Rolling blackouts, tsunami damage try Japanese tech companies

Employees stuck at Sony Blu-ray disk factory

Japan's biggest electronics companies are trying to ensure that employees in disaster areas are safe and facilities remain intact.

One of the biggest problems companies now face is power shortages caused by damage from the tsunami. Rolling blackouts are being experienced as officials work to get power plants back online.

Water is another concern. Fears of shortages prompted the government to ask people to conserve water as well as electricity.

Sony spent Saturday airlifting emergency supplies by helicopter to hundreds of employees stuck at a Blu-ray disc factory in Miyagi prefecture.

The tsunami struck just after 1,000 workers at the factory moved to the second floor, stranding them there overnight. The Miyagi facility is one of six plants Sony shuttered after the earthquake, but the only one the company believes sustained extensive damage.

Sony "has not suffered major damage except for that (Miyagi) factory," said George Boyd, a Sony representative, though he added that it's hard to judge the overall impact of the earthquake so soon. Some of Sony's plants, including a battery facility and a chip factory, remain down due to the power outages.

Tokyo Electric Power Company, which covers Tokyo and a number of other areas east of Japan's capital, has said residents should expect power shortages because the earthquake and resulting tsunami damaged some power stations and caused others to shut down.

SanDisk, which partners with Toshiba in a few joint venture chip manufacturing plants in Japan, said both of its factories were down for a short period of time on Friday due to the earthquake, but were back up and running later the same day.

The company noted that the factories are 500 miles away from the epicentre and said "there has been minimal immediate impact on wafer output due to the earthquake."

Toshiba could not immediately be reached for comment.

The company is one of the world's largest suppliers of flash memory, with an extensive network of chip factories in Japan. Its flash memory chips are the main storage chips inside Apple's iPad 2.

Jim Handy from industry research firm Objective Analysis, estimates that Japan supplies 40 percent of the world's NAND flash memory and that the earthquake will cause "phenomenal price swings and large near-term shortages."

"It doesn't take a large production decrease to cause prices to increase dramatically," he noted.

Another major electronic component potentially impacted by the earthquake was LCDs.

Japan is no longer a major producer of LCD panels, though it still accounted for over 6 percent of the global supply last year, but it does sell a large share of components used in LCD panels, including glass, color filters, polarisers and LEDs, according market research firm IHS iSuppli.

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