back to article 10x prices, year-long delays... Life as an electronics engineer in global chip shortage

The global semiconductor shortage has engineers scrambling to acquire replacement parts, cancelling projects, or redesigning hardware from scratch, distributor Avnet revealed this month. Following interviews with 530 engineers spanning the planet, Avnet said 93 percent of respondents are seeing delays in chip shipments, with …

  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    shortage of MCUs as hitting critical industries

    Which is why we have to give $Bn to Intel to build fabs to make more server CPUs and gaming GPUs

  2. Number6

    Definitely an interesting time when it comes to designing stuff, even for prototypes. Had one board that was released to prototype fab, they came back and said they couldn't get one of the parts (which was ins stock a couple of days previously). Whirlwind overnight redesign of board to use a different part so we could get the boards built. Fortunately that part didn't go out of stock before they could purchase it.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Been there, done that - sixty week order times for jelly bean STM M0+ parts... managed to find a suitable replacement at a single retailer, and bought the lot; the PCB design change was simple enough in this case but might not have been had I had to change the CPU family.

      But even before covid, three years ago, the company was seeing potential shortages of this type of processors coming down the line. They were able to buy a couple of million up front but the issues remain now.

    2. Man inna barrel

      It's driving me nuts. I find a nice chip to do a job, at the right price, but no stock expected for two years. On one job, I downgraded a switch-mode regulator chip to a far less efficient linear regulator, just to get the prototype made. For many of the chips, there are no equivalents from different manufacturers. You get equivalents for stuff like discrete semiconductors, CMOS logic and opamps, but if that is all I could use, it would be like going back to the 1980's.

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Counterfeit chips

    It beggars belief that someone would actually try this. I mean, sure, a counterfeit luxury purse is still a purse, but a counterfeit processor ? How do you justify that ?

    You can't just go sell an 8086 and brand it a Pentium. A counterfeit luxury purse can look as good as the original, but a counterfeit chip is going to be found out real quick.

    These guys must be happy to sell just once to each customer, because I'd never buy from them twice.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Counterfeit chips

      These guys must be happy to sell just once to each customer, because I'd never buy from them twice.

      *I* would be very happy selling a containers worth of duff chips only once, even at 2% interest rates!


      Some of those chips may not be counterfeit, they could be sub-spec parts rejected from a genuine production line. Those sometimes end up as "The Black Blob" in toys or crappy consumer products.

      In normal times the manufacturers mark them, but, these are interesting times.

    2. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Counterfeit chips

      The big problem is that they're selling to resellers who sell to resellers, so you buy ten reels from a reputable supplier and find that one reel is fake.

      Or even buy one reel and find it's a mix of genuine and fake components because some reseller in the chain repackaged them.

      "Fake" also means a real chip that failed manufacturer tests, or even more common, "commercial" or "low speed" fake-badged as the extended temperature range or high-speed variant.

      So it "mostly works" until too warm/cold, in a humid environment, has run at the higher clock speed for too long etc. That can escape post assembly testing too, and then your car won't go or your washing machine doesn't.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Counterfeit chips

        "Or even buy one reel and find it's a mix of genuine and fake components because some reseller in the chain repackaged them."

        You can also find reels where the start of the reel has legit parts and the rest are counterfeit. If the customer wants to test some parts to verify they're legit, they'll typically pull from the start of the reel.

      2. nintendoeats Silver badge

        Re: Counterfeit chips

        You mean those two devices which were invented and commercialized long before the invention of the IC :p

        Maybe people will need to relearn the art of building things without MCUs in them. Perish the thought.

    3. Electronics'R'Us

      Re: Counterfeit chips

      Counterfeit devices are big business, particularly in the high reliability market where equipment is expected to last for decades.

      Given that prices for such parts are often very high (and are necessary for repairs) the rewards are also high for counterfeiters.

      It should be no surprise that anti-counterfeiting measures are also extensive.

      I can't find it right now, but one supplier to the USAF (who do a lot of their own repairs) was found guilty of providing counterfeit parts (re-labelled from commercial to industrial temperature ranges).

      Most new military equipment uses industrial temperature range parts; we only use mil-spec (-55C to 125C) where that is really necessary.

    4. Stuart Halliday

      Re: Counterfeit chips

      I've came across counterfeit fuses, resistors, etc. If it can be copied, then believe me when I say are you 100% sure all your stock is genuine?

    5. Binraider Silver badge

      Re: Counterfeit chips

      Saw plenty of counterfeit chips in Hong Kong. And motherboards stuffed full of them too; lots 90s motherboards had fake caches and bios hacks to make them look better than they actually were.

      Harder to disguise a processor, but there are well documented examples of faked graphics cards with 20 year old chips on them; and a bios flash to make them look like something they aren’t.

      Justification has nothing to do with their existence. Ripping you off by any means necessary is absolutely a motivation.

  4. fajensen

    Ahhh, The benefits of dumbass, geriatric, serial fuck-up & fail-up, "leadership" running a trade war on their main factory without any further thoughs or preparation being made for it!

    Already in 2018, my TBTF-project was quoted delivery times of more than six months on simple screws, clips and fasteners. I guess the proceedings are slowly moving up the value chain and Pharma will be next to become stuck in some ill defined bureaucratic miasma?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Advanced Features

    A lot of automotive 'advanced features' are hardly necessary - and some seem counter-productive. Replacing a mechanical handbrake (brake of last resort) with a big red button always seemed a controversial design decision - as my friend recently discovered.

    1. druck Silver badge

      Re: Advanced Features

      Touch screens should also be banned from cars, which will liberate a few chips. Manufacturers know they are dangerous to use while driving, but are coming up with idiotic alternatives such a gesture control, which still involve looking for visual feedback and having hands off the wheel for longer than conventional controls - just put knobs on the dash, you knobs!

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Advanced Features

        Unfortunately they would go to (as some already are) voice recognition which requires even more advanced chips.

    2. Great Bu

      Re: Advanced Features

      I can't say I am going to shed too many tears at the loss of auto start-stop - the most annoying of the "turn this off as soon as you start the car" features.....

      1. J. Cook Silver badge

        Re: Advanced Features

        Especially when it malfunctions and leaves you sitting dead in the water in a turn lane with a bunch of tired and cranky drivers behind you...

  6. Sparkus

    One would think that the counterfeiters

    could make more/equal money by going 'legit'.........

    1. stiine Silver badge

      Re: One would think that the counterfeiters

      Licensing the designs would cut into their profits.

  7. andrewmm

    Last minute changes in orders

    I get shortages

    I dont get, how we can order say 1 million of a capacitor with 12 months delay,

    and a week before delivery of the first batch , told thats its another 8 months away !

    I get shortages

    I dont understand how we got here

    were we so close to the edge, that CV19 pushed us over the edge ?

  8. Man inna barrel

    Scheduled orders and panic buying

    Big users of chips are booking orders years in advance. One of our suppliers is encouraging their customers to do this. As far as I am concerned it is a form of panic buying, like filling your loft with bogroll and pasta. It amplifies and lengthens a minor shortage.

    Another factor is that profit margins had dropped to an unacceptable level, so manufacturers restrict supply to drive up prices.

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