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Electronics industry tackling the coronavirus

29 April 2020 News

2020 has been a crazy year already. From Australian bushfires to climate emergencies to US trade tariffs, the start of the decade hasn’t been very positive. Not only this, within the last few months there has been something much worse brewing – the coronavirus (Covid-19).It was 30 January 2020 when the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a ‘public health emergency’. The virus first broke out in Wuhan late December 2019 and spread like wildfire – causing almost 89 000 casualties in less than five months. At the time of writing, the virus has been confirmed in over 184 countries and has infected over 1 487 000 people worldwide.

Things haven’t got much better – on 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation confirmed the coronavirus a pandemic. A pandemic is the term used for a disease which is spreading between multiple people and countries at the same time. The last time a pandemic occurred was 2009 with swine flu.

How is this affecting the electronics industry?

Electronics manufacturers anticipate at least a five-week product shipment delay from suppliers due to the coronavirus epidemic, according to a survey conducted by IPC, a global electronics manufacturing association. The group says shipping delays from China and other countries where the virus has spread are already having negative impacts on manufacturers.

Roughly 65% of manufacturers report their suppliers expect, on average, a three-week delay. However, electronics manufacturers expect delays to be longer than what their suppliers are currently quoting. On average, executives expect shipment delays to be at least five weeks.

“The delays will likely have ripple effects for the rest of the year,” said John Mitchell, IPC’s president and CEO. “The longer China is affected by the epidemic and the more it spreads to other parts of the world, the supply chain will experience more and varied strains and disruptions.”

The virus is not only affecting companies within the industry, but also events. SEMICON Southeast Asia 2020 has been postponed from 12-14 May 2020 to 11-13 August 2020 due to concern surrounding the virus. “After close consultation with our stakeholders, which include partners, exhibitors, industry peers and the general community, we have made the necessary decision to postpone SEMICON Southeast Asia 2020,” said Bee Bee Ng, president of SEMI Southeast Asia.

How is the virus affecting the global economy?

The virus has already caused many knock-on effects for the global economy. From lengthy manufacturing time frames to fewer sales, there is global fear of the economy slowing down to a halt. According to City A.M., Bank of England governor Mark Carney has said the economic shock from coronavirus 'could prove large' but sought to reassure the public that it will 'ultimately be temporary'. Stated by Economic Times, coronavirus could cost the world $1 trillion.

The worrying prospect that the Covid-19 outbreak could become the first truly disruptive pandemic of the globalisation era is renewing doubts over the stability of the world economy. Many workers are already facing disruptions to their daily routines as schools, companies and local governments implement precautions to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

Many organisations have restricted travel along with home-based working arrangements. On 11 March, Donald Trump stated that he had suspended all travel from Europe to the US – excluding the UK. However, he included the UK in this ban a few days after. The travel ban has caused a huge plunge in the markets.

However, things may be looking up for the electronics industry. Boris Johnson has stressed that in order to have a chance at tackling this virus, we need more ventilators. For many patients critically ill with Covid-19, a ventilator could be a matter of life or death. The structure of the machine is to get oxygen to the lungs while removing carbon dioxide. This is essential for patients who are too sick to breathe on their own.

“The fact the government is asking manufacturers to make a different product to what they normally make is unprecedented since World War Two,” Justin Benson, from the consultancy KMPG, said. “It’s a relatively complex piece of equipment with lots of components and a dedicated supply chain. So, asking someone who makes a car to produce a respirator would take them some time.”

This would result in more work for many electronic manufacturing companies and potentially creating new jobs. According to the Guardian, the first batch of ventilators would be 5000 from Oxfordshire-based Penlon. The ventilator specialist is drawing on manufacturing support from firms including Formula 1 teams McLaren and Mercedes, Ford, Siemens and Meggitt.

Not only this, but Tesla is doing a great job at contributing to tackle the virus. As stated by Forbes, the coronavirus crisis has led Elon Musk to jump into the medical device industry, with SpaceX fabricating components for Medtronic MDT ventilators, corporate donations of BiPAP breathing machines that can be modified for use as non-invasive ventilators and promising to use a Tesla TSLA factory to produce ventilators. Now Tesla engineers have designed a prototype ventilator that uses parts adapted from electric vehicles.

Challenges

These are very difficult times for individuals and businesses due to the uncertainty of what the future holds. Let’s start with the electronics industry striving to produce ventilators. Ventilators are very difficult to manufacture due to their unique structure and programming.

“These are extremely sensitive machines with not only a lot of hardware, but also a lot of software. If one of the components does not work correctly, the whole machine shuts down and cannot be used anymore,” Jens Hallek, CEO at Hamilton Medical, said.

