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Work resumes at many factories in quake-hit areas

Sony's quake-damaged image sensor plant in Kumamoto Prefecture may need heavier repairs before production can resume.

TOKYO -- Manufacturers are gradually resuming production at their factories in and around Kumamoto Prefecture after earthquakes halted operations roughly 10 days ago. But some sites, including Sony's image sensor plant, may need more time to get back on their feet.

     Toyota Motor restarted five production lines Monday at four locations around Japan, including the Tsutsumi plant in Aichi Prefecture. The leading Japanese automaker aims to resume operations by Thursday at 18 of the 26 lines that were halted after the earthquakes. Subsidiary Toyota Motor Kyushu in Fukuoka Prefecture will decide Wednesday when it will resume production.

     Toyota stopped production because supplies of door parts were disrupted due to quake damage at an Aisin Seiki subsidiary's plant. The Toyota group autoparts maker had begun supplying the parts again by Monday by diverting some of the output from its Chinese and Mexican units.

     Aisin Seiki also has been transferring production facilities and metal dies from its damaged plant to factories of its business partners so that domestic supplies of door parts can be resumed quickly. Efforts to bring the damaged plant back online have been delayed because the company has prioritized the supplying of substitute parts.

     Many semiconductor-related factories in Kumamoto Prefecture have returned to operation. Tokyo Electron's plant in Koshi restarted production of chipmaking equipment Monday. Renesas Electronics already had resumed production of chips for automobiles at its plant in the city of Kumamoto on Friday.

     Mitsubishi Electric plans to partially resume operations at its power chip factory in Koshi on May 9. The company will make up for some of the lost capacity by asking subcontractors to boost production. The company aims to announce when it will resume production at its liquid crystal display panel parts factory in Kikuchi by the end of this month.

     "Our production facilities have managed to escape disastrous damage," a company official said.

     Meanwhile, Sony is considering fixing its image sensor plant in Kikuyo, Kumamoto Prefecture. The electronics giant halted production at the plant April 14 and inspected the facilities, but significant damage mainly on the upper floors has left the company weighing its options.

     "We still don't know if we will carry out reinforcement work or when we can resume production," a company official said.

     Sony keeps surplus inventory for emergencies, but delays in restarting image sensor operations may disrupt production of compact cameras at companies that procure image sensors from Sony.

(Nikkei)

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