While the massive tremor that ravaged the northeastern part of Japan did not cause damage to Japan's major production sites for DRAM and flash memory products, it may disrupt the supply of some key materials for the global semiconductor industry.
Elpida Memory's DRAM plant in Hiroshima and Toshiba's flash memory plant in Yokkaichi (Mie prefecture) escaped the slam of the devastating quake, but silicon wafer maker Shin-Etsu Handotai (SEH) was not so lucky.
SEH's main silicon wafer plant (the Shirakawa plant) is located in Nishigo Village of Fukushima, a prefecture close to the epicenter of the earthquake. SEH has shut down the plant due to a lack of electricity.
Although SEH has expanded the number of its production bases for silicon wafers to four in order to reduce its operation risks, the Shirikawa plant remains the most important production base for SEH. SEH has a production capacity of 1.2 million units of 12-inch wafers a month, of which 800,000 are produced at the Shirakawa plant, accounting for a 22% global share.
With most wafer foundry houses normally keeping a certain amount of inventory, a two-week suspension at the Shirikawa plant may not trigger a supply problem for silicon wafers. However, if it takes two months or even longer for the Shirikawa plant to resume normal production, it will become a major problem for global wafer shipments.