If you were looking forward to buying a car in the new year, you may want to reconsider. Automakers continue to be hit hard by the chip shortage and supply chain disruptions from 2020. They are taking steps, however, to stabilize their supplies. We cover their efforts today in both areas including the best industrial computers for the job. 

Dealing with Car Chip Shortage

Automakers are heavily dependent on Asia for semiconductor parts and production. This made them vulnerable to the chip shortage during the 2020 pandemic and the worldwide lockdowns that followed. 

So will they see relief this year? Not according to industry analysts. Automakers from Ford to BMW predict the chip shortage will continue through 2023. This continued lack of semiconductor chips is echoed by the semiconductor industry. As pointed out by Bill Jewell, a consultant with Semiconductor Intelligence: “Shortages of automotive semiconductors will likely remain through at least the year 2023. Although a few automakers indicate they are back at full production, most report continuing shortages. The shortages will prevent automakers from producing enough vehicles to meet demand in 2022 and 2023, resulting in continued high prices for most vehicles.”

Automakers continue to look over their options. The first is to produce chips domestically. Before the pandemic, chips – and many products – were manufactured overseas because of cheaper costs both in labor, materials, and supply chains. Now major chip manufacturers like Intel, Samsung, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited (TSMC) are building plants in the US. The disruptions and delays by the pandemic proved too much to automakers to ever weather through again.

Nearby centers of automotive manufacturing like the city of Saltillo, Mexico, have also been eyed as potential candidates. The bustling city of over 800,000 is one of the largest automotive industries in the country with numerous nearby suppliers. Even more importantly, labor costs in Mexico are lower than average labor costs in China. 

Unfortunately, the plants will not come on-line early enough to relieve the shortage. On average, it takes three years to build semiconductor facilities.

The second way is to produce the chips in-house; that is, within the company itself. This is in following in the footsteps of current EV-giant Tesla, which pioneered the movement.

General Motors plans to develop its own chips which it hopes to have available by 2025. Hyundai and Ford, through their affiliates Hyundai Mobis and GlobalFoundries, have plans as well. Again, it’ll be several years before the chips become available. 

Dionis Teshler, CTO of automotive security company GuardKnox, has suggested a third, more radical solution. As an answer to current and future chip shortages, he suggests car manufacturers redesign their vehicles so that different components can perform various functions.  

“You can host features [on the platform] and basically make them pieces of software that run on big hardware platforms,” Teshler points out. “Then you can put it on another hardware platform and bring them together. So even if you’re missing [a semiconductor chip] you can still put a bunch of applications on a different one.”

There are two major advantages to these systems: 

  • Less chips will be needed per vehicle
  • Automakers can use chips from a variety of vendors 

In both cases, car manufacturers will have greater resiliency in any future shortages. 

No current automaker is considering Teshler’s proposal in any reported seriousness at the time of this writing. 

Best Supply Chain Models for Carmakers 

The chip shortage will eventually be solved by increased manufacturing. The supply chain disruptions are a different matter. They involve more logistics: issues with transport, shutdowns at dock, global political unrest, tracking errors, etc. Automakers are scrambling to transport reliably scarce materials and component parts to their plants. These include diodes, resistors, and other so-called “popcorn parts,” many of which perform simple but vital functions.

In-sourcing is, again, proving to be key. Automakers like Stellantis and Renault are turning to circular economies in remanufacturing, repairing, reusing, and recycling vehicle parts and materials in-house. It’s hoped that, by doing so, they can extend the life of their vehicles and their component parts.

Other automakers are turning to partners to handle their recycling efforts. Batteries – especially for EVs – are in high demand as carmakers ramp up their EV efforts. Ford and Volvo have teamed up with Redwood Materials to process spent EV batteries. GM has done similarly with Li-Cycle. 

While some automakers have moved battery recycling in-house, others have formed partnerships with battery recyclers such as Redwood Materials and Li-Cycle to keep up with the demand. 

One of the most radical approaches are partnerships between auto manufacturers and mining companies. These are being formed to secure a steady supply of crucial metals for EV batteries like cobalt, lithium, and nickel.

Computers for Chip Manufacture, Supply Chain Issues

Car parts and components are sourced globally. This makes keeping track of large and sprawling parts inventories important. This can be a challenge since important data like shipping location and times can be locked away in data silos, incompatible Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, or simply unavailable due to a lack of data cohesion.

Various technologies are available to make rolling out the above solutions easier. One way is to ensure the industrial PCs used throughout a car maker’s plants and factories have the right features. They should:

Be Industrial Grade

The conditions on the automotive factory floor are tough on computers: 

  • Temperatures can vary wildly 
  • Air can be filled with dust, dirt, metal shavings, and other grit
  • Automated assembly lines can operate for long periods of time

These and more are why any computers on the floor should be are made with military-grade parts that can stand up to the impact and extreme conditions.

Have Built-in RFID / Barcode reader 

Portable PCs like industrial tablets can help make tracking and inventory management a lot easier and more accurate thanks to built-in RFID readers and barcode scanners. Hyundai Mobis, which is working with Hyundai Motors on EV batteries, uses the technologies to error proof its production line. 

Be Fanless 

Semiconductor chips are extremely sensitive to particles like dust and other forms of contamination. This is especially true in their manufacture. Automakers making them in-house should make sure their clean rooms use industrial computers with fanless design. This not only prevents the movement