Zoom on the semiconductor crisis, zoom in on the semiconductor crisis
Despite the economic recovery, many industries are running downwards due to an electronic flea shortage.Car manufacturers are particularly affected, especially in Europe.A continent which, once again, is strongly penalized due to its dependence on Asian companies.Six questions to better understand the reasons and consequences of this crisis.
What is a semiconductor?
A semiconductor is a material that has the specificity of being more or less electric current conductive.This conductivity depends on the raw materials that fall into its composition (silicon, germanium, silicon carbide, etc.) and its manufacturing process (introduction of impurities to modify the electrical properties of the semiconductor).
Semiconductors take the form of ultra-fine plates that we come to stack on each other.They can be compared to microscopic transistors.They are used to produce electronic chips which themselves equip many devices that we use every day (cars, planes, household appliances, smartphones, connected objects, watches, toys, etc.).
Who makes them?
Producing semiconductors is a complex process that requires enormous investments.This is why few companies around the world are able to do so and why most electronic chip manufacturers subcontract this activity at very specialized foundries.
The most important, TSMC, is based in Taiwan.On its own, it produces more than 50 % of the semiconductors on the planet and holds 85 % of the world market for semiconductors measuring less than 7 nm.The finer the semiconductors, the more possible it becomes to stack in an electronic chip.And the more a chip contains semiconductors, the more powerful it is.This is why these ultrafine semiconductors are very popular with processor manufacturers equipping advanced equipment (computers, smartphones, etc.).
Samsung, Korean, is also able to produce this type of semiconductor.On the American side, Unetl announced the manufacture of its first 7 nm chips for 2023.As for IBM, it should launch a processor of this category for its servers by the end of the year and recently announced that it is able to produce a thick semiconductor sheet of only 2 nm.This would allow, according to IBM, to increase the performance of a semiconductor by 7 Nm by 45 % and to reduce its energy consumption by 75 %.No release date for these 2 nm semiconductors was specified by IBM.
For the record, Europe, whose semiconductor companies hold only a little more than 8 % of the world market, has no major foundry capable of producing components of less than 22 nm.The two European leaders are the German Infineon and the Franco-Italian Stmicroelectronics.
What is the origin of the shortage?
The reasons explaining this shortage are multiple.First there is the COVVI-19 crisis, which slowed down the production of these foundries, while, at the same time, the demand for electronic products (laptops, televisions, game consoles) was off due toconfinement and telework.
To this came to be added a request for electronic chips boosted by the deployment of 5G technology which implies the production of new antennas but especially new more powerful smartphones.Not to mention the increasingly sustained success of connected objects and the rapid recovery of Chinese domestic consumption, after the first epidemic wave.
According to IDC, the world semiconductor market increased by 5.4 % in 2020, despite the health crisis, reaching $ 442 billion.It could reach $ 476 billion in 2021 and thus experience an increase of 7.7 % in this last financial year.
What are the consequences of this crisis?
Above all, this shortage leads to production delays.This is the case in computer science and electronics, where delivery times are lengthening.Delays which are accompanied by an increase in prices induced by the "rarity" of the products available and by the outbreak of the costs of maritime transport (the composite index of Drewry which measures the transport cost of containers increased by 290 %in one year).
Inflation that could continue to increase given the announcement of an increase of 10 to 20 % of its prices by TSMC.
Why is the automobile so touched?
In the automobile, this crisis forced leading manufacturers to temporarily stop some of their factories.This was the case, in particular, of the world leader Toyota, who, in last September, had to reduce his production by 40 %.A brake that has come to affect its Chinese, American, European but also Japanese sites.On the archipelago, 14 factories were thus placed when stopped or saw their operation strongly slow down.
In reality, except for Tesla, the largest car manufacturers were forced to review their 2021 production down due to the shortage of semiconductors.Renault thus provides for a loss of production of 500,000 vehicles in 2021 and Stellantis (PSA, Fiat-Chrysler) of 1.4 million vehicles.For its part, Volkswagen has just announced a shortfall to produce 600,000 vehicles in the 3rd quarter 2021 and only expect an annual production close to that of 2020.Year of crisis which had seen its sales drop by 15.2 % compared to 2019.
For the IHS Markit office, the impact of shortages, and mainly that of semiconductors, should drop the world production of vehicles of 12 % in 2021, a shortage of 10.6 million units.
For the record, more than 1,000 electronic chips are required to manufacture a thermal vehicle (and even more for a hybrid or a 100 % electric).In addition, many of the chips used, less efficient than those intended for IT and high tech equipment, are massively assembled, controlled or encapsulated, at low cost, in countries like Malaysia or Vietnam.Countries in which the circulation of COVVI-19 has imposed for months strong health restrictions.The situation should therefore not arrange before, on the one hand, an increase in the production capacities of the main foundries of semiconductors and, on the other hand, a real restart of the subcontractors of the manufacturers, who will not be able to'Operate that with a health return to normal in the Southeast Asian.
When will a return to normal?
Hoped for the end of summer 2021, the return to normal will not intervene, according to the experts, before mid-2022.Questioned by the Wall Street Journal, on July 22, Pat Gelsinger, the CEO of Intel, even saw this shortage continue until 2023.
Beyond this crisis, and to prevent it from happening again, TSMC has just announced an investment of $ 100 billion to increase its production over the next 3 years.Intel should also build three new semiconductor factories, including two in the United States and one in Europe.On the old continent, this represents an investment of $ 93 billion over 10 years for the American manufacturer.The location where this factory will be found will be unveiled by the end of the year, specifies the AFP.
As for Europeans, they wish to find a certain autonomy by doubling the capacity of the factories of the European Union by 2030.An ambition which will be supported by a European framework law, "European Chips Act", whose objective is to defend European technological sovereignty.France, at its level, will affect € 6 billion out of € 30 billion in its investment plan, to the aid of national production of reinforced semiconductors.