Gas shortage halts some Sharp LCD panel production

Supplies of industrial gases used in panel production have been disrupted by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan

Sharp has halted production of LCD panels for televisions in Japan because last month's massive earthquake and tsunami has disrupted supply of industrial gases.

The company has decided to suspend manufacturing of larger panels for televisions, but said it can secure enough gas to maintain production at two factories that make small and medium-size panels for devices such as cellphones and laptop PCs.

Sharp didn't say which gases are in short supply, but production of LCD panels typically uses common industrial gases such as argon and nitrogen, as well as more specialized gases including nitrogen trifluoride and sulphur hexafluoride.

The production halt affects two of Sharp's LCD factories in west Japan: the Kameyama plant in Mie prefecture and the Sakai plant near Osaka. Sharp expects to resume production after the week-long Golden Week holiday that takes place during the first week of May.

Production of flat-screen televisions will continue because Sharp has a one-month inventory of panels, said Miyuki Nakayama, a company spokeswoman. A drop in demand for flat-screen TVs after the quake influenced the company's decision to prioritize production of smaller panels, she said.

The Sakai plant, which was opened in 2009, has a maximum monthly capacity of 72,000 sheets of motherglass -- the large sheets on which several LCD panels can be made. Each sheet of glass used in Sakai can accommodate six LCD panels in the 60-inch class, eight panels in the 50-inch class, or 15 panels in the 40-inch class.

The Kameyama plant was opened in 2005 and processes smaller glass sheets, but it can handle 100,000 of them per month. Each of the glass sheets processed in Kameyama can be used to make eight 40-inch class or six 50-inch class LCD panels.

Martyn Williams covers Japan and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
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