Explaining the Current Semiconductor Shortage and how Acertara Can Help
“Chips are the new oil,” according to the policymakers and tech entrepreneurs closely monitoring the ongoing semiconductor shortage. Microchips, semiconductors, or simply “chips,” are the silicon-based component that has become essential in just about every electronic device today, from cars to toasters (yes, even the devices designed to toast bread now have a tiny computer in them). Medical devices, including ultrasound transducers, also rely on these chips. Probes contain semiconductors in the connector and in the probe head, useful for multiplexing the increasingly high number of coaxial wires that connect to the piezo-electric elements. So, while the car industry may currently be hit the hardest by the semiconductor shortage, ultrasound probes, and medical devices more broadly, are also affected.
The current chip shortage is the result of myriad factors, including the complexity of their production and global supply-chain disruptions. The Covid-19 pandemic only worsened the issue. With many schools and businesses going remote, there was an increase in buying consumer electronics like laptops, webcams, and tablets that assisted in the transition. Car manufacturers, meanwhile, saw the dip in car sales and held off on purchasing semiconductors. Now car production has halted due to a lack of available chips, and, across the board, many electronic device manufacturers are facing lead times of almost a year to acquire more.
If, as an op-ed in Harvard Business Review opines, a steady production and supply of chips is now the hallmark of an economically resilient country, the United States is falling behind. As of 2020, only 12% of chips in the world were produced in America, according to an article in Time Magazine. Meanwhile, Taiwan currently produces most of the global chip supply, and China has been pouring research and funding into their chip production in the hopes of dominating the market within the next few years. The US is now trying to catch up but getting a fab up and running takes at least a few years, complicated by the expense of the machinery and a production process involving over a thousand steps once functional.
And the chip shortage affects medical devices as much as consumer electronics. The FDA recently published an open letter calling for a more resilient supply chain and Philips announced they may need to stop production of their medical devices. With the chip shortage affecting availability and pricing, potentially for the next couple of years, quality repairs are more valuable now than ever.
Acertara’s commitment to high-quality testing and repair can continue to save hospitals thousands of dollars while also providing the kind of preventative measures that will be crucial as the semiconductor situation is being figured out. The shortage represents an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the auto industry: to focus on the long term. In addition to quality repairs, Acertara’s patented technologies like the Atlas and the new and enhanced version of the AmpSafe are tools that can assist with catching problems before they occur. Another lesson to take from the semiconductor shortage is the importance of keeping up with trends. The new AmpSafe, for instance, has software allowing for tracking data across the cloud, detecting leakage issues and equipping end users with the knowledge of trends so they know what to expect. And, of course, cost-effective repairs save time and money, especially with leading edge technology and quick, responsive customer support. At Acertara, we offer the kinds of solutions that can help weather the storm of the chip shortage and provide much-needed resiliency against common problems with ultrasound transducers.