Life has thrown so many obstacles in our path over the past two years that we can be forgiven for feeling like the ground is continually shifting beneath us, forcing us to re-establish our centre of gravity at the drop of a hat and come up with new ways of doing things. In the electronics industry especially, if you’re just keeping up you’re actually going backwards, so the last thing we needed was to be sent careening downhill with only two wheels on the ground.
First it was the Covid-19 pandemic that, unbeknownst to us initially, was already upon us by the time we started seeing headlines about outbreaks popping up all around the globe. We’re less than a quarter of the way into the 21st century so there’s still a lot that can go wrong, but this pandemic will surely go down as one of the most destabilising influences of the modern era.
Deeply affecting our personal and professional lives – and sadly taking so many lives – Covid-19 bowled us so many fast balls that the last thing we were expecting was a slow ball (to use cricketing parlance). In the electronics industry, that slow ball came at us courtesy of the supply of semiconductor chips suddenly slowing down to a snail’s pace.
Far from being an excuse for a go-slow, the chip shortage has amplified the pressure on all parties up and down the supply chain. For manufacturers, be they original equipment manufacturers (OEM) or electronics manufacturing service (EMS) providers, sitting with circuit boards that can’t be fully assembled is costly. Waiting for components to arrive means productivity takes a knock and the products they would be selling on to their end customers aren’t contributing to the company’s turnover in the short term. What’s more, lead times are often indeterminate and can get pushed out from six weeks to six months quicker than you can say ‘allocation’. The other option is to redesign around the problem, which is sub-optimal by definition and has cost ramifications in terms of not only the time required but also the engineering hours necessary.
Add to this the fact that technological innovation continues to rocket ahead apace and it would be surprising if there’s one head left in this industry without tufts of hair pulled out of it by the end of 2022 (which is widely predicted as being the latest the current shortage will persist).
A new cause for optimism is the inception of EDMASA (Electronics Developers and Manufacturers Association of South Africa), which you can read about here http://www.dataweek.co.za/15400r. It seems like forever since companies in the local industry have got together and formed an association that’s all about changing things for the betterment of its members and the industry at large, rather than labouring on individually to sustain ‘business as usual’. For too long there has been a disconnect between government policy and business interests in this industry and we are sorely in need of a forward-thinking injection of bold ideas, fresh faces and a well-defined mandate to engage with those in the corridors of power as a united front. Hopefully EDMASA will find the impetus we need to forge South Africa’s path into a prosperous future.
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