March 14, 2011 at 4:04 PM ET
Consumer electronics is just one of many industries left hobbled in the wake of Japan's catastrophic earthquake, its aftershocks and the tsunami that followed. While the loss of life is the most tragic consequence of the disaster, the Japanese people's livelihoods will also be affected in the aftermath.
A big part of the Japanese economy is driven by electronics, particularly in components manufactured on the island nation. While gadgets may be the last thing on many minds, the world hasn't stopped in its conspicuous consumption of electronics, as the lines for the sold-out iPad 2 on the same day as the quake show.
As Japan rebuilds, the government has mandated power outages so that the whole system isn't overloaded. The ripple effect is already being seen among the major auto companies, as reported in this Wall Street Journal story. So much of Japan's infrastructure — as with most industrialized nations — is intertwined, so the impact on power, transportation and manufacturing is a domino effect. The steel needed for construction and cars is stalled, which delays car manufacturing, which is also going to lag because of train delays. And on and on.
The Journal also noted how electronics giant Hitachi was hit by nature's fury:
Hitachi Ltd. Monday said operations are currently suspended at its six manufacturing facilities in the quake-struck areas, which make various products, including home appliances, auto parts, elevators and power-generation systems.
The Japanese electronics conglomerate is still trying to assess the damage at the facilities and the company doesn't yet know when operations can resume, a Hitachi spokesman said.
Several memory chip makers are also in Japan, as well as manufacturers of components used in certain display panels: glass and light-emitting diodes.
32-gigabit NAND pricing has already jumped 18 percent according to DRAMeXchange on news that Toshiba had suspended operations at a chip plant in the Iwate Prefecture. Remember, Japan manufactures over 40 percent of the worldwide NAND flash, much of that coming from Toshiba -- the very supplier found lurking inside of the iPad 2.
And this, regarding the production of digital cameras:
Panasonic, Fujifilm, Nikon, and Canon have all shut down factories in the affected regions related to the production of digital cameras and lenses. Canon estimates that some of its facilities, including those that produce interchangeable lenses and inkjet cartridges for its printers, will be offline for up to a few weeks, possibly shifting production to alternative sites if its systems don't come online over the next month.
Another article from today's Journal goes into detail about the dire straits of the electronics industry, particularly in regards to Sony, Panasonic and Fujitsu.
But another Wall Street Journal story, also published today, gives some hope:
There seemed little likelihood of disruption in supplies of data-storage components known as flash memory — chips that are needed for such products as Apple Inc.'s iPads and iPhones. Toshiba Corp.'s and SanDisk Corp.'s Japanese factories for those components — which account for about a third of global production — are hundreds of miles from where the earthquake struck.
Questions remained about production of displays and their components, however. Factories in Japan primarily make large LCD displays used in television sets, said Sweta Dash, of IHS iSuppli, though she said inventories appear to be sufficient to absorb short interruptions.
More stories about Japan: