Of ships and chips — the global supply chain problem

By now, you’ve probably heard the term “supply chain” a time or two in the news. If you haven’t, you’ve definitely felt the effects. Everything, it seems, has been affected, but items that use a microchip are in especially short supply. This includes the whole range from electronic toothbrushes to talking toys to, yes, cameras and video production equipment. So what’s the problem? Is it simply the COVID-19 pandemic causing delays? This may be an oversimplification, but here are some of the basics.

Breaks in the supply chain

There is not one singular, easy answer to the problem. Yes, issues began with the pandemic, but that’s not the only answer. Let’s roll back the clock to late 2019. The electronics industry as a whole was already being stretched very thin because of the high demand for semiconductors — an essential element in microchips. There are only a few places where they are mass-produced. There are even fewer places that make extremely small, high-capacity memory components. Primarily the process happens in China, Japan and Taiwan with skilled laborers.

Of course, the pandemic hit China earliest. Many of its plants shut down completely. Manufacturing chips is definitely not something you can do working from home.

Additionally, some countries shut down every industry as a precaution. The shutdown included the other links in the supply chain — like packing and shipping operations and dock workers. The world of electronics ground to a halt.

Speaking of working from home, some industries shifted to the home office model. As a result, the demand skyrocketed for electronics, like laptops, webcams, printers and modems. Stock was flying off the shelves faster than the industry could restock. This created a hole that some companies are still trying to climb out of.

On the high seas

As restrictions for workers slowly lifted, manufacturing returned, but a bigger issue was taking place at sea. Most electronic equipment doesn’t get flown to the US. It goes by shipping containers loaded on cargo ships. This takes a few weeks. However, it’s much more efficient when shipping massive quantities. From there, goods are loaded onto trains and trucks and dispersed across the country.

Here lies another broken link in the chain. In some countries, dockworkers get tested for COVID regularly. A positive test means a worker can be out for several weeks. The restrictions on foreign ship crews add to the delay. Some countries require crews to quarantine for several weeks before loading or unloading cargo. In some cases, the quarantine has to happen offshore.

Recovery process

Experts say it may take a year or more for the supply chain to get back to pre-pandemic levels. Currently, retailers are reluctant to talk publicly about the shortages, but it has been widely reported that cameras are slowly coming into stores. Still, the quantities are very low.

If you are excited to get your hands on that newly released model, expect it to take weeks, if not months, to arrive on your doorstep. Our best advice is to be patient, understand the links in the supply chain and make the best videos you can with what you have.

Matthew York
Matthew York
Matt York is Videomaker's Publisher/Editor.

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