Renesas details earthquake recovery efforts

  • 19-Sep-2011 11:38 EDT

Before and after shots highlight the earthquake damage at the Renesas semiconductor fab line.

When the devastating earthquake hit Japan in March, the Renesas facility in Naka shook so violently that heavy semiconductor production equipment that was bolted to the floor moved from its base. Photomasks designed to produce lines only nanometers wide were broken or damaged, while cables and wires were yanked every which way.

Four other Renesas foundries, a total of half of its Japanese facilities, also suffered significant damage. But the most severe damage occurred at Renesas’ flagship manufacturing plant in Naka, which was one of the first 12-inch fab plants a few years ago.

Recovering from the quakes at a time when electricity was limited and employees were coping with personal tragedies was a challenge for companies throughout Japan. Now that Naka is operating at around 75% of capacity, Renesas is discussing its recovery plans and how its challenges have changed business relationships.

“Our customers are Tier 1s, as we worked closely with them we also communicated heavily with OEMs, who sometimes didn’t even know our chips were used in their electronic systems,” said Jim Trent, Automotive Vice President at Renesas. “We forged tighter relationships with them, and this accelerated our merger with NEC, which had only occurred 11 months before the earthquakes.”

The spirit of cooperation extended beyond the companies that were directly involved with Renesas. Other chipmakers made moves that helped Renesas jump start its production.

“Competitors actually deferred equipment for us. They realized that if we shut down an automaker’s production line, it could impact them as well,” Trent said.

While Renesas operated with reduced capacity, the company decided to allocate shipments according to previous levels. That ensured that all customers got some devices, which gave them the confidence that they wouldn’t be ignored for larger customers.

Now that the rebuilding project is finishing, plans to reduce the impact of a repeat are being implemented. One aspect is to have more spare parts available. Another is to employ a dual-fab approach.

“We’ll be making the same products in different factories,” Trent said. “We’re working more closely with our global partners like TSMC. We also changed some buying policies so we are not buying all our materials from a single supplier.”

Trent said there have been some positive outcomes beyond the focus that came when NEC and Renesas employees were focused on a common goal. The company will have more capacity once Naka is fully operational, and yields have also improved.

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