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MEMS Supply Only Slightly Affected by Japanese Quake

Global supply of micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) was largely unaffected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, although about 35 percent of MEMS are at least partially produced or processed in Japan, according to researcher IHS iSuppli.

"To date, the supply of MEMS sensors and actuators remains only slightly affected by the Japan catastrophe," said Jérémie Bouchaud, director and principal analyst for MEMS at IHS iSuppli.

MEMS are used in smart phones and tablet computers, as well as medical and industrial equipment, automotive systems, and other applications.

Nine out of the top 50 MEMS manufacturers, including Canon, Panasonic and Epson, are Japanese companies. The nine companies sold $1.38 billion worth of MEMS in 2010, or about 21.3 percent of all MEMS. According to value, about 32.5 percent of MEMS sensors and actuators were processed either partly or entirely in Japanese facilities in 2010, reported IHS iSuppli.

Western companies with MEMS facilities in Japan include Freescale Semiconductor and Knowles Electronics among others.

Japan also makes nearly all of the world's digital compasses, which are becoming standard in tablets and cell phones with global positioning system (GPS) functionality, according to IHS iSuppli.

Fortunately for the MEMS industry, most MEMS manufacturing is located in southern Honshu. The quake occurred in the northern part of the island. In addition, many MEMS and compass suppliers have multiple fabrication plants for manufacturing, so the impact of the quake was not as severe on overall supply, although some fabs were damaged and shut down by the quake.

In fact, only three of the 22 largest MEMS and compass fabrication plants in Japan suffered direct damage, according to IHS iSuppli.

The three damaged facilities are owned by Freescale, Canon Corp. and Texas Instruments. Freescale had already planned to shut down its fab in Sendai prior to the quake and transfer MEMS production to a fab in Texas.

Canon makes printers and MEMS print heads in the city of Fukushima. Production stopped after the plant was damaged by the quake, but the plant has been repaired and is operating, reported IHS iSuppli.

Texas Instruments' Miho fab northeast of Tokyo has undergone the repair of various infrastructure systems damaged by the quake. Full production will resume by the middle of July.