How a global computer chip shortage could impact our obsession for electronics
CAMBRIDGE -- Owner of ‘That Computer Guy Inc.,’ Nixon Charlemont says it usually takes about two to three days to repair a device but right now, some projects are taking two to three weeks instead because of a worldwide computer chip shortage.
“Sometimes people get angry because you don't have the parts," he said. "Not because you don’t want to have it, but because you can't find it.”
The shortage is impacting Charlemont's Cambridge location where electronic devices like tablets and computers are fixed, but there are also many other industries impacted, from car production to gaming consoles to home appliances.
Owner and CEO of Guelph's Danby, well known for home appliances, Jim Estill, says his business has been impacted as well.
“Chips are used in everything these days, fridges, freezers, wine coolers, air conditioners," he said.
Experts say the demand for more electronics seems to be coming from the need to stay home and supply isn’t able to keep up.
Professor of Engineering at the University of Guelph Stefano Gregori says unfortunately there are not any quick, short-term solutions available.
“The manufacturing of certain types of chips requires several months," he said. "Typically a chip requires three months to be produced from beginning to the end.”
According to Gregori, 80 percent of computer chips are made in one part of the world.
“A big part of the manufacturing of chips is concentrated in a small region of the world which is Taiwan and South Korea.”
Many industries are also feeling a pinch in the supply chain for other products because logistics companies that move items around the world are backlogged due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So you have a big logistics problem happening right now, combined with a chip shortage, so what that’s doing, it is driving prices up,” Estill said.
Some companies, large and small, have adjusted prices slightly to make up for the reaction of supply and demand.
Both Charlemont and Estill say they would love to see more chips produced here at home.
Gregori says there are currently not any large-volume manufacturing plants for commodity electronic hardware, more specifically, semiconductor chips in Canada.
“There is a reduced capacity in North America because of the technical challenges related to extreme ultraviolet technology,” Gregori said.
He said there are related industries in Canada, most of which produce “low-volume niche specialty products" and "not the kind of chips that drive the main functions in a car or in a smartphone. We don't have that technology.”
For now, Charlemont says he'll be asking customers for patience.
“Right now the problem we are facing is to find graphic cards," he said, adding it may be “another year or two” until he is able to return to this normal pace of repairs due to the shortage.