The chip shortage has a silver lining

“Manufacturers haven’t overcome the worldwide semiconductor shortage. Gaming consoles like the PlayStation 5 are still scarce, automakers are delivering cars with missing features, and Apple may end up producing 10 million fewer iPhones in 2021. For a few companies, however, these supply chain woes may have an unexpected upside.

The manufacturing delays abroad and relentless demand for consumer electronics have turned into a windfall for some chipmakers in the United States. Even lesser-known American manufacturers with aging or secondhand equipment have seen a surge in sales for the legacy chips, or microcontrollers, they produce. These parts are inexpensive to make but are a critical component for many devices, and as supply chain troubles have affected larger companies that focus on more advanced technologies, demand for the more basic chips has grown. Flush with customers, the companies that make these microcontrollers are now on a spending spree to boost their overall manufacturing capacity.”

Supply chain havoc is getting worse — just in time for holiday shopping

“Gadgets are particularly vulnerable to shortages because they include many different components. Consider all the parts that go into a PlayStation 5 or a new laptop, including their chips, outer shells, and screens. Many of these components require their own specialized manufacturing facilities, which are typically in different factories and often in different countries. For a device to be delivered on time, all of these parts need to be made in sync. Right now, that’s not happening.”

“Demand for these components has run up against efforts to contain Covid-19 in the countries where the production and assembly of many goods actually take place. Amid a recent delta variant outbreak and nationwide lockdown in Malaysia, the government designated electronics manufacturers critical businesses so that production could continue. In May, Vietnam directed vaccines directly to factory workers, while urging smartphone manufacturers working in the country, like Samsung, to do the same. (Vietnam’s Covid-19 challenges haven’t gone away: This past weekend, tens of thousands of workers fled the country’s commercial center after the government, which is still struggling to access vaccines, lifted pandemic lockdown restrictions.)”

““What will happen is that a phone will be delayed because they’re waiting on their plastic supplier, and the plastic supplier is waiting on the ingredient,” Penfield, the Syracuse professor, said. “It just takes one supplier — and it could be the base ingredient supplier — to fully screw up your supply chain.””

“All these problems mean that consumers are seeing rising prices and shipping delays for a wide range of products. So those looking ahead to the holiday shopping season might want to get an early start, and not just on consumer electronics.”

No, the supply chain mess is not a war on Christmas

“these shortages and delays are the product of many cross-cutting problems that have existed for years, including the Covid-19 pandemic, rising consumer demand, and a global and highly optimized manufacturing network that doesn’t adapt to change quickly.”

“What the pandemic did do was cause factories to shut down, usually because there weren’t enough workers, and that created shortages of products and components. Those shortages led to bottlenecks and delays in product manufacturing (if factories don’t have the parts to build something, it doesn’t get made and doesn’t get shipped).

As more shortages lead to more bottlenecks, the disruption causes problems in other parts of the supply chain, creating even more shortages, new delays, and higher prices. For example, automotive manufacturers haven’t been able to make cars and trucks, because they can’t get their hands on enough computer chips. Ikea can’t ship furniture parts from its warehouses to its stores thanks to the trucker shortage. A supply crunch for petrochemicals has driven up the cost of making anything that includes plastic, including children’s toys.”

“US companies have been moving more and more manufacturing abroad for decades, which means a growing amount of the stuff American consumers want to buy needs to be imported. Meanwhile, worsening conditions for truck drivers in the US have made the job incredibly unpopular in recent years, even though the demand for drivers has gone up as e-commerce has become more popular. That means that as Americans relied more on online shopping during the pandemic, getting goods from ports to doorsteps has been challenging.”

“Covid-19 has also affected consumer demand — namely, which products they want to buy and how much — creating constant changes that the supply chain just hasn’t been able to keep up with, especially lately.”

“This record number of imports is slowing down product deliveries. Cargo ships carrying holiday merchandise are waiting to unload their stock along the California coast, but there aren’t enough port workers to do the job. Those delays mean there are fewer containers available for manufacturers trying to send more products to the US, which only sets the supply chain back even more.”

“Pushing the Port of Los Angeles to operate 24/7 is Biden’s most direct action to date, and it’s supposed to ensure that an additional 3,500 cargo ships are unloaded each week. The Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach, which expanded its operations last month, are responsible for 40 percent of the containers brought into the US, so expanding their operations is supposed to speed up shipping nationwide, the White House says.”

