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Fire Will Make Chip Shortage Even Worse!

Posted on 23rd March 2021

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This article on the BBC is just the latest in a series of news reports about the shortage of chips.

Semiconductor firm Renesas suffered a fire in one of its clean rooms, causing extensive damage to one of its most advanced plants.

There were already worldwide shortages of chips, causing delays in the manufacture of vehicles, computer hardware (especially GPUs) and mobile phones, and meaning that some new products that have been announced are simply not yet available. This fire will make it very much worse.

The scale of the impact is made much worse by choices that the chip suppliers and their customers made a few years ago. The industry changed over to JIT (Just In Time) manufacturing, meaning that instead of keeping a stock of components (both at the supplier and the customers), items are manufactured based on orders and the required delivery dates. This means that there is no buffer of chip stock anywhere, and as soon as component manufacturing is interrupted, the manufacture of finished goods is also interrupted.

JIT manufacturing has major cost benefits, due to reduced stock-holding, and is fine until something goes wrong; once there is a problem, it propagates through the manufacturing chain very quickly.

Maybe the semiconductor industry is now rethinking their commitment to JIT manufacturing.