Manufacturers Rely on Inventory, Other Factories After Quake; Electricity, Water Outages Delay Restart of Operations

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Engineers work on power lines in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture. The slow restoration of electricity in areas hit by the Noto Peninsula Earthquake is another factor affecting manufacturers’ production.

With Monday marking two weeks since the Noto Peninsula Earthquake on New Year’s Day, factories and retail stores in the affected areas are gradually reopening.

However, some businesses still have no prospects of resuming operations, due to the severe damage they suffered. Instead, they are trying to draw on their inventories and other supplies to prevent any major impact on supply chains.

Operations remain suspended at Santen Pharmaceutical Co.’s main plant in Ishikawa Prefecture. The plant produced 75% of the company’s prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs.

“We have enough inventory to last for several months, and there will be no serious supply problems,” a Santen spokesman said. However, buildings and equipment at the plant have been damaged, and no decision has been made as to when it will resume operations.

Toshiba Corp.’s power device factory in Nomi, Ishikawa Prefecture, partially resumed production on Jan. 9. It has been replacing and repairing manufacturing equipment parts and piping at the plant.

However, the factory still cannot produce finished products for shipment. Toshiba plans to restore production capacity to pre-disaster levels by early February, and will draw on its inventory to deal with the situation for the time being.

Murata Manufacturing Co., a leading maker of electronic components, has been unable to resume production at three of its 13 plants in Ishikawa and two other prefectures in the Hokuriku region. If the suspension is prolonged, the company will consider alternative production at other facilities.

NGK Insulators, Ltd., which manufactures insulators used in power transmission and substation facilities, is also considering alternative production at another plant, as there is little prospect of resuming operations at a group company factory in Shika, Ishikawa Prefecture.

Delays in restoring power, industrial water and other infrastructure are also having an impact.

Electrical equipment manufacturer Sanken Electric Co. has not been able to resume operations at its three power device plants in Ishikawa Prefecture. It has been unable to confirm the functioning of its clean rooms, which were affected by the power and water outages.

“We will accelerate work to resume operations by using emergency power supplies and other means,” a Sanken spokesperson said.

Japan Display Inc., a leading maker of liquid crystal display panels, had aimed to resume production on Jan. 9 but it was unable to do because it could not secure fuel for its clean rooms. It is now aiming for sometime this month.

Companies that produce liquid baby formula have enhanced their output amid soaring demand in the wake of the earthquake. Meiji Co., which holds a 70% share of the domestic market in this field, has decided to increase production, and Ezaki Glico Co. has moved up the production schedule at its partner factories to ensure a stable supply.

Both companies said orders have recently jumped to more than double the yearly average.

FamilyMart most affected

Most of the convenience stores that closed in the wake of the earthquake have resumed operations, but FamilyMart Co. is having a difficult time.

“Our mission is to open our stores as quickly as possible to serve as a lifeline [to bring necessary supplies to residents] in the region,” said FamilyMart President Kensuke Hosomi. However, there is currently no prospect for the full resumption of business.

Among the three major convenience store chains, Lawson Inc. closed a maximum of about 80 stores and Seven-Eleven Japan Co. about 150. All but one Lawson outlet in Nanao, Ishikawa Prefecture, have resumed operations.

In contrast, up to about 200 FamilyMart stores were closed at its worst point, and 14 stores in Suzu and other areas had not reopened as of Jan. 12.

The Hokuriku region was originally home to many outlets of the now-defunct Circle K Sunkus Co., which merged with FamilyMart.

It was the only one of the three major companies to operate stores north of Nanao, which is situated in the middle of the Noto Peninsula. Supplying products to those stores has remained difficult due to severed roads.

Local owners and staff have also been affected by the massive earthquake, so FamilyMart has dispatched 150 employees from its headquarters to help hasten restoration efforts.