Whether your go-to camera is your smartphone or a entire-frame DSLR, the probabilities are its sensor was manufactured in the sleepy prefecture of Kumamoto, which sits on Japan’s southern-most principal island of Kyushu.
Some 550 miles from Tokyo, Kumamoto appears to be an odd spot to set up a production hub for sensors, especially when you take into consideration the fairly inadequate transport links. On the other hand, it’s the abundance of very pure drinking water in this article – its high-quality would make Evian blush – that is the crucial, as it’s necessary in the production of impression sensors.
It truly is why quite significantly each and every semiconductor maker has set up shop in this article, and TechRadar was invited to acquire a very unique glimpse behind the scenes of Sony’s wide Kumamoto Technologies Centre.
Dwelling to the Sony Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation, the Centre creates a staggering 4 million sensors a working day for a extensive variety of imaging products. Lots of will find their way into Sony-badged cameras and smartphones like the Alpha A7R III, Cyber-shot RX10 IV and Xperia XZ1, while others are destined for a host of cameras and devices from other models that count on Sony for their sensors.
The site is huge and is manufactured up of two wide buildings, each six tales higher, with most of the floors made to help what are regarded as the significant ‘cleanrooms’ of the two buildings.
These are exactly what their identify implies: extremely-clean rooms in which exterior contaminants are held to an complete least. Prior to they enter, experts have to put on fairly stuffy and claustrophobic all-around system suits, before obtaining an air shower to decrease any particle contamination.
Not that we noticed several people – for this kind of a substantial site, the spot was eerily silent. Which is since quite significantly the overall sensor production line is automatic, with substantial box-sized carriers regarded as FOUPs ferrying their treasured cargo of sensor wafers among each phase of the automatic process.
It’s not absolutely unmanned even though – a surprising two,700 associates of staff are tucked absent in backroom offices or attending to the calls for of the higher-tech equipment, altering and servicing them as essential.
Though 4 million sensors are manufactured day-to-day, it’s actually very a slow and, not shockingly, complicated process. With time-consuming measures like photolithography, ion implantation and dry etching, as properly as cleaning and sharpening, it can acquire up to six months to create a sensor that’s all set to be delivered.
Kumamoto might have an abundance of extremely-clean drinking water, but it also sits on a geological fault line, and on the night of April 14 2016, for the first time in its heritage the island of Kyushu was strike by a magnitude-seven earthquake – and just around a working day later it was strike by a 2nd earthquake of the very same electrical power.
While the manufacturing facility was nonetheless standing and everyone was protected, the plant had been remaining with huge structural scars, like hurt to the foundations. The pristine cleanrooms had been ravaged, with FOUPs scattered across the flooring and some obtaining smashed the fragile silicone wafers, while if you appeared up to the ceiling of the clean area on the sixth flooring you could see daylight.
Output was halted, but Sony set its manufacturing facility the process of receiving up and running all over again in 5 weeks, with all the staff, from senior management down, receiving concerned with the clean-up.
Output restarted forward of schedule, and the plant was back again up to entire capacity in 3 months. Really should the unthinkable occur all over again, measures are in spot to make sure the restoration is even more rapidly.
As you can imagine, the Kumamoto earthquake had a huge effect on the international camera market, with sensors destined for tens of millions of cameras lying shattered on the floors of the clean rooms, not just at Sony’s plant but at neighbouring factories also. While international camera shares ran lower for a interval the disaster was fairly brief-lived – a testomony to the resolve of the staff at Sony’s Kumamoto Technologies Centre.