"The IT industry is inexorably approaching maturity. Sure, the recent surge in orders for semiconductor production equipment may lead people to imagine that the go-go times are about to return. But unless the electronic device industry finds new growth vectors, the future won't be bright," said Akira Minamikawa, one of Japan's most respected semiconductor industry analysts.
"The worldwide PV installation boom has subsided, with one big exception—Japan. More than 2,000 megasolar installations are planned in this country," the bullish editor-in-chief of an industry magazine said to me the other day. He contended, "Japan is at the epicenter of what promises be a new boom in PV installations."
The hydrogen energy era is on the way. Toyota has announced it may commercialize hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) next year and has set itself the target of cutting the cost per vehicle to 5 million yen (US$50,000*)—one-twentieth of the current cost. Likewise, Honda plans to introduce FCVs next year. Nissan is targeting introduction in 2017, slightly behind its competitors.
Japanese chipmakers have been manufacturing some products for more than two decades. This prompted an executive of Massachusetts-based aftermarket manufacturer Rochester Electronics to comment that the Japanese semiconductor industry seems to have no policies on discontinuing production of obsolete devices. Though his comment contains more than a grain of truth, Japan's chipmakers are reviewing their business practices and have started winnowing their product portfolios.
Fujitsu Ltd. is negotiating with United Microelectronics Corp. with a view to selling its 300mm wafer fab in Mie Prefecture to the Taiwanese company, and with Phoenix, Arizona-based, On Semiconductor on the proposed sale of its Aizu fab in Fukushima Prefecture, media reported. The contemplated disposals would signal virtually a complete withdrawal by Fujitsu from semiconductor fabrication.
"What happened? I've never seen such a rush of orders. As semiconductor investment has been in low gear, we can't replenish production facilities and manpower immediately. We are naturally delighted about the tremendous amount of orders, but the deadlines keep us awake at night," said a gleeful executive of a Japanese manufacturer of wafer fab equipment.
Electronic components have grown in importance to the point that they are the face of Japan's electronics industry. With input from Yuzuru Sato, an analyst with Tokyo-based DG Research, who tracks the industry, we identify what is hot and how this fiscal year is shaping up.
Toyota Motor Corp. has made clear it intends to use SiC power devices, currently under development in house, in mass-produced cars by around 2020. The company plans to begin test runs of cars equipped with the devices on public roads within a year.
Nikon Corp. announced a three-year business plan calling for sales to increase 22% to 1,200 billion yen (US$12 billion*) and operating profit 75% to 110 billion yen within the term of the plan. For a new medical business unit, the sales target is 130 billion yen in fiscal 2016, starting from zero, with M&A set to play a major role.
Toyota Motor Corp. and Panasonic Corp. have been working together since last June to connect home appliance control with Toyota's telematics service. This collaboration is about to bear fruit as a new service that is scheduled to be launched in the second half of this year.
I relished a recent opportunity to listen to G. Dan Hutcheson, CEO and chairman of VLSI Research Inc., share his insights, especially as I hadn't heard his take on the semiconductor industry for quite a while. Not only is Dan Hutcheson an acknowledged authority on the industry, he is also one of its most distinctive voices. In particular, his analyses of production equipment and process technologies tend to outshine the observations of other commentators.
Panasonic Corp. and Sony Corp. are in negotiations to sell their OLED businesses to Japan Display Inc., which will establish a company specializing in OLED, with government-backed Innovation Network Corp. of Japan (INCJ) taking a majority stake in the venture, media reported. The parties reportedly intend to conclude the negotiations within this month.
On April 8, Sony Corp. opened Yamagata Technology Center, formerly Renesas' 300mm Tsuruoka fab, and disclosed a plan to establish monthly production capacity of 20,000 300mm wafers for CMOS sensors by March 2016. The project will involve investing about 28 billion yen (US$280 million*) to refurbish existing equipment and install new equipment.
Just a week or so after Samsung's announcement about its 3D NAND fab in Xian, China, Toshiba Corp. and SanDisk have announced that they will build a new fab for 3D NAND flash memories at Yokkaichi Operations in Mie Prefecture, replacing the idle Fab 2.
Panasonic Corp. will sell a majority interest in its surface acoustic wave (SAW) filter business for 148.5 million dollars to Woburn, Massachusetts-based, Skyworks Solutions Inc., which will establish a JV on August 1 in which Panasonic will have a 34% equity stake.
As already reported in outline by the media, Fujitsu Ltd., Panasonic Corp. and the state-owned Development Bank of Japan, Inc. (DBJ) have agreed to form a yet-to-be-named JV fabless company by the end of the year—once antitrust authorities in various jurisdictions are staisfied—specializing in system LSI design and development.
Toshiba Corp. announced it has taken the lead in advancing process technology to 15nm, which it calls the 1Znm process, and will begin producing NAND flash memory using the process at the end of this month at Fab 5 of its Yokkaichi Operations.
