Fueling the Next War? The Chip Shortage

The computing chip shortage has been an important topic of discussion over the past few years. Issues started after the COVID lockdowns in 2020 when factories shut down. There’s a lot of geopolitical tension over these chips, because of Taiwan, the largest producer of semiconductors in the world. President Biden has yet again threatened China with military force if it invades Taiwan. In an interview with 60 Minutes, Biden reiterated his stance that the U.S would respond with military action. 

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Both China and the United States have been threatening each other over Taiwan, because of the important resource of chips .VOA News reports that Taiwan produces 65% of the world’s semiconductors and 90% of the world’s advanced chips. VOA reports that China has sanctioned Taiwan over the previous meetings between the U.S. and Taiwan. However, China hasn’t sanctioned Taiwan’s electronic exports because of their reliance. 

China produces only 5% of the world’s chips, while the United States, in comparison, produces 10%. Semiconductors were invented in America and due to the mass exodus of manufacturing jobs the U.S. is no longer the world’s primary producer of chips. In August, Biden signed the CHIPS and Science act, sending $52 billion to domestic production of semiconductors.

 Incidentally, South Portland, Maine, has two semiconductor factories, Texas Instruments and On Semiconductor. Sean Chambers has been an employee at both factories, now a current employee at Texas Instruments. When asked about the technology of the chips, he said, “Evolution of an old technology. The green boards, but now they’re scaled down.” 

Chambers said the following about working during the pandemic, “I never felt unsafe. Part of the process is a clean room. There’s less than one percent of one part of a particle for 1000 particles in the air; it’s cleaner than an O.R (operating room); all of the air is being circulated.” 

American semiconductor plants didn’t close during the pandemic because the product needed to be pushed out, and the factories are relatively pandemic-safe. Other nations have different policies when it comes to shutting down due to Covid, hence shutdowns of factories in other countries. One of the reasons for the shortage in the automotive industry following the shutdown of factories was the cancellation of part orders. The issue with canceling these orders caused these companies to fall to the back of the line as Chambers describes, “Everybody needs chips, but some of these chips take months to make.” So many industries need this technology, but as Chambers says, “The car companies start saying oh we’re out now we need 10,000 for our cars, well you shut off the order so it’s going to take a couple months. Now you’re going to be at the back of the line behind the computer makers and the phone makers.” Canceling orders and the length of production for advanced chips are at the root of the problem of the shortage. 

When Chambers was asked about being involved in the production of an important technology,  “You’ll come in and there are big display screens, and they’ll show the recipes we’re working on and what it’s directly used for new medical devices that we’re making being used to save lives. When they show some of the stuff we’re working on and what it’s being directly used in, that’s pretty rewarding.” As nations threaten war over these chips, the resource of the future, it’s important to understand the significance of this technology. Biden’s allocation of $52 billion could have a positive influence on the future of American manufacturing. In a nation where most of the factory jobs were shipped out, the plants in South Portland are vital for the future of America. 

Categories: Technology

2 replies »

  1. Great look at what is still a major issue today. I especially liked the quote from one of the semiconductor employees.


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