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Electronics Production | April 15, 2011

Japanese earthquake hits supply of cell phone image sensors

Last month’s earthquake in Japan is impacting the production of complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors at two facilities in the country, affecting the supply of these parts to the cell phone market, IHS iSuppli research has determined.
Toshiba Corp.’s Iwate Image Sensor fab, which produces logic chips and CMOS image sensors for mobile phone cameras, was shut down. Likewise, delivery was delayed from Sony Corp.’s CMOS image sensors to cell phone original equipment manufacturers.

Toshiba in 2010 was the world’s fifth-largest supplier of handset image sensors with 11.8 percent share of global revenue, according to a preliminary IHS iSuppli estimate. Sony ranked sixth with 7.3 percent share. Together, the companies accounted last year for 19.2 percent of the global handset digital camera image sensor revenue.

The attached table presents the revenue market share ranking of the world’s Top-10 suppliers of CMOS and CCD image sensors for cell phones.

© IHS iSuppli

“With their low cost and easy integration with other electronics, CMOS has long been the technology of choice for cell phone cameras,” said Pamela Tufegdzic, analyst for consumer electronics at IHS. “The Japan earthquake and subsequent logistical challenges have disrupted a portion of the supply of this key component.”

While CMOS sensor production and distribution has been impacted, supplies of the major alternative image sensor technology—CCDs—appear to be unaffected, at least for the near term. The global CCD market is dominated by Japanese suppliers including Sony, Panasonic Corp., Fujifilm, Sharp Corp. and Toshiba.

Because of their higher image quality, CCDs are commonly employed in digital still cameras. In contrast, CMOS sensors predominately are used in cell phones and often in other devices where the camera is secondary to other functions.

Taiwan-based digital camera makers Altek Corp. and Ability Enterprise, which contract-manufacture products for major Japanese brand names, said they were not experiencing any shortages in near-term CCD supply from Japan. Ability now sources about 90 percent of its CCD components from Sony, while Altek buys between 70 and 80 percent of those parts from Sharp. Sharp’s CCD plants in Japan are far from the worst-hit zones, while Sony’s CCD plants are located in Thailand.

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.

Given the impact of the quake, Japanese-based digital camera brands Panasonic, Canon and Nikon have had to close down some of their high-end production lines for digital still cameras in Japan. But because the lower-end consumer models of those companies are primarily manufactured at plants in China and Thailand or outsourced to Taiwan-based makers, the earthquake is not expected to have a significant impact on those segments, the two companies noted.

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