Tech

Earthquake halts operations at Toshiba chip factories

A 6.6 magnitude earthquake that hit southwestern Japan around 1:00 AM last Saturday has led to the closing of Toshiba’s Oita semiconductor plant.

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said the ‘quake may have caused significant shaking, making it difficult to walk unassisted and causing items on shelves to fall.

The agency also warned that more tremors and earthquakes could occur in the immediate days following the seismic activity.

Reports soon surfaced of damaged buildings and infrastructure, plus 13 injuries – some considered serious.

An announcement from Toshiba on Monday January 24 confirmed the safety of all employees at its Oita and Buzen facilities, both located a little over one hour drive apart on the island of Kyushu.

However, Toshiba also confirmed there was some damage to production lines at the Oita City semiconductor production site.

The company’s announcement states:

Toshiba told The Register that there wasn’t yet an update to yesterday’s announcement.

The Oita plant produces LSI chips, primarily sold to the auto industry and industrial machine manufacturers.

The incident sees “earthquakes” now added to a list of disasters that have hurt semiconductor production at semiconductor foundries and helped to create an ongoing chip drought.

In February of last year, power outages caused by winter storms shut down Samsung chip manufacturing while that same month TSMC trucked in water to supply its fabrication plants during a major drought in Taiwan. Also in Japan, a fire took out one of Renesas’ fabs.

Other production lines were shut by COVID outbreaks, including an Intel chip assembly and test plant in Vietnam last July. The US/China trade war isn’t helping matters either.

Toshiba itself had a challenging year in a different way. The Japanese company was rocked by a scandal that alleged the execs had pressured shareholders to vote in a way that would that would minimise the influence of activist foreign investors.

A company plan to split into three companies so that it could better govern itself in response to the scandal was met with scathing criticism from its second largest shareholder. The shareholder, 3D Investment, said the plan would produce “three underperforming companies,” create a lack of transparency and damage company credibility. ®


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