Fujitsu Ltd. and Panasonic Corp. have agreed to establish a fabless JV this autumn by integrating their system-on-chip LSI design businesses, using investment by the Development Bank of Japan for that purpose, media reported.
I was born and bred in Yokohama, where my family has been running a busy restaurant specializing in delicious soba noodles, a Japanese favorite, for more than 130 years. Looking back to my childhood, I have vivid memories of workers from factories across the Keihin Industrial Zone* dropping into our shop to eat, drink, talk about everything under the sun and generally have a good time.
April 1 looms large in the Japanese calendar. For government and most companies it signaled the start of fiscal 2014. This year the date had added significance because consumption tax jumped from 5% to 8% on that day. There are fears that the tax hike will be like a bucket of cold water chucked over the Japanese economy, which after marking time for more than 20 years, is at last showing signs of renewed vitality.
Semiconductor production equipment manufacturers' expectations of the post-sales business, including refurbishing used equipment and after-sales services, are on the rise as they endeavor to turn it into a major revenue stream. This is certainly true of Canon, whose imminent acquisition of Austin, Texas-based Molecular Imprints Inc., a nanoimprint system manufacturer, indicates its aggressive plans concerning leading-edge lithography systems.
Apple Inc. is negotiating with Renesas with a view to acquiring the Japanese company's subsidiary Renesas SP Drivers Inc., attracted by its technology, Nikkei reported from Silicon Valley.
Mitsubishi Electric Corp. launched its new Power Device Innovation Center earlier this month to concentrate development, design and sales of power devices at its Power Device Works in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka prefecture. Thus, sales, design and development operations for power devices are now integrated under one roof alongside the company's manufacturing plant for these products. The center represents investment totaling 2.5 billion yen (US$25 million).
Following the arrest of a former SanDisk engineer who is alleged to have stolen technical data from Toshiba's Yokkaichi NAND operations and provided it to SK Hynix Inc. when he took up a job with the Korean company, Toshiba Corp. and SanDisk Corp. respectively filed lawsuits against Hynix seeking redress.
"I hear that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is building a national regional jet and Honda* is building a small business jet with their own technologies. But I am wondering why Japanese manufacturers can't make top-of-the-line fighters and big airliners, which will bring bigger business."
Thine Electronics, Inc. announced that it has licensed its V-by-One HS display interface technology to Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., a subsidiary of Qualcomm Inc. Buoyed by the announcement on Monday, the share price of Thine Electronics, Japan's leading fabless company, has soared more than 15% since last week on the JASDAQ stock market.
Semiconductor production equipment manufacturers' expectations of the post-sales business, including refurbishing used equipment and after-services, are on the rise as they endeavor to develop it into a major revenue stream. This is certainly true of Tokyo Electron, which is setting up a dedicated organization to aggressively promote its post-sales business.
To promote commercialization and take-up of solid hydrogen-source fuel cells, the Kyoto Fuel Cell Alliance* was launched by Rohm, Kyoto University, Aquafairy and others in January. The alliance's mission is to promote commercialization of the fuel cell system, develop applications, establish an international standard for the system, and secure intellectual property. The alliance includes organizations from industry, academia and government. The kickoff meeting was held on January 9 in Kyoto.
Capital investment by the global semiconductor industry is estimated at 5 trillion yen (US$50 billion*) for 2013, roughly the same as for the previous year. As you may know, the value of the global semiconductor market edged up to 30 trillion yen from the previous year, as if to rub in the fact that the days when the market grew by leaps and bounds are long gone.
Canon Inc. has announced that it agreed with Austin, Texas-based Molecular Imprints, Inc., on February 5 to acquire the American company and will make it a wholly owned subsidiary, which means Canon has selected nanoimprint as its next-generation lithography technology.
Toshiba will invest about 40 billion yen (US$400 million*) in its Yokkaichi NAND fab, NHK, Japan's sole public broadcasting station, reported today.
Renesas Electronics Corp. has launched a product longevity program that clearly indicates the period during which Renesas assures supply for each product. The program targets coverage of over 5,000 current and yet-to-be-released products comprising MCUs and analog and power devices, and eventually system-on-chip LSIs will be included too.
Renesas Electronics Corp., which is restructuring under a new management team appointed last June by the Innovative Network Corp. of Japan (INCJ), is reportedly preparing to eliminate 5,400 jobs in Japan by the end of fiscal 2015 (March 2016).
2014 is shaping up to be a good year for Japan's electronics industry. On the plus side, the industry should benefit from an economic recovery engineered by the Abe administration as well as a weaker yen, many companies should be in better shape having restructured their operations, and Tokyo's selection as host for the 2020 Olympics is an additional tonic. On the other hand, naysayers worry about the impact of the consumption-tax hike due in April.