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The global chip shortage has created a shortage of...chipmaking machines

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In a strange turn of events, the global semiconductor supply crunch is also being felt by manufacturers of chipmaking equipment.

The shortage of chips, which is now affecting the biggest semiconductor users across all industries, reportedly first surfaced in the fourth quarter of last year. 

Manufacturing unit shutdowns owing to the Covid-19 pandemic are widely considered to be the trigger for the crisis, which has forced chip makers to accelerate their expansion plans, leading to the current predicament.

According to latest reports, wait times for specialized equipment now extend up to a year. 

Chain reaction

Industry sources have reportedly identified at least four types of vital production equipment that are in short supply.

"Some of these equipment makers are also suffering from chip shortages and some are struggling with labor issues due to pandemic lockdowns, like all the other tech players, and that weighs on the process of building machines," an anonymous source with direct knowledge of the situation told Nikkei Asia.

Mitsubishi Electric, which is the leading manufacturer for laser drilling machines used on printed circuit boards and chip substrates, is said to be giving delivery dates of over twelve months for orders.

The elongated delivery times for the critical tools in the chip making process will naturally have a dramatic impact on the capacity expansion plans not just of the chip manufacturers, but all throughout the supply chain, from packaging and testing service providers to substrates suppliers.

"It's a chain reaction,” said Chiu Shih-fang, a tech and supply chain analyst with Taiwan Institute of Economic Research. "Electronics and automakers expect component makers to expand capacity to address the shortage. But when these component makers talk to their equipment and materials suppliers, they realize deliveries could be as late as the end of this year or even next year.”

Shih-fang reasoned that even if the delay impacts only one or two components, it would still have a cascading effect and again derail the entire system. 

Via Nikkei Asia