Overview of current electronics shortage in 3 minutes

Introduction

There are more and more reports about shortages in the supply of electronic components during the past year. What are the causes and should we be concerned? Will it lead to increased prices and will it last?

Let’s review the causes and what we can make of it.

Rising demand

The demand in electronics has been constantly rising for the last decades. One example is the demand for batteries, which is quite telling:

Demand for batteries in the last decades

Obviously, this means that the supply chain has to grow accordingly, which is not always a given. And electronics are not the only ones suffering from supply chain problems: plastics are also in a strange condition right now.

The “work from home” drill

One of the first reasons for the shortage is a higher demand from consumers. With the pandemic and everyone switching to remote working last year, people had to buy extra computers (at least one for every member of the family) or upgrade existing ones (think about a better camera, a better processor or graphics card to deal with the video live streams, a larger screen on your desk at home since it has become your semi-permanent office, etc.).

This sudden demand created a spike in an already congested industry, hence a shortage. The problem is that such a spike should be only temporary, but it looks like the situation is not going to be resolved anytime soon. What is going on?

Toilet Paper

Remember the toilet paper shortages? Well, that’s pretty much what is happening with the electronics industry right now. Because people started being aware of the shortage and the potential for it to become long term, they have acted exactly as they did with toilet paper. Buy more. As soon as possible. Before it is too late.

So the initial hit on the demand is also worsened by panic buying. Of course, buying an extra computer is not as easy for many people as buying toilet paper, due to the price difference. So the effect is felt in months rather than in days for electronics.

The car industry

The car industry is one of the most demanding in terms of electronics: our cars are getting stuffed more and more with those chips and gadgets, and it is getting to a point where the car industry is hit very badly by the shortage. It is currently causing very heavy losses in sales in that sector. Back to the first chart of this post above, we can see that batteries for electric-powered vehicles is mainly responsible for the demand to jump almost exponentially.

Accumulation of incidents

There have also been two major fires in the industry (one in Japan, another one in Taiwan), which have worsened the shortage, especially for memory chips.

On top of that is the winter incident in Texas, which closed factories for weeks.

In an already tense supply chain, any extra incident can bring a system to its knees. And the recovery is difficult since the supply was already not sufficient.

Pandemic supply chain disruption

As I warned a year ago on my blog at the beginning of the pandemic, Covid also disrupts supply chains since productivity is impacted – when the industries don’t close altogether. People needing to stay at home at the first sign of illness, whereas before everyone was still going to work with a running nose. And of course, wearing masks, material needing disinfection, etc.

All this obviously slows down existing systems. And again, in a “just-in-time” production mode with rising demand, this can only cause shortages.

Raw material shortage

As we all know, our planet is not infinite. With such a growth in demand, there must mathematically be a point when this never-ending growing trend goes beyond the total resources of the planet.

An abandoned mine

Along with silicon, some rare metals are getting scarce, if not already at the point of exhaustion. Other metals and rare-earth elements will follow, without any doubt. There would be a lot to talk about on this topic, but I’m keeping it short for now. Recycling those rare metals is typically a very big challenge – some of them in electronic components can actually never be recycled since it would need going to the atomic level.

And the shortage for some metals is not so far away. Just look at “other industrial metals” in the following chart, there is a chance you’ll see the shortage of some of them in your lifetime. And what then?

Shortages to come – what next? Source: Visual CapitalistShortages to come

Conclusion

The current shortage has many causes. Some of them may be temporary, but others will undoubtedly be felt on the long term. Hopefully, as the price of the rarest materials increase, alternative technological solutions will enable us to replace rare materials with more common ones. Or maybe we’ll find this missing Germanium or Palladium on the Moon or Mars…

Introduction to this blog and who I am

Welcome to my blog!

To understand where this blog will be going, you have to get to know me first. Let me introduce myself briefly. I’m a poly-faceted and multi-interest person.

Here is a short list of my top interests:

  • Science in general. I have a variety of interests in Science and Technology, including Astronomy, Geology, Climatology, Nanotechnologies, 3D printing, and many others.  Along with the philosophical aspects that come with science, which are getting trickier every day (AI – Singularity, anyone? Trans Humanism, Genetic Tampering etc.).
  • Computer Science in particular. I’m a Computer Engineer, so Computer Science is definitely on my top list. As a child, I was always attracted to computers and especially how they can be programmed to do an endless number of things. My main area of interest, though, is Artificial Intelligence. I made a PhD in the 1990’s in that domain, and I’ve always kept myself up-to-date since then. In the recent years, we’ve seen quite a number of breakthroughs in that area. So for sure, this blog will contain a lot of articles about technology. One other area of interest is storage of data and how to keep it safe, which is a topic most people disregard too often until some irreparable damage happens. Not only should your data be safe, but also kept private. On this topic, I have been introduced to Cryptography at an early age by my father, who was giving me coded messages to decipher, so I know the technology and its thrilling history.
  • Libre Money. Blockchain technology can free us from the limitations and flaws of the current banking system. Not with Bitcoin or many other cryptocurrencies, but with a unique type of currencies called “Libre Currencies”. In fact, one such currency already exists, it is called Ğ1 and is powered by Duniter. I’m participating in the effort to translate some of the material there, including the Relative Theory of Money, which is the underlying theory for Libre Currencies. I have also written a program to help animators of the game Ğeconomicus (which is a good introduction to Libre Money).
  • Board Games. I have been playing Chess since age 5, and I’m a big fan of board games. The main point here is to never keep the brain still, and always learn from playing. I know a large variety of games, from Shogi to Checkers and from Go to Hex. You can see me regularly at littlegolem and I sometimes play Arimaa as well. I used to play RPG games (and was leading big teams in some) but I’m past that now. 🙂
  • Foreign Languages. I’m French and I’ve been in a bilingual school at an early age. I speak French (obviously), English (obviously again!), Spanish and German quite good, and I’ve studied a number of other languages to various degrees. These include Japanese, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Russian, Turkish, Danish, Arabic, Chinese, and some Irish, which I find the most difficult of all. You can find me on duolingo. I’ve started an effort to help English speakers to learn French.
  • Cultures and Geography. Learning other languages is opening doors to other cultures. So I love to learn about different cultures all around the world.
  • History. Knowing a culture (including the one that came to me at birth) needs some knowledge about history. I love to learn about the history of the world.
  • Genealogy. Knowing your history comes with the search for your roots. I have worked on my genealogy tree, it goes back to the 18th century in many branches, and one branch goes as far as the 15th century.
  • Music. Cultures and history are filled with music. I love music, especially classical European music, but also folk music from all over the world, Ireland and Scotland, Flamenco (¡Olé!), Indian Ragas, South American music, Chinese Traditional (Guzheng and Ehru), and many more. As an amateur pianist I play mostly music from the Classical and Romantic eras but as a harpsichordist I focus on Baroque music. I do have recordings on the Internet, check them out! I’ve also recently started composing. I also know how to play a number of other instruments and have taken a growing interest in tongue drums and handpands. Check the link to my youtube channel to listen to my improvisations.
  • Movies. My wife and I watch a lot of movies. We don’t watch TV, but we do sometimes watch a couple of selected TV series. It’s always interesting to see how stories are designed.
  • Reading. Of course, I also read books, both fiction and non-fiction. I’ll probably post here some summaries of my readings along with my impressions.
  • This leads to a long lasting passion: writing. Actually I don’t understand why I didn’t start this blog earlier. I have written several (unpublished) novels during my teenage years and more in my 20’s, which I’m currently publishing on Wattpad (under a pen name). I have gone back recently to writing and am a published author (also under a pen name).
  • Rubik’s Cube. I have a strange history with this thing. 🙂
  • Psychology. I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve been learning a lot about it from my wife. It’s a fascinating subject.
  • Health. I’m definitely not a doctor, but I also gained quite some knowledge from my wife in that area.  Pesticides and GMOs vs Permaculture is something I know quite a lot about, even though I can’t call myself a specialist. I have a feeling that these subjects will be at the heart of public debate in the years or decades to come.
  • Ecology. We have to take care of our planet. If not for the planet itself, at least for the sake of our species. I try to reduce my environmental impact as much as I can, but I’m no extremist either.
  • This brings me to one of my life’s motto : extremes are always bad, whatever they are. It is never black and white. It’s not gray either. It’s a rainbow.
  • Self Improvement. Although there is a common hoax that tells us that when we’re past our 20’s we start decaying (I’m exaggerating a little, but not that much), I believe we can always improve ourselves. This comes with a deep understanding of who we currently are, and that life is always changing. Accepting change and embracing change is at the core of my life. This is why I like meditation and the Buddhist philosophy. I also use tools to enhance my memory. Back in the 1990’s, I invented for myself a spaced-repetition learning program to learn vocabulary in other languages, although I had no idea that it was actually called a spaced-repetition learning program! Then Anki appeared and I’ve been using it since then. I strongly believe that tools like Anki and others such as the Loki Memory Palace (to memorize series of words) or the Major System (to memorize numbers) should be taught in school at an early age. As an advanced species, we should also get rid of the “Qwerty” keyboard (or “Azerty” in France), especially on touch screen devices, I’ll write an article about this.
  • Teaching. Sharing my knowledge with others has always been a passion. In my University years, I spent a lot of time teaching to children who had problems in school. I was also a teacher during my PhD. This blog is definitely about sharing knowledge with you.
  • Many more subjects that I would like to develop. I have found out that every subject becomes more and more interesting as soon as you learn more about it. Even football teams or cars can get interesting, but I still try to keep some priorities and those are not in my list. 🙂

As you can understand, my main problem in life is that days only have 24 hours and I get to do only what I can do within that limited time frame. 🙂

Finally, you can find me on Diaspora, Mastodon, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter but I’m rarely active there.

Enjoy!