Japanese Parts Paralysis: And Now, The Great Chip Famine
Automakers in Japan are slowly crawling back to normal. However, they are in for another after shock, and this one could be quite serious: Yasushi Akao, President of chipmaker Renesas said today that supplies of microcontrollers from his company will be in serious trouble come June. According to The Nikkei [sub], “stocks are expected to run out next month as operations at the firm’s Naka plant in Ibaraki Prefecture have been suspended since the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11.” Renesas microcontrollers are the chips of choice of many car companies who use them in their on-board electronics. Toyota is known to be a large customer of Renesas.
Why the shortage with a 3 months delay after the earthquake? As reported earlier, chips take months to “grow.” The Naka fab of Renesas accounts for about 25 percent of its global automotive microcontroller capacity. It had been closed after the earthquake. Naka is what’s called a “front-end line” fab, which does the early steps of IC production. The fab is scheduled to re-open in June.
But: Chips started from scratch in June will ship sometime in August – if left unimpeded by power outages. The supply that runs out in June is mostly from production that had been started before the quake. There will be a dry season for chips through early fall.
As previously announced, Renesas will ration the chips, or make that, “supply microcontrollers to its customers based on historical business ties,” as Akao put it.