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The Great Semiconductor Shortage

Posted By: RumorMail
Date: Monday, 12-Jul-2021 11:40:42
www.rumormill.news/176682

In Response To: Electric Vehicle Lawsuit: Prolonged Driving While Sitting on Giant Battery Caused Electromagnetic Radiation Injury- $10 Million Nissan LEAF Electromagnetic Radiation Injury Lawsuit (RumorMail)

Snip

By Peter C. Earle

Silicon is the crude oil of the Digital Age. Millions of metric tons are mined every year in China, Russia, Norway, the US and elsewhere, much of which is used in the $500 billion global market for semiconductors. In turn, the manufactured silicon chips, wafers, and integrated circuits power tens of trillions of dollars worth of hardware running personal and business software, wired and wireless communication devices, consumer electronics, automotive components, industrial technology, and other critical processes worldwide.

Manufacturing semiconductors involves not only a network of highly specialized firms in an often multistage production process, but a dependence upon firms which produce the ultra-high precision equipment for the fabrication procedure. Thus while silicon is a metalloid and accordingly a commodity, the various chips employing it describe a spectrum of complexity that runs from basic microcontrollers to high performance processors: each of which rarely has substitutes.

“It’s not rocket science—it’s much more difficult,” goes one of the industry’s inside jokes…Manufacturing a chip typically takes more than three months and involves giant factories, dust-free rooms, multi-million-dollar machines, molten tin and lasers. The end goal is to transform wafers of silicon—an element extracted from plain sand—into a network of billions of tiny switches called transistors that form the basis of the circuitry that will eventually give a phone, computer, car, washing machine or satellite crucial capabilities.

Beginning in 2020 and accelerating into 2021, a chip shortage has, to various extents, plagued the estimated 169 industries which depend upon them. While a small number of firms stockpiled chips in anticipation of just such an occurrence, the overwhelming majority of firms for which semiconductors are a key factor input have had to reduce their output. But like so much else, the inadequate supply of semiconductors is at the center of a handful of causes, with policy blunders front and center among them.

---------

Inconclusive Conclusions

After carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and a handful of other elements upon which life itself is built, silicon has been a particularly impactful element in human innovation. Tremendous bounds in productivity, driven by incremental improvements in technology, have driven inexorably higher levels of prosperity. In exquisitely engineered configurations, it has made once inconceivable bounds in computation, data analysis and management, information transfer, and a wide panoply of other advances not only possible, but quotidian. Indeed, it is sinfully easy to overlook the incredible union of physics, engineering, and economics that semiconductors contemplate and conflate their ubiquity with simplicity.

Early in 2020, predicting that the spread of a respiratory virus would lead to a scarcity of inputs that constitute the very backbone of all modern technology would have sounded ludicrous. But amid a hotchpotch of non-pharmaceutical state interventions, geopolitical wrangling, income redistribution, sudden shifts in work patterns, and the knock-on effects of those, that has occurred and persists.

No one, and certainly not I, can accurately forecast when, where, or how the current array of price distortions and shortages will normalize. An appreciation of the sophistication of modern commerce requires recognizing the ease with which the commonplace can be derailed by seemingly innocuous policies. And relatedly, the tendency for secondary and tertiary effects of political miscalculation to unexpectedly bubble up in odd corners and folds of the economy.

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