Electronics Production | March 23, 2011

Japan’s digital compass makers work to maintain supply

Despite widespread disruption to Japan’s transportation and utility infrastructure, the country’s digital compass makers report they are working to guarantee that supply of the critical component meets rapidly rising global demand.
IHS iSuppli research indicates that 97% of all digital compass manufacturing worldwide in 2010 was conducted in Japan. The world’s top four suppliers of digital compasses are Japanese firms AKM Semiconductor, Yamaha, Aichi Steel and Alps.

Global demand for digital compasses is rising rapidly, increasing to 263 million units in 2010, up 354% from 58 million in 2009. By 2015, shipments will rise to 1.28 billion.

“Digital compass usage is rising rapidly, with the device becoming a standard feature in tablets and in cell phones equipped with the global positioning system (GPS) feature,” said JĂ©rĂ©mie Bouchaud, director and principal analyst for MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems) and sensors at IHS. “These devices were employed in Apple’s iPhone 3 and iPhone 4, and can be found in virtually every Android phone. The compass also is a mandatory hardware feature for devices using Microsoft’s Mobile Windows 7. Likewise, digital compasses are starting to find their way into gaming—for example, in the Move controller and the upcoming Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) 2 from Sony.”

The issue of compass supply gained attention recently on account of Apple’s use of such a device in the iPad 2 that is supplied by Japan’s AKM. Because the calibration of digital compasses regarding electromagnetic interference is specific to the systems in which they are used, the components supplied by one company are not easily replaceable with those from another.

Confirming earlier IHS iSuppli research, AKM said its main fab that produced electronics compasses for the iPad 2 tablet has not been damaged. The fab is located on Kyushu island, far the south of quake’s epicenter.

IHS had indicated the company’s delivery of products potentially could be affected by the same logistical and power supply issues impacting all Japanese industries. AKM said that it uses multiple fabs, including one external source, for the fabrication of its compass, allowing it to mitigate potential logistical challenges.

No. 2 supplier Yamaha said its plant manufacturing digital compasses also was undamaged by the quake and that it is not experiencing the power outages plaguing companies in other parts of the country. Yamaha’s Kagoshima factory is also on Kyushu island. The company said it will work to address logistical problems by changing ports to locations that are not affected by the earthquake and electricity outages.

No. 3 supplier Aichi Steel operates its digital compass fab in Aichi Ken near Nagoya. The company said this facility has suffered no damage and that there has been no delay in shipments.

Fourth-ranked supplier Alps said that although its compass fab is located in Nagaoka, near the quake zone, the facility appears to in good condition and is operating normally.
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