COVID-19, in combination with the consolidation in the chip-making business, has created a crunch so intense that it could significantly slow down or end Moore’s Law while also slowing down our economy. This article highlights the Sophie’s Choice that chip producers now find themselves in.
They can shift their production to the inexpensive chips that have stalled the manufacturing lines of automobiles, smartphones, laptops, video-game consoles, TVs, and smart appliances or remain committed to producing new high-end chipsets – but probably not both. This article in MIT Technology Review provides a cogent explanation for the bind that economics have put the chip manufacturing industry in and finding a way out will likely take years:
“The global shortage is shining a harsh spotlight on the semiconductor industry’s ability to deliver cheaper and more powerful microchips. The longstanding promise of chips with ever more capabilities inspired engineers, programmers, and product designers to create generations of new products and services. Moore’s Law has been more than just a road map for the semiconductor industry—it has governed technological change over the last half-century.
Now that promise of more computing power everywhere is crumpling, but not because chipmakers have finally run up against the physical limits of technology to make ever smaller transistors. Instead, the growing costs of sustaining Moore’s Law have encouraged consolidation among chipmakers and created more choke points in the immensely complex business of chip production.
Even as microchips have become essential in so many products, their development and manufacturing have come to be dominated by a small number of producers with limited capacity—and appetite—for churning out the commodity chips that are a staple for today’s technologies. And because making chips requires hundreds of manufacturing steps and months of production time, the semiconductor industry cannot quickly pivot to satisfy the pandemic-fueled surge in demand.”
Overview by Tim Sloane, VP, Payments Innovation at Mercator Advisory Group