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From AI to Automotive: Chip Shortage Stings

By Dick Weisinger

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a double-whammy on chip supply. It has increased demand as businesses add hardware to beef up their ability to provide remote-access infrastructure and provide laptops and other hardware for users working from home, and it has also gotten stuck up with logistic problems from closures and slowdowns. That has all been coupled with other industries, like automotive, that are increasingly incorporating the use of chips and electronics into product design and manufacturing. And it doesn’t help that there is a drought in Taiwan where the bulk of high-end chips are manufactured using technology highly dependent on water.

The chip slowdown’s effect on the auto industry has been in the headlines for months and has driven up the price of both new and used cars. Dale Ford, chief analyst at Electronic Components Industry Association, said that “the lack of a low-cost semiconductors can hold up entire production of autos. But, you can’t throw up a chip fab overnight. There’s not a near-term solution. Despite that, the future is bright. I’m an optimist. What drives growth is difficult. How many anticipated the smartphone?”

Jim Farley, Ford CEO, said that the chip shortage was “perhaps the greatest supply shock” he had ever seen. “As scary and difficult and challenging as the early days were in COVID, the current supply shock is just as frustrating, if not more frustrating, for our team.”

Another area hit hard but which is less publicized is the high-end GPU chip market. The shortage is putting a damper on the rapid expansion of companies into the use of AI and which have built much of their success on the use of GPU processors.

Anand Joshi, GigaOm analyst, said that “a lot of GPU users are complaining that it’s hard for them to get the GPUs on time. They put a job in a queue and it takes a while for it to ramp. Previously they would just say there are [X number of] GPUs and they were just sitting there. Now they don’t always have GPUs available, so it takes a while for them to get in the queue and get their jobs running.”

While chip vendors like TSMC are saying that the shortage should ease up over the next quarter, at least for automobiles, some analysts like Forrester think that it can’t happen that quickly and actually predict a chip shortage timeframe stretching out through 2022 and into 2023.

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