“it’s not clear what Biden can do to fix the bottlenecks occurring higher up in the supply chain, like manufacturers running low on components and factories getting shut down abroad. While the White House has convened task forces to address these underlying problems, those efforts probably won’t bear fruit in time for the holidays.”

“In the long run, it’s possible that the US government can change policies that contributed to this situation in the first place. Politicians could shift their approach to trade, which has historically encouraged US companies to manufacture products abroad. Improving labor standards might boost working conditions for truckers and factory workers to make those jobs more appealing — boost global vaccine manufacturing and ensure that workers in other countries are safer from Covid-19 outbreaks. Admitting more people into the US could address a shortage of delivery and port workers.”

How to supercharge vaccine production for the next pandemic

“But it’s one thing to come up with a vaccine, and entirely something else to manufacture it on a mass scale. That’s where the world has stumbled and where concerted planning now can make sure we’re prepared for the future. If we’re to have a better chance to fight the next pandemic — and there will be a next one — the US needs to build on these vaccine tech innovations and make investments to establish permanent facilities producing mRNA and adenovirus vaccines.”

“that slack won’t arrive naturally.

Weber, the former assistant secretary of defense for biodefense, has pushed for what he dubs a “10 + 10 Over 10” plan to prevent biological threats in the future. It is essentially a big government investment that could enable the kind of infrastructure necessary to have gotten to full vaccine availability in the US in, say, one or two months, not five.

The plan calls for $10 billion in additional annual funding for the Department of Defense, and another $10 billion per year for the Department of Health and Human Services, devoted to anticipating pandemic and other biological risks, for at least 10 years.

With that funding, government could finance the infrastructure for year-round vaccine manufacture.”

“The key is that these facilities need to be active during non-pandemic times, otherwise their expertise and readiness could deteriorate.”

“Pharmaceutical companies are not going to go this big on their own, and there’s no guarantee that the government will fund them sufficiently without pressure. In 2020 — during the pandemic — the Trump administration cut the DOD’s chemical and biodefense programs by 10 percent, with much of the cuts going to the vaccine component of the budget. To set this vision in motion, the US needs to not just reverse cuts like that but spend much more, in line with Weber’s $20 billion per year proposal.”

Biden’s Manufacturing Plan Is $700 Billion Worth of Protectionism

“The claim that we need a national industrial policy because U.S. manufacturing is in decline is usually based on two trends: the fall in both U.S. manufacturing employment and the sector’s declining share of total U.S. economic output (measured by gross domestic product). Each of these trends, however, started decades ago. And neither tells you anything about the productive capacity of the nation overall or the vitality of the industries being targeted by the industrial policy.

As Lincicome shows, the reduction in manufacturing employment is occurring in every industrialized nation, including those countries with economies more centered on manufacturing than the United States. It’s also occurring in nations with longstanding trade surpluses in goods, and even in those countries that already have aggressive industrial policies. The real reason for a decline in manufacturing employment is mostly due to labor-saving technologies that raise worker productivity. In fact, anyone who wants to understand this reality ought to visit contemporary steel mills. They look nothing like mills of the past, as they’re automated, clean and employ highly skilled and well-paid workers.

The decrease in the share of GDP generated by manufacturing is mostly the result of the fact that our modern economies are increasingly service economies. That’s consumers’ choice. This trend, too, exists in all developed countries.”

“U.S. manufacturing continues to be at or near the top of most categories, including output, exports and investment. Industrial capacity is also growing, and industry-specific data show strengths where it counts (durable, high-value-added goods).”

Why a global chip shortage is screwing up America’s pickup trucks

“Just 12 percent of global chip manufacturing is now based in the US, compared to the 37 percent share that the country had in 1990, according to research SIA conducted with the Boston Consulting Group. The primary reasons for this decline are, according to UCLA supply chain professor Christopher Tang, the low cost of production in other countries and chemical processes with less stringent regulation abroad.

“We never had a coordinated plan, meaning these are free markets. So any companies can ship anything outside the country,” Tang explained. “So now is a wake-up call. We have shifted virtually everything, so now it’s an empty vault.”