However, large and small companies are joining forces in order to tackle the virus once and for all. According to the Daily Mail, a family-run engineering company located in Wales is developing a new ventilator to treat the patients. It is said they are en route to producing 100 ventilators a day. Engineers CR Clarke – who usually design plastic fabrication equipment for industry – were approached by Dr Rhys Thomas (NHS Senior) who was concerned at the lack of intensive care unit ventilators.

As per the BBC, Dyson has received an order for 10 000 units, pending regulatory approval. The firm, headed by British inventor Sir James Dyson, has drawn up its design from scratch in collaboration with Cambridge-based medical firm The Technology Partnership.

As the shortage of ventilators is becoming more crucial for tackling the virus, “health professionals may be obliged to withdraw treatment from some patients to enable treatment of other patients with a higher survival probability,” according to the BBC. “This may involve withdrawing treatment from an individual who is stable or even improving but whose objective assessment indicates a worse prognosis than another patient who requires the same resource.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive for coronavirus late in March and since then he has been hospitalised for a series of routine tests. Stated from the BBC, he is “still very much in charge of the government” despite spending the night in hospital with coronavirus, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said. This makes things more challenging for Johnson as he is juggling managing the country along with his own health. “I still have a temperature. So in accordance with government advice I must continue my self-isolation until that symptom itself goes,” he said. “But we’re working clearly the whole time on our programme to beat the virus.”

On the other hand, the virus has caused many challenges for manufacturers and suppliers. According to Business Insider, a survey was carried out by IPC on effects the virus is having on companies within the electronics industry. IPC found that around 65% of respondents were told by suppliers to expect delays of around three weeks in shipments due to the outbreak. “I believe the worst is yet to come,” one anonymous manufacturer told IPC. “The Chinese local government is fully overwhelmed with this process and could take weeks to get flushed out for factory production starting. Overall, I expect further delays on manufactured electronics.”

According to another quote from Business Insider, some manufacturers told IPC that they were rerouting supply chains to avoid areas in China heavily affected by the coronavirus. DuBravac said many manufacturers are keen to establish a ‘dual-sourced’ supply chain regardless of the outbreak, to keep from overly relying on one supplier or region.

When it comes to the impact that the coronavirus will have on their business, 30% of survey participants admitted to being extremely concerned, while 54% said they were somewhat concerned. The survey ran between 11 and 16 February. However, as China was recently released from its lockdown, manufacturing and delivery times should slowly shorten within the next few weeks.

Cancellations

Many global industry trade shows were sadly cancelled or postponed due to Covid-19. These include The Electronic Component Show, Mobile World Congress and EDS. For many organisations these events are a huge source of their marketing budgets and reliable income.

Nürnberg Messe usually welcomes around 150 000 visitors at the Embedded World events. However, they saw approximately 900 exhibitors in the halls. Global semiconductor manufacturer, STMicroelectronics, who usually has a massive presence at the show, released a statement: “STMicroelectronics has been closely following the situation related to the novel coronavirus outbreak and has taken a number of precautionary measures to ensure the health and safety of its employees worldwide. As an additional measure, the company has taken the decision to withdraw from exhibiting at MWC 2020 in Barcelona and at embedded world in Nuremberg.”

Many other companies, including ARM, Cypress, Digi-Key, Intel, Microchip, Mouser, NXP, Renesas, Silicon Labs, Texas Instruments and Xilinx also made the difficult decision to withdraw from the show, putting the health and safety of its employees and customers first.

What the industry professionals have to say

SOS Electronic: At this time, we have not detected any specific interruptions within our supply chain. However, delivery dates for certain products may ultimately be affected in the future. Therefore, we cannot guarantee them with certainty and we encourage customers to place new orders in time to avoid coronavirus problems that may affect their business.

Mouser Electronics: Regarding travels, we have restricted all travels to Asia and within Asia. We have recently also stopped all travels to Italy and are limiting all other travels to Europe, within Europe and to/from USA. It is highly likely that we will see very few people flying for at least the next month, barring exceptional circumstances and we see the same from most of our supplier partners. As the situation changes, we will review. We have ensured all offices globally have masks available as well as sanitiser to clean hands plus re-emphasising good hygiene rules.

Digi-Key: At Digi-Key, our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone impacted by Covid-19 worldwide and our primary concern is for the health and safety of our team members, customers and business partners. Our business model positions us with substantial inventory to offer minimal disruption to our customers and we have worked closely with our multiple carrier partners to mitigate impact on cargo plans. We’re providing updates and FAQs on our website for our customers and we’re in constant communication with our suppliers.

For more information visit www.ebom.com




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