TOKYO -- Renesas Electronics Corp., the world's biggest maker of automotive microcontrollers and a key bottleneck in Japan's parts shortage, aims to restore pre-earthquake output levels by October, with the first chips shipping to customers in August.
Renesas bumped up its restart date for mass production of wafers by several weeks, thanks to quicker repairs and better-than-expected results from test runs, the company said.
It now aims to resume production of 200-millimeter wafers, the chips most often used in auto applications, at its quake-damaged Naka factory on June 1, about two weeks ahead of an earlier June 15 target date. It was the second time Renesas advanced that start-up date.
Production of 300-millimeter wafers was also brought forward, to June 6 from July.
Combined with production shifted to other plants, Renesas aims to restore pre-earthquake output of wafers by the end of July. But those wafers must still be processed into microcontrollers, and that process won't reach normal until October, the company said.
The first completed chips will be shipped in late August.
"While doing qualification and test production, the quality of the product was better than expected so we moved up production," Resesas spokeswoman Kyoko Okamoto said.
"Repairs also took less time than thought."
The March 11 earthquake that ravaged Japan's manufacturing sector forced Renesas to shut down several plants, including its Naka facility. But the Naka site is the last to come back online.
In the interim, Renesas shifted some automotive microcontroller production from Naka to its Tsugaru plant in northern Japan and an affiliate chip maker in Singapore.
When the Naka factory resumes 200-millimeter output in June, it will produce 3,000 wafers a month -- a fraction of the plant's pre-quake rate of 34,000 wafers a month. The 300-millimeter line will start about at the same capacity, or 10 percent of normal levels.
By the end of July, Naka will be producing about half of its pre-quake wafer output. The other plants will be producing the balance, to recoup total pre-quake production rates.
Okamoto would not say when Naka might be restored to 100 percent of its pre-quake output.
More than 100 microcontrollers, or MCUs, can go into a modern vehicle, and Renesas controls about 41 percent of the global market -- with 90 percent of its global capacity based in Japan.
Renesas' Naka plant in northeastern Japan accounts for about 25 percent of its global automotive MCU capacity. It has been offline since the March 11 earthquake.
Naka has two wafer lines. One makes 200-millimeter wafers that are then cut into individual microcontroller chips, some of which end up in cars. The other makes 300-millimeter wafers, divided into so-called system-on chips used mostly in digital cameras and mobile phones.
The tiny chips are essential to everything from electronic parking brakes, pre-crash seat belts and engine control units to onboard entertainment systems, stability control and power steering.