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Two Months Later, Are Supply Chain Issues Easing or Tightening?


Over the past week or so, there has been a constant yet somewhat quiet rumbling around the industry news wires and analyst firms that some of the supply chain aftershocks post the March 11 natural disasters in Japan may be yet to come.  As we hit the two month mark after the terrible devastation that Japan continues to struggle under, the dust has been settling on an important percentage of the initial semiconductor business uncertainties.  Many of the semiconductor fabs and larger manufacturers have strategic plans well in place now and expectations for production timing, capacity and alternate sites or sources are solidified, or at least nearly so.

Where does the uncertainty still reside?  There are a few interesting, and troubling, areas along the semiconductor supply chain that are yet to settle: crystalline production, high-end filters for smartphones (as reported in this iSuppli research), and various components for smartphones and tablets (e.g., some touchscreens, MLCCs, PCBs and cover glass, according to recent releases from DigiTimes 5/11/11).  DigiTimes openly questions whether some manufacturers have been quietly stockpiling supplies of various components because of concerns of both price rises, availability and shortages due to the situation in Japan (especially due to ongoing power disruptions), as well as on-going labor shortages and disputes in China.

Fueling some of this speculation around pending supply chain constraints to hit as we approach June, are DigiTimes' reports on 5/11/11 that Foxconn may have trouble meeting the full supply for Apple's iPad2 and iPhone 4 volume, due to component shorts for power amplifiers and NAND flash, as a result of supply disruptions from Japan coupled with internal labor shortages at their Chengdu, China plants.

Meanwhile, on the MCU front, Renesas issued positive statements that they have been able to move up the recommencement of  production at the Naka fab, according to this report by ElectronicsWeekly:

"[…] volume 8 inch production at its Naka fab to June 1st. The previous estimate for resumption of production had been June 15th.  The 12 inch (300mm) line is now close to having completed repairs of manufacturing equipment and Renesas expects to move mass production on the 300-mm line from the previous scheduled date of July to June 6."

These new production starts would move Renesas to an October time-frame for resumption of normal supply chain capabilities, thereby easing some of the pressure being felt and forecasted for MCUs before the end of the year holiday season.  However, it does not speak to the remainder of 2Q11 and whether we will indeed face new price pressures as a result of present supply constraints, as questioned in this earlier EETimes article.  While Renesas has shifted some production to TSMC, EETimes here cites other problems (than labor) facing TSMC and UMC, namely a second round of water rationing that is being implemented later this month "in the Hsinchu region of Taiwan, according to an AsiaOne report." (see the AsiaOne report here)  Production problems at TSMC and UMC would further contribute to the supply chain problems that seem to persist.

We may still need time to sort out the mid- and long-term impacts of the Japan crisis now that these variables are becoming entwined with other supply chain and global issues, thereby prolonging the return to a more normal state and more predictable pricing and supply situations. (see also this recent post by iSuppli looking at the global, macro-economic situation for commodity pricing fluctuations lately.)

Lisa Ann Cairns, Ph.D.
Written on Thursday, 12 May 2011 11:42 by Lisa Ann Cairns, Ph.D.

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