Semiconductors are the most common materials in the computer hardware industry. Their shortage since the health crisis is one of the challenges in the technology industry recently.
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What is the definition of a semiconductor?
Semiconductor is a solid chemical compound, which can conduct electricity under some conditions but not others, making it a good way to control an electric current. Indeed, its electrical properties allow it to be both a conductor (like metals) and an insulator.
It is by heating, illuminating (principle of the photovoltaic panel) or by subjecting the material to an electrical voltage that it becomes conductive. This hybrid property is the basis of all modern computing and powers all our computing devices, including connected objects.
What are the uses of semiconductors?
Semiconductors make up the majority of electronic devices, starting with the computer to avoid overheating, the tablet or the smartphone. It can also be found in transistor radios, televisions, video game consoles, medical equipment, etc. But the main application sectors for semiconductors are industry 4.0, aeronautics and automotive.
Examples of Semiconductors
Silicon is the most widely used semiconductor material, due to its good properties and natural abundance. But there are also dozens of other semiconductors, such as germanium, gallium arsenide or silicon carbide.
What explains the shortage of semiconductors?
Since the end of 2020, manufacturers have been facing a shortage of components, particularly semiconductors. This shortage is due to a series of factors that have combined:
- The confinements linked to the covid-19 health crisis which brought production to a halt, causing delays in deliveries.
- Climatic conditions: severe droughts in Taiwan have particularly impacted the manufacture of semiconductors, which requires a lot of water.
- The increase in demand for electronic equipment (computers, game consoles, etc.)
- The rise of electric vehicles
- The growing interest in cryptocurrency mining requiring graphics processors made of semiconductors.
- The deployment of 5G which requires semiconductors in devices.
- Factory automation, as part of industry 4.0 projects, consuming semiconductors.
“The problem is that 70% of semiconductors are made by the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and Samsung Electronics. Faced with demand, they must prioritize certain customers and building a new production plant takes two to three years”, underlines Mehdi Chouiten, CEO and co-founder of Datategy, a French company specializing in data science, which recommends the use of artificial intelligence to detect factors influencing semiconductor production. According to the president of Intel, the shortage will have an impact until 2023.