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Japanese automation suppliers escape the worst of the disaster
Published:  18 March, 2011

Most of Japan’s main automation manufacturers appear to have been minimally affected by the earthquake and tsunami on 11 March, and the subsequent emergency at the Fukushima nuclear plant and interruptions to the region`s power supplies. But there are worries that production of some equipment might be affected by disruptions at component suppliers located in the disaster area.

Many Japanese automation suppliers have plants located south-west of Tokyo, well away from the earthquake-hit region, and many also have production plants in other countries – especially China.

For example, Mitsubishi Automation says that its main production sites in Nagoya, Himeji and Fukuyama are all some distance away from the disaster zone and are continuing to operate at full capacity. The company also has a production plant at Dalian in China

Mitsubishi adds that some of its component suppliers are located in the affected region but says that it has parallel, second-source suppliers in place. It plans to continue shipments by air and sea as normal and states that the disaster’s impact on its business “will be minimal”.

Yaskawa’s production and office facilities are also located south of the disaster zone and suffered no material damage except for a Solution Center, near Tokyo, which suffered some minor internal damage which was quickly rectified. Yaskawa says it is assessing its supply chain and any vendors which might have been affected by the quake. Any supply disruptions that might occur will be as a result of logistics problems arising from the relief efforts and damage to port facilities.

Hitachi sustained some damage to buildings and facilities at its main production bases in the Ibaraki Prefecture, including cracked walls, collapsed ceilings and broken glass. It reports that electric power is gradually being restored to the sites and it has been inspecting its production facilities. It says it will “work toward resuming operations as quickly as possible, while closely monitoring the recovery of essential infrastructure”.

Omron
’s main production facilities are located outside the affected area, however the company says that it has a large number of suppliers in the disaster area and it is assessing the situation. It adds that it will contact its customers if it expects any significant impact on production or supply.

Fuji Electric reports that there was minor damage to the buildings, infrastructure and production facilities at two of its factory automation plants, in Fukiage and Otawara, but it does not anticipate and major interruptions to operations. It is investigating damage incurred by its business partners and because of difficulties such as the delivery and receipt of materials and components, it “recognises the potential for an impact on production activities”.

Oriental Motor reports that production had to be stopped temporarily at some of its plants and that disruption to the transport infrastructure may lead to delays in the supply chain.

The motor-maker Nidec has been issuing daily updates on how the disaster has affected its operations. Most of its dozen sites are continuing to operate normally, but it has had to suspend operations at its offices at Sendai and Osaki-shi in the earthquake zone.

In the medium term, production and prices of some automation products – including some made outside Japan – could be hit by shortages and price hikes affecting components such as memory chips, microprocessors and power semiconductors. Already, prices of some memory chips have soared by more than 20%. Japan accounts for about 20% of the world’s semiconductor production and 40% of its flash memory chips. Some analysts predict that it could take six months or longer for supplies to return to normal.

Japan accounts for about 30% of the global production of the IGBTs (insulated gate bipolar transistors) used in the power stages of most modern inverters. But the IGBT plants of most of the leading suppliers – such as Mitsubishi, Fuji and Toshiba – are located away from the earthquake zone.

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