Tiny Capacitor Keeps Murata Ahead of Samsung

Kyoto-based Murata Electronics has developed a capacitor that’s about the size of the period at the end of this sentence and a quarter the size of its previous smallest capacitor, reports Mainichi Shimbun.

Capacitors are used to store and release energy in strategic locations within a device. Tiny capacitors are an essential component of all miniaturized electronics from smartphones to digital cameras, medical imaging equipment and even the tiny transmitters used by the world’s secret agents to spy on the unsuspecting.

So far Murata has retained its position as the world leader in making ceramic capacitors — a rare position in an industry in which Japanese firms has been ravaged by competition from S. Korean, Taiwanese and even Chinese competitors. Even once-mighty Sony has posted losses for the past four years straight, including record losses for the fiscal year ending in March.

During the same fiscal year Panasonic posted an even bigger loss than Sony, the worst in its 94-year history, and among the biggest annual losses ever for Japanese manufacturers.

Another Japanese consumer electronics giant Sharp Corp. is in dire financial straits and is seeking a tieup with Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., better known among Americans as Foxconn, Apple’s leading contract manufacturer.

Toshiba and Hitachi have shifted away from consumer products toward high-speed trains and nuclear power plants in an effort to avoid the sweet spot of Asian competitors.

“The power of Japanese high-tech makers is waning — in development, marketing and management,” market analyst Rick Oyama of HIS iSuppli told Mainichi. “And it can’t all be blamed on a strong yen. What counts is whether a company can deliver creative products and innovation.”

Murata currently owns about 35% of the global market for ceramic capacitors, but is increasingly challenged by Samsung Electro-Mechanics Co. which has grown its share to 20%. Murata’s newest capacitor, measuring just 0.25 mm X 0.125 mm, will help the Japanese leader stay ahead for at least a few more years though the product won’t be contributing to its bottom line until its customers learn of its availability and design uses for it.

Murata, which employs 37,000, remains one of the bright spots in Japan’s electronics industry, getting nearly 90% of its $7.5 billion annual sales overseas.

Among consumers Murata is best known for the bicycle-riding robot it had built to showcases its delicate sensor technology. But its main customers are electronics companies who use its ceramic capacitors to build the devices that consumers buy.