There are many ideas for how to boost high-tech manufacturing in the US. Some, like Tang, say that part of the key is boosting the number of US students who study STEM and creating more high-tech jobs in the field. Another strategy up for consideration is beefing up US “industrial policy,” which would have the government take a more active role in encouraging high-tech industries in the US, whether through tax benefits, direct investment in research, or government subsidies. In his presidential campaign, Biden even proposed wielding the government’s power to buy these supplies directly from US manufacturers. Now with his supply chain review, Biden appears to be taking a first step toward pursuing that goal.”

“In part, a Biden administration official told Politico, the goal is to ensure that the US isn’t too reliant on other countries and to make US-based supply chains more resilient. In his executive order calling for a review, Biden mentioned everything from another pandemic to a cyberattack to “climate shocks and extreme weather events” as examples of crises that could make it more difficult to get much-needed supplies in the future.”

“Following the supply chain review, the goal isn’t necessarily that the US produces all or even most of a particular product or its subcomponents, experts told Recode. Instead, it’s about making sure the country has stockpiles; coordinated supply chains of needed supplies and components from different parts of the world; and enough domestic manufacturing to ensure the US can weather another crisis.

But the task of building new high-tech manufacturing in the US would be a tall order.”

The Coronavirus Butterfly Effect

“When you think of the U.S. manufacturing sector, you likely think of General Motors and U.S. Steel, faceless megaliths with armies of disciplined workers. But it’s more like Yellowstone National Park, an intricate ecosystem of small and specialized players, their fates closely intertwined. “If you look at anyone who is a node in a supply chain—a manufacturer, or sub-manufacturer, or raw materials extractor—each of those entities may be partnering with many different customers, as well as many different sub-suppliers beneath them,” says Karen Donohue, an expert on supply chains at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. “Their solvency is potentially dependent on the weakest link in both of those networks. And that’s what makes prediction difficult.” A 2018 survey by the consultancy Deloitte found that 65 percent of more than 500 procurement leaders from 39 countries had a hazy view, at best, of their supply chains beyond their most important suppliers.”

“Professional Instruments’ primary customer is a small company in New Hampshire whose ultraprecision machine tools are crucial for manufacturing in the medical device, defense, consumer electronics, and automotive fields. “It’s almost impossible for someone to anticipate the knock-on effects of some businesses being closed down because they’re deemed nonessential, because they’re suppliers for companies that are deemed essential,” says the company’s recently retired former CEO, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive business matters. “You build a quarter-million-dollar machine, but if you can’t get one $150 component off the shelf, you can’t put it into production.””

“Zoom out further, and the pandemic’s global nature becomes palpable. The future of the New Hampshire company is also uncertain, thanks in part to closures abroad. It has representatives in several countries (including South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, all of which have implemented lockdown measures) and customers in many more. “Representatives might need to come from the U.S. to help install the machines,” says the former CEO. “But with global travel being affected, how are you going to get that equipment installed? You still need those people to travel. These machines don’t install themselves.” In March the company opened a training center in China, but “whether that center will be utilized for some time remains to be seen.””

Trump Campaigned on Saving Factory Jobs, but U.S. Manufacturing Just Went Through a Year-Long Recession

“although it is true that America’s economy has, on the whole, performed admirably well under Trump, with unemployment numbers hovering near historic lows, one of the notable dark spots over the last year has been manufacturing jobs—particularly those in the upper midwest.

Last week, the Federal Reserve reported that U.S. manufacturing was in a recession for all of 2019. This wasn’t slow growth; the sector actually became smaller. The slowdown was relatively mild, with factory production shrinking by about 1.3 percent. But it was the worst performance since 2015, the year that Trump started his presidential campaign.”

“the uncertainty and increased costs surrounding Trump’s trade war, which was billed as a way of supporting American factory jobs, has instead wreaked havoc on an export-heavy sector that relies on the global flow of goods to operate. Trump’s interventions were intended to prop up U.S. manufacturing. But they backfired, harming the people he claimed to help—who also happen to be some of the people who played a crucial part in his election.”

“Farming, another industry that Trump campaigned on helping, was so harmed by the trade war that the Trump administration ended up spending some $28 billion—more than double the price tag of President Obama’s auto bailout—to keep them afloat.”

“Trump’s attempts to prop up the manufacturing sector through tariffs and trade restrictions didn’t just fail to work; they actively harmed the people they were intended to help. So even as Trump has overseen an economy that has many bright spots, the sector and worker demographic he tried to boost ended up struggling.”