A roundup of news from the past week in Japan finds PC makers turning to flash, chemical makers opening their wallets, new silicon transport components, and a behemoth of a CMOS image sensor prototype.
PC makers attempt to spark revival with a “flash”
Hoping to inject new life into the saturated PC market, PC makers including Fujitsu Ltd., NEC Corp., and Toshiba Corp. are stepping up their use of flash memory in their computing product lines, notes the Nikkei daily paper. NEC’s three newest models unveiled last month all use flash memory, joining four PCs from Fujitsu and one from Toshiba.
Recent research from iSuppli Corp. suggests that more than half (59.6%) of notebook computers will have flash memory by 2009. And Toshiba is planning for the flash memory market for computers to quadruple each year from now to 2010, the paper notes. That growth is attractive to computer makers who saw domestic PC shipments slip 6% in the past year to 12.08 million units.
While flash memory offers lightweight, motor-free and faster boot times vs. hard disks, incorporating flash still considerably hikes the pricetag of these systems. A Fujitsu computer with just 32GB of flash memory costs 333,000 yen (US ~$2700), more than twice as much as a system with a 40GB disk, the paper notes.
Chemical firms swallow losses from aggressive spending in FY06
Japan’s six major chemical manufacturers’ aggressive capital investments in the past fiscal year (ended in March) to pursue growth resulted in their first negative cash flow in five years, according to the Nikkei daily paper.
The six firms — Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corp., Sumitomo Chemical Co., Mitsui Chemicals Inc., Asahi
Kasei Corp., Tosoh Corp., and Showa Denko KK — reported a collective free cash flow of -76 billion yen (US $624.6 million) vs. a +177.2 billion cash flow ($1.46 billion) in the previous year. The last time this happened was in FY01, which was attributed to excess supplies and market price slumps, and resulted in facilities consolidation.
Record net profits by five of the six firms in the past year were mainly poured back into capital spending, the paper noted. Showa Denko, for example, boosted spending by 120% for projects including a new hard-disk production facility in Singapore, while Sumitomo Chemical boosted spending by 30% for its information devices division to production of materials for LCD panels.
Silicon “fusion” to reduce impurities
A Japanese firm says it’s created a technique to fuse silicon crystals in order to make transport materials out of silicon instead of other materials such as quartz and silicon carbide, thereby reducing possibility of impurities, notes the Nikkei Business Daily.
Union-Materials Inc. says its procedure essentially fuses silicon crystals together using a germanium-silicon alloy as an intermediate. Indentations etched in the surface of a crystal silicon are filled with germanium crystals, formed into spheres or rings; a second silicon crystal is placed on top, and the sandwich is heated in a furnace to “somewhere between 936-1414 degrees C” to melt the metals into an alloy that fuses the two silicon crystals together, according to the paper.
This new technique would allow components used to transport substrates, typically made from quartz and silicon carbide, instead to be made also of silicon to reduce the chance of impurities from the components, claims the company, which wants to license its silicon-joining technology to parts makers.
Canon touts 50Mpixel CMOS sensor
Canon Inc. says it has created a prototype 50-megapixel CMOS image sensor offering more than twice the image resolution of conventional sensors, in a bid to draw more business from factory inspection sites and facilities that have to monitor large areas, such amusement parks and parking lots, notes the Nikkei daily paper.
Image sensors currently used in digital cameras have around 10Mpixel resolution, with newer sensors pushing to 30Mpixel, but Canon says its new circuit design boosts the amount of light received the sensor. What’s more, the prototype is the same size (19 x 28mm) as the sensors Canon uses in its digital single-lens reflex cameras. No information about a production schedule was provided.
Fujitsu seeks 5%+ profit margins in FY09
Fujitsu Ltd. wants to boost its overall profit margin from 3.6% to 5% or more in fiscal 2009, mainly by targeting improvements in software/services, hardware, and increasing business from overseas, according to the Nikkei daily paper.
The moves involve raising the profit margin of the company’s software and services operation (including system integration services) from ~6% to 8%, and strengthen hardware product lines to improve profitability there as well, according to the paper. Fujitsu also wants to increase its overseas sales from 36% of overall sales to 40% or more, in part through acquisitions mainly in the US and Europe.
The company did not release specific sales targets, but some reverse-engineered math from the FY06 numbers suggests FY09 targets of around 5.5 trillion yen (US $45.20 billion) and operating profits of 250-300 billion yen ($2.05-2.47 billion).
Showa Denko opens Korean gas site
Showa Denko KK has started up its new specialty gas storage facility in Anseong-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea, to address a sharp increase in demand for gases used in etch, clean, and deposition processes by domestic semiconductor and LCD manufacturers, according to the JCN newswire.
The firm’s 10-month-old subsidiary in Korea, Korea Showa Chemicals Co., had been working with domestic customers using supplies from SDK’s plant in Kawasaki, Japan, so the new ~4800 sq. m facility will help it deliver more timely and reliable services, the PR noted.