Sony Invests $343 Million to Expand CMOS Production Capacity

TOKYO—Sony is sinking more money into the production of stacked CMOS image sensors. The company said today that it will spend ¥35 billion (US$343million) on assets to increase CMOS output. The tech giant bought a semi-conductor fabrication operation located in Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture, around 300 miles northwest of Tokyo, for ¥7.5 billion (US$73.4 million), from Renesas Yamagata Semiconductor. The site will become the Sony Semiconductor Corp. Yamagata Technology Center on March 31, 2014. Sony will invest ¥27.5 billion (US$269 million) in the operation over the next two years to convert it to CMOS production.

This planned investment forms part of Sony’s mid- to long-term plan to increase its total production capacity for image sensors from around 60,000 wafers per month to approximately 75,000. Following the acquisition, Sony intends to convert part of the semiconductor manufacturing equipment that Sony is scheduled to acquire from Renesas Yamagata Semiconductor to CMOS image sensor manufacturing equipment, and also to install new manufacturing equipment for CMOS image sensors in Yamagata TEC. Yamagata TEC will primarily engage in the manufacture of photodiodes and wiring processes for stacked CMOS image sensors.

Sony introduced the stacked CMOS in October of 2012. Unlike previous CMOS sensors, the stacked version eliminated a substrate layer, reducing the physical size of the sensor without sacrificing function. Sony’s original Exmor models had a high-dynamic range “movie mode” that enabled using two different exposures in a single shoot and processing the result optimally. They also added white pixels for low-light shoots. Sony said it expects demands for the sensors, used primarily in smartphones and tablets, to increase.

Sony said it will position Yamagata TEC as a new site for phase one of the image sensor wafer production process, alongside its existing Kagoshima Technology Center, Kumamoto Technology Center, and Nagasaki Technology Center sites. The stacked CMOS sensors will eventually be incorporated into a “wide range of products across its core imaging and mobile businesses,” Sony said.