Experts say pandemic has triggered global microchip shortage, problem revealed for the United States
The mini circuit is the brain inside almost all digital devices.
“They go into phones, computers, game consoles, all kinds of electronic equipment,” said Scott Lambert, president of the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association.
Fighter jets, hospital ventilators, and cars all use them.
The sophistication of chips varies widely, depending on their use.
“When you look at, say, a smartphone, it has the most advanced microprocessor,” Sonderman noted. “The most advanced solutions, which cost much more than an automotive solution due to the dimensional requirements of the computer chip, as we make things smaller and smaller.”
Even with their small size, chipmaking is a complex process, involving hundreds of people.
They are made in an area called a “clean room,” which is more hygienic than a hospital operating room.
“We need to control the number of particles in the room,” explained Puteri Megat-Hameri, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Minnesota State University, Mankato. “Making a chip, or building a chip requires a very clean environment. You don’t want a speck of dust or particles to settle on the chip because later it will cause a malfunction, in terms of the electrical function of the chip. . “
Designers use computer-aided programs to etch layers of microscopic circuitry – much like a 3D printer – onto silicon wafers. Then the wafers are cut into individual chips of square or rectangular shape.
“You can see that each of these little squares is a computer chip,” Sonderman said, pointing out the square outlines on a plate the size of a plate. “So this one contains about 250 computer chips.”
The whole process takes place inside a chipmaking plant, or factory, for short.
Making a single chip can take six months.
But after a pandemic year, the United States faces bigger problems than manufacturing delays.
“Right now, we have an immediate shortage of chips,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). “In the global auto industry alone, this shortage is expected to cost $ 100 billion in revenue by 2021. Why? People want to buy a car, but they can’t buy a car now.
How serious is the microchip shortage in the United States?
“It’s as bad as it gets,” said Kingshuk Sinha, professor and supply chain expert at the University of Minnesota.
Kingshuk said demand for chips unexpectedly skyrocketed during the pandemic, when Minnesotans at home – and the rest of the country – bought laptops and other electronics.
“COVID-19 is coming, and all of a sudden we’re crouching in our homes and using technology for all kinds of purposes, right? ” he added.
It’s not just at home.
The chip shortage is fully visible in Kentucky, where thousands of Ford trucks, ready to be sold, sit idle because they lack the necessary chips.
“I’m told they’re a nickel each,” said Scott Lambert, president of the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association, which has 375 members.
Lambert said dealer inventories had gone from an average 90-day supply to just 30.
American automakers, he said, are shipping 3-4 million fewer cars, all because of the shortage of tiny chip components.
“There are about a dozen microchips in each vehicle,” Lambert said. “And all of this means they are delaying the production of more than 60 cents of coins.”
Experts say the shortage did not happen overnight.
According to the Semiconductor Industry Association, the United States’ share of global chip manufacturing has increased from 37% in 1990 to 12% today. The trade group says other governments are investing in incentives for chipmaking, unlike the United States.
So which countries make them?
“More than 80% are made in Asia,” Sonderman said. “The highest concentration is in Taiwan. You also have South Korea, Singapore. China of course.”
All of this may be changing.
The US Senate recently passed a law providing $ 52 billion to fund chip research, design and manufacturing initiatives, as part of the US plan for the employment of President Joe Biden.
We asked Sonderman if the shortage was a threat or an opportunity.
“Oh, an absolute opportunity,” he replied.
Sonderman said if SkyWater receives some of this funding, the company could start manufacturing auto chips in six months and add 100 jobs to its 520 people.
“By investing in that in the United States and then building the manufacturing capacity, we can create and quite frankly take back what was originally ours, which is a very strong semiconductor manufacturing industry,” he said. -he declares.
At Mankato, college professors use a clean room to teach students the basics of chip design.
It’s a much smaller operation than SkyWater’s, but Professor Megat-Hameri hopes the school can help the U.S. chip industry catch up with Taiwan, South Korea, China and other countries.
“It wouldn’t help us, I would say, right now,” she said. “We are basically preparing the next generation to be able to acquire this knowledge and skills to do so.”
Prof Sinha said it won’t be easy for many.
He said that even with government help, it will take the United States two to three years to catch up with its foreign competitors.
And he says factories – including the equipment to make chips – can cost several billion dollars each.
“We also need to have in-house equipment manufacturers,” Sinha said. “And so we’re trying to make sure that a lot of the semiconductor chip supply chain is basically within the borders of the United States.”
The Crisps Bill will likely be put to a House vote in the fall.
Sonderman said he was optimistic it will pass.
According to the Semiconductor Industry Association, if the bill becomes law, it could create 185,000 jobs per year and add nearly $ 25 billion to plant construction per year.
But there is a lot of international competition there.
Experts say China should spend $ 200 billion to subsidize the chip industry there.
European countries have a “digital fund” of 175 billion dollars.
Still, Klobuchar says the chip plan – if it gets through the US House – will be a game-changer.
“It would help bring back to America the contracts that are currently in China,” the senator said. “We should be making things up and exporting things to the world. That’s what it is.”