The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted almost all industries. A semiconductor shortage has been the latest pandemic interruption. Semiconductors are important for almost all electronic equipment; therefore, this shortage is extremely problematic.
To find out more about semiconductors, why there is a shortage, and when the shortage is due to end, read this article.
What is a Semiconductor?
Semiconductors are used in electronic circuits. They are called “semiconductors” because they are made from both conductors and insulators.
Semiconductors are typically made with silicon and other pure elements. One element in the semiconductor will be a conductor. Conductors are materials that let electrons flow freely from one particle to another.
The other part of a semiconductor is the insulator; insulators are materials that block the flow of electrons. A semiconductor combines conductors and insulators to control the electrons.
Semiconductors aided in the invention of most electronic devices. Without semiconductors we would not have the technology we now consider as everyday necessities:
- Video games
- Advanced medical diagnostic equipment
- Electric toothbrushes
Semiconductors have played a large role in modern life. Without them, we would not be working from home or using life-saving technology.
Why is there a semiconductor shortage?
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all areas of life, one large impact is the semiconductor shortage. A shortage of this magnitude is causing backups within large businesses that public safety workers and the communications industry rely on.
During the height of lockdown from the COVID-19 pandemic, cars were not being driven because people were staying home. Highways were almost empty and stoplights were not needed.
With a lower rate of drivers, the demand for gasoline declined which caused prices to plummet; moreover, the demand for new cars dramatically decreased. Without customers, car manufacturers halted production and therefore canceled many part orders from factories. These cancellations included semiconductors.
On average, one modern car can have over 1000 semiconductors. By 2021, roads were starting to become full again, and cars were in full demand. Unfortunately, because orders were canceled, semiconductor factories were behind.
Moreover, the demand for semiconductors in household items increased due to working/learning from home. More people needed laptops, computer screens, webcams, and more. Overall, supply could not keep up with demand.
In addition to this cause for the semiconductor shortage, in October 2020, there was a devastating fire at a major semiconductor plant in Nobeoka, Miyazaki, Japan. This fire caused about a month delay in production.
In late November 2020, the plant began shipping inventory that had been in storage; however, they were not able to begin fulfilling semiconductor orders. Rather, they made deals with other semiconductor manufacturers to fill the orders. By April of 2021, they received the go-ahead from local firefighters and police to begin the process of removing debris from the damaged areas and rebuild.
As a result of this devastating fire and the supply and demand effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, factories around the world are fighting to address and solve the semiconductor shortage. Factories in the United States, including the GlobalFoundries plant, are racing to keep up.
How does the shortage impact critical communications?
Communications technology is built around a dependence on reliable electronic devices. As established earlier in this article, electronic devices depend on semiconductors. Therefore, important technology like Bluetooth transceivers, GPS, two-way radios, 5G technology, and more, are struggling to be manufactured due to the semiconductor shortage.
Without semiconductors being produced on time, neither can a majority, or all of, communications equipment be produced.
As we all know, important emergency personnel like police officers, EMTs, firefighters, and more depend on critical communications technology like radios, GPS’, Bluetooth, and headsets. Therefore, with a decrease in semiconductors, these lifesaving workers’ jobs are impacted. The semiconductor shortage is so incessant, it is affecting small local governments like Hawkins County in Tennessee.
The Hawkins County emergency communications equipment has recently been a hot topic in the small town. The system has been consistently failing and is in dire need of replacement. However, with the semiconductor shortage, it is hard to determine when the replacement system will be on its way.
Without semiconductors, communities around the world are struggling to keep their communications equipment up to date. In response, the semiconductor factories left functioning are working very hard to hard to keep up.
When will supply catch up to demand?
This is not an easy question to answer. Although semiconductors are a part of almost everyone’s everyday life and pose as a great necessity, there are only around 50 active semiconductor factories in the world. Moreover, it takes a long time to make a semiconductor; therefore, it will be quite some time until supply catches up to demand.
Major companies that produce critical communication equipment like 3M Peltor, Kenwood, Motorola, and more are struggling to fill orders due to the semiconductor shortage.
According to critical communications forums, Kenwood is currently putting a halt to all production of the TH-D74 dual-band handheld radio. The company made this decision due to a lack of materials caused by the fire in Nobeoka, Miyazaki, Japan.
3M Peltor is struggling to produce the 3M Peltor ComTac headsets. The company has made an official announcement to all vendors about lead times. Due to the heavy demand from the military and law enforcement and the lack of semiconductors, there are extended lead times for the ComTac V and ComTac VI.
The estimated fulfillment date for the below orders will be during the first quarter of 2022.
- Any current orders of ComTac V not rated by the US Government
- Any current orders of USA made ComTac VI
- Any new orders of either the ComTac V or ComTac VI
3M Peltor will be upholding the First In, First Out policy as inventory becomes available. Therefore, if there is a sudden restock of semiconductors, 3M Peltor will be responding urgently.
Yaesu is a well-known brand within the communications industry, specifically from their expertise in ham radios. Yaesu creates top-notch technology, from stationary to portable, they have it all.
Unfortunately, one of their most popular mobile transceivers—the FT-891—is out of stock by all providers due to the semiconductor shortage. According to the Swing Post, consumers should expect extended delays for the FT-891.
Samsung, a large supplier of telecommunications technology, is also struggling to produce certain models due to the shortage. Since 2009, Samsung has been known for their Galaxy phones—rivaling Apple’s iPhone.
Recently, Samsung announced their newest phone models called the Galaxy A72 and the Galaxy A52s which include a 5G option. Both phones were supposed to become available to the public in 2021; however, this clearly has not happened yet.
According to Slash Gear, Samsung is struggling to produce its new Galaxy phones due to a shortage of a specific semiconductor chip. Unfortunately, the winter storm that struck Texas early on in 2021, forced Samsung to shut down their Texas plant that manufactures necessary chips. There is no current update on when the new phone will begin shipping.
Many critical communications companies are experiencing major issues with the semiconductor shortage; however, there is one industry that is benefiting from this global issue—electronic distributors.
Electronic distributors are excelling during the semiconductor shortage because companies that are struggling to fill their inventory are turning to distributors to bridge the gap. Not only are customers buying full devices, but they are also seeking out individual parts from the distributors.
Electronic distributors do not always have chips to offer to customers; nevertheless, because they are distributors they are experts on the technology and can offer alternatives. Electronic distributors have a high stock of inventory, including semiconductors because they have a business design to buy bulk inventory.
Many distributors purchase in bulk for the intention of supplying during shortages like the current situation. Digi-Key, a primary distributor, caught on in 2019 that 2020 was going to be a big year for new electronics so in 2019 they began stocking up on essentials like semiconductors. Electronic distributors may be the key to helping society push through this shortage.
According to data experts, the semiconductor shortage could last till 2023. This does not mean there is a complete lack of chips, rather the production of communications technology will just take longer because there will be a backup of supplies.
More advanced chips are expected to be more widely available later in the year or early on in 2022. Advanced semiconductor chips are often used in computers, radios, and other smaller technology. This news is great for the critical communications community. On the other hand, the semiconductor chips for cars are estimated to be in backorder by 2023.
The semiconductor shortage is serious and is bound to affect a wide variety of industries, specifically, the critical communications community. Thankfully, the shortage is predicted to end by 2023 which will be here before we know it. We hope this article gave you further insight into semiconductors and the latest news around the shortage.