Global shortage of microprocessors exacerbated by fire at Japanese Renesas

The fire at the Naka plant (Ibaraki prefecture, northeast of Tokyo) of Japanese electronics giant Renesas on March 19 further disrupted the global microprocessor market, starting with those intended for the automobile. At a press conference on Tuesday, March 30, the Japanese group admitted that the fire had caused more damage than initially estimated, but that three quarters of wafer (semiconductor wafers) from the affected production line were usable.

“The probability of a resumption of production within a month is increasing”, said Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Hidetoshi Shibata. Activity is expected to return to pre-fire levels by the end of June. Renesas benefits from the support of its customers, Toyota and Nissan, and the Japanese government. “It is important to support the company’s efforts to overcome this crisis which could have economic and social consequences in Japan”, says Kazumi Nishikawa, employee of the technology sector of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

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The Naka factory leaves the equivalent of 17 billion yen (131 million euros) of circuits each month, two-thirds of which for the automobile. Renesas provides 20% of the supply of microcontrollers for cars, and is second in the world in this segment. The fire at the 12,000 m² site, the main production facility of the Renesas group, born in 2002 from the merger of the chip manufacturing activities of Hitachi and Mitsubishi and whose sales reached 715.7 billion yen in 2020, “Adds to the disruption in the automotive industry’s supply chain in the past months”, recalls Mariko Semetko, of the Moody’s Japan agency.

Covid, sanctions, cold snap …

This sector has become a large consumer of microprocessors for its on-board systems, linked to entertainment as well as security. In 2020, confinements and the development of teleworking due to Covid-19 have plunged car sales and exploded those of computers and televisions. Semiconductor manufacturers have shifted their supplies to consumer electronics manufacturers.

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The automobile sector subsequently saw a rebound in demand, but chipmakers are struggling to meet expectations. Supply is complicated by just-in-time operations and by the sanctions imposed in 2020 by former US President Donald Trump on Chinese manufacturers like Huawei and SMIC, China’s number 1 in semiconductors.

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