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Designing around the worldwide shortage of semiconductors

20 May 2022

As companies around the world deal with the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, and the UK adapts to changes following Brexit, there’s an additional challenge facing manufacturing companies using semiconductors - the worldwide shortage of semiconductor chips.

This shortage has effected so many of the items that we depend on, as Richard Bebbington, Mechatronics Engineer at GX explained. “A car has over 100 chips in it. The car makers are building cars, but they’re having to wait for the controller chips.”

What has caused the shortage?

“There had been a fire in a major plant manufacturing substrates used by many of the semiconductor chip makers, which impacted production,” added Richard, “The situation was then made worse by the Covid pandemic.”

Mark Helmich, Managing Director at GX, said: “During the pandemic, everything shut down and very little production took place for the best part of two years. Now that things are getting back to normal again, demand is dramatically increasing but production is still massively reduced.”

“Now we’re finding that we simply can’t get hold of many of the chips that we’d planned to use in our designs”, said Richard. “Whichever distributor you use, a huge amount of electronic components trace back to the Far East. It will take years to repair this factory and build new ones, as they have to be ultra clean. So it will be a while until they can ramp up production again.”

How are GX overcoming the problem?

Given that almost all the products that GX design contain semiconductor chips, the team had to find ways of overcoming this challenging situation.

Mark explained, “When you’re designing a product, you need to ensure it can be successfully manufactured in the future. Being a smaller, more agile company we’ve been able to adapt quickly. We’ve had to innovate and design around the problem, finding alternative components which allow us to continue developing products. We’ve also been open about the situation with our clients.”

“We continue to deal with the shortage, although fortunately it won’t go on forever,” noted Richard. “Production is gradually starting to increase again, so more capacity will become available, but there will be a time delay. It could take up to three years for the shortage to completely resolve itself and the situation to return to normal.”

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