Four Silver Linings in the Stormy Clouds of Pandemic, Supply Chain, and Inflation

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It may be difficult to see any bright spots in the current economic situation. We have all experienced the devastation of the pandemic, supply chain issues, and most recently, inflation. However, as a senior technologist for an international materials supplier (Indium Corporation) and a professor of engineering at an Ivy League research university (Dartmouth College), I offer these four silver linings for those of us in the electronics industry.

Silver Lining 1: Demand
Because of the pandemic and supply chain issues, there exists an insatiable demand for electronics. Nearly all industries are dependent on electronics. For example, many auto-mobiles are structurally assembled, but are awaiting electronics installation. For example, I’m currently waiting on a Volvo that was ordered in May and is not expected until October; the hold-up is the lack of electronics.

Silver Lining 2: Greater Supply Independence
The shortages during the pandemic and more recent supply chain issues are driving a sense that countries like the United States must be more independent for supply from unstable countries and regions. Most notable, action to support this concern is the recent passage of the CHIPS and Science Act. As in Silver Lining 1, this bill, although controversial in many aspects, will almost certainly lead to more jobs in electronics. I think we will see this independent drive go beyond electronics to pharmaceuticals, machine tools, rare earth metals, and other critical materials and finished products.

Silver Lining 3: STEM Education
Not only will the United States need more engineers and technicians to develop and manufacture semiconductors and other high technology products like electrical vehicles, but the world has also seen how much supply chain challenges affect our lives. More scientists and engineers will be needed to improve the operations, transportation, and final delivery of the goods we all need to prosper in the 21st century. All these needs will be a boon to STEM education.

Silver Lining 4: Inflation
We have all suffered from inflation, mild at first and rampant now. It appears that much of the inflation is driven by the cost of fossil fuels. These high costs drive not just transportation, but fertilizer prices, food, construction—almost everything. This is where electronics can come to the rescue. Electronics are one of the few consumer products we purchase that historically come down in price. I was recently shopping and saw a 70-inch flat panel TV for less than $700. Just a few years ago, that TV would have cost about $2,000.

The United States and the rest of the world still have multiple challenges ahead, including supply and staff shortages, wars, and unrest. But with the near insatiable need for ever-increasing high-performing electronics, those of us in this vital industry are blessed indeed.

This article originally appears in the September 2022 issue of SMT007 Magazine.

Ronald C. Lasky is an instructional professor of engineering for the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, and senior technologist at Indium Corporation. Dr. Lasky is also an I-Connect007 columnist who contributes to SMT007 Magazine. To visit his columnist page, click here. 

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