Editor's Choice

From the Editor's desk: Sustainability in an unsustainable world

28 July 2021 Editor's Choice News

It is probably the case that almost every generation of humans has believed it faces ‘unprecedented’ challenges of one kind or another. Partly this can be put down to us having relatively short ‘cultural’ memory – our constructed understanding of the past that flows from one generation to the next. In essence, what’s happening in the here-and-now seems more important because everything that’s happened in the past has, well, already passed.

But given our species’ insatiable desire for continual advancement, it is quite literally the case that much of what we do is unprecedented. To stand on precedent would amount to an attempt to be the immovable object to the unstoppable force that is technological progress.

I do believe, however, that our current generation has a fair claim to the all-time‘unprecedented’ crown. Whether from social unrest as demonstrated by the recent widespread looting across our country, the COVID-19 pandemic, or the extreme weather events that are escalating in many parts of the world, it’s a miracle we’ve even made it through the last eighteen months. Or rather, not so much a miracle as a testament to our technological prowess that society has, for the most part, managed to function throughout it all.

Brett van den Bosch, Editor

Framed in that context, it is not easy to focus on the future when you are pre-occupied with just surviving the present, yet this is the fundamental, existential problem mankind is faced with right now: sustainability. There is a Greek proverb that says, “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” – which sums up this point very succinctly, and also goes to show that while we can’t live in the past, there is much wisdom to be gleaned from it.

When it comes to sustainability in the electronics industry, the most immediate problem is to alleviate the global shortage of components, while at the same time investing in capacity for ever-increasing market demand. Semiconductor giants like Intel and TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation), for example, are spending billions of dollars to grow their capacity.

The interconnectedness of the semiconductor supply chain has also invited scrutiny, according to a report by Global X. Governments are mulling the pros and cons of reshoring semiconductor supply chains to prevent future disruptions, but reshoring the semiconductor industry is difficult and not all efforts to do so will succeed. In fact, 53% of semiconductor companies in a 2021 survey identified territorialism as the biggest industry issue.

The geographical centres of power in the semiconductor industry have also shifted over the past 30 years. For example, Japan once dominated as its companies took in 49% of integrated circuit sales in 1990. In 2017, that number dwindled down to 7%, with most of it going to Japan’s rapidly growing neighbours.

The real winners from the semiconductor shortage and subsequent supply chain shakeup will be those that pursue innovation. There is plenty of room for that as Moore’s Law has generally stayed true. Companies that reach for ‘More than Moore’ innovation, namely finding new methods of chip optimisation that are more efficient than traditional architecture, will have a better chance at disrupting the status quo of the semiconductor industry, the Global X report posited.

In the end, we can only do what we can do, and for many businesses at the moment it’s not so much a matter of sustaining as just maintaining. The ones that do this the best will be the ones most likely to survive the eventual upturn in fortunes. For a more positive spin on how this is an achievable goal, be sure to read Mike Goodyer’s (owner of Microtronix Manufacturing) comments in the article at http://www.dataweek.co.za/13876r.


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