Sony Plant Shutdown Signals Electronic Media Delays

In March 2011, Sony's Sendai Technology Center in Tagajo, Japan, was badly damaged by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck the northern part of the country. The facility, located about a mile from shore, manufactures the company's Professional Media Products line, used by motion-picture and television professionals.

Although the products affected by the earthquake were not directly connected to the display industry, they easily could have been had another factory been hit instead. The products include HDCAM SR and HDCAM, DVCam, and Betacam SP tapes, as well as Digital Betacam, Betacam IMX, Betacam SX, XDCam, SxS flash cards, DV, and HDV products.

After the disaster, according to a recent article in TechWorld, production was initially suspended at 10 Sony sites throughout Japan, but only two remained offline as of the first week in April. One of them, Sony's lithium-ion-battery factory in Motomiya, was scheduled to restart production by the end of April. The second, in Sendai, was still undergoing clean-up operations. The article stated that Sony had yet to make a public appraisal of the damage at the Sendai plant and has no estimate for when it might be back online.1 From descriptions in the news of the damage in the area, Sony may unfortunately be in for a long clean-up process.

The message in a letter Sony sent to many of its customers makes it clear that the temporary loss of just one plant can have far-reaching effects. The letter explained that "… the majority of the items are being affected by being produced in the Sendai plant which was damaged. In addition, some other Sony items may be affected because even though they are assembled in other parts of the world, components for these items are produced at an affected plant in Japan."

"In some cases, a competing manufacturer such as Maxell or Fuji may have product that is interchangeable with an affected Sony item. However, these manufacturers are also undergoing a huge increase in demand, and we are certain to see resultant shortages occur as they ramp up production…" More of the letter is available online at sites such as Below the Line (a publication for motion-picture film, TV, and commercial production industry crews).2 How deeply such shortages would affect the film and broadcast industry was not yet clear in Q2 '11.

Sony's Sendai plant does not, of course, represent the only major electronics industry setback in Japan. Short-term production slow-downs and shortages have taken their toll and will continue to do so, as the country and the industry rebuild. While the display industry seems to have "dodged the big bullet – this time," in the words of Information Display Executive Editor Stephen Atwood (see "A Warning from Sendai for Displays" in the April 2011 issue), clearly the loss of just one electronics factory may have ramifications for the electronics industry in ways that may not even be realized for months to come.