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Japan quake affects Sony's, Toshiba's supply of cellphone camera sensors

April 14, 2011 |  9:16 am


Japan's massive earthquake has affected the production and distribution of an important component in many cellphone cameras, the CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) image sensor, from Sony and Toshiba.

Toshiba's Image Sensor fabrication facility in Iwate, Japan, has been shut down because of the earthquake from which much of Japan is still working to recover, according to the technology research firm IHS iSuppli. Toshiba's Iwate plant manufactures logic chips and CMOS sensors for cellphone cameras.

Sony, on the other hand, has had to delay the delivery of its CMOS sensors to cellphone manufacturers, IHS iSuppli said in a report issued Thursday morning.

IHS iSuppli did not have information on how long Toshiba's plant would be closed or how long Sony's sensor deliveries would be backed up and officials at both consumer electronics companies were not available Thursday morning to comment on the firm's report.

In 2010, Toshiba was the fifth-largest supplier of image sensors for phones with an about 12% share of worldwide revenue, according to an estimate from IHS iSuppli. Last year, Sony came in sixth with about 8% share of the global market for image sensors, the research firm said.

Combined, Toshiba and Sony made up about 20% of the cellphone image sensor market in terms of revenue, IHS iSuppli said.

"With [its] low cost and easy integration with other electronics, CMOs has long been the technology of choice for cellphone cameras," said Pamela Tufegdzic, an IHS analyst, in a statement. "The Japan earthquake and subsequent logistical challenges have disrupted a portion of the supply of this key component."

IHS iSuppli said that a replacement part, albeit a higher-end option, is available in the form of another image sensor technology called CCD (charge-coupled device), which has been unaffected so far.

Sony and Toshiba are major CCD suppliers, as are Japanese competitors Fujifilm, Panasonic and Sharp, the firm said.

"Because of their higher image quality, CCDs are commonly employed in digital still cameras," IHS iSuppli said in a statement. "In contrast, CMOS sensors predominately are used in cellphones and often in other devices where the camera is secondary to other functions."

Digital camera manufacturers Altek and Ability Enterprise, both based in Taiwan and both of which make cameras for major Japanese brands, told IHS iSuppli that they have yet to see any decrease in CCD supply from Japan.

Ability receives about 90% of its CCDs from Sony and Altek buys about 70% to 80% of its CCDs from Sharp, IHS iSuppli said.

"Sharp's CCD plants in Japan are far from the worst-hit zones, while Sony's CCD plants are located in Thailand," the research firm said."Because of this, CCD supply in the future should not face any immediate supply issues. The situation may change over the long term, however, as CCD makers could experience challenges with their own upstream material suppliers and encounter problems with transportation and power."


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Photo: A Sony logo is displayed at an electronics shop in Tokyo. In the wake of Japan's earthquake, Sony has had to delay the delivery of one type of cellphone camera sensor to manufacturers. Credit: Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters