or eastern side of Honshu), and the company has made no statement or released a press release about any impact to operations at the quake, “leading us to suspect that damage, if there is any, must be light,” the analyst firm said in a statement.

(EDIT 3/30: In fact production lines at Toshiba Matsushita Display Technology’s Ishikawa plant were temporarily halted, with no casualties or apparent damage to the facility — though the lines were still suspended a day later and the company would not speculate on their restart, noted Nikkei Electronics. And discretes/logic LSI maker Kaga Toshiba Electronics Corp. also stopped lines, but resumed them a day later with “little impact on our production schedule,” the media outlet reported.)

Strong earthquakes can cause physical damage to a semiconductor facility’s infrastructure, but even small vibrations from a quake can disrupt manufacturing lines. Most fabs are designed with features such as floating floors to isolate equipment from external vibrations, the firm noted.

Loss of power during a quake is also a concern, because wafers in the middle of high-temperature processing may have to be scrapped. After 20-30mins of no power, more downtime would be required to bring furnaces up to stable temperatures, the firm noted.

Even the slightest impact from vibrations or power interruptions can affect manufacturing processes or breach the cleanroom environment, requiring recalibration and days or even weeks of downtime to test the lines until deemed stable again.

A major quake in Oct. 2004 severely damaged Sanyo Electric Co.’s facility in Ojiya, Niigata Prefecture, causing the company to move production at its Gunma and Gifu semiconductor plants for several months, and putting a major dent in the company’s profitability for that fiscal year.

A quake in Taiwan in December wreaked havoc with the island’s telecommunications systems but had little impact on semiconductor operations.

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