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Japan quake causes shortage of key part in cellphone cameras

April 15, 2011|By Nathan Olivarez Giles, Los Angeles Times

Japan's massive earthquake has affected the production and distribution of a key component in mobile phone cameras.

Toshiba's Image Sensor fabrication facility in Iwate, Japan, has been shut down because of the earthquake, according to the technology research firm IHS iSuppli. Toshiba Corp.'s Iwate plant manufactures logic chips and complementary metal-oxide semiconductor, or CMOS, image sensors for cellphone cameras.

Meanwhile, Sony Corp. has had to delay the delivery of its CMOS sensors to cellphone manufacturers, IHS iSuppli said in a report Thursday.

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 to comment.

In 2010, Toshiba was the fifth-largest supplier of image sensors for phones, with a 12% share of worldwide revenue, according to an estimate from IHS iSuppli. Last year, Sony was sixth, with a 7% share of the global market for image sensors, the research firm said.

Combined, Toshiba and Sony made up about 19% 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 charge-coupled device, or CCD, which has been unaffected so far.

Sony and Toshiba are major CCD suppliers, as are Japanese competitors Fujifilm Corp., Panasonic Corp. and Sharp Electronics Corp., 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 Corp. and Ability Enterprise Co., both are based in Taiwan and 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."

nathan.olivarezgiles@latimes.com

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