Sony is reportedly investing up to $1.2 billion to expand its image sensor production. The electronics giant is expected to buy back a semiconductor line from Toshiba. The Nagasaki Technology Center was originally owned by Sony, who sold most of the production line to Toshiba in 2008 for ¥90 billion ($830 million).The fab was operated as a joint venture between Sony and Toshiba with Toshiba retaining majority control over the facility. Sony is reportedly interested in coughing up ¥50 billion ($597.2 million) to regain control of the plant and use it for CMOS sensor manufacturing.
With this production facility under its belt, Sony could manufacture up to 50,000 CMOS sensors per month by 2012, doubling its current output and reducing manufacturing costs as it tries to compete in the growing image sensor market. Some of the funds for this expansion will come from a government program to encourage environmental friendly businesses, but the company declined to comment on the amount of subsidy received from the Japanese government.
This production increase reflects the growing demand for camera-enabled smartphones and tablets. Looking back three or four years, the presence of cameras on smartphones was a novelty. As camera sensors improved in quality and megapixels, this trend of camera-enabled phones grew in popularity. Most current generation smartphones include a five to eight megapixel sensor with 720P video recording. Some handsets and tablets, like the iPhone 4 and Samsung Galaxy Tab, boast of both front and rear-facing cameras. This trend of dual-camera handsets and slate devices will only continue to grow in the upcoming years and Sony is wise to be ahead of the game in its manufacturing production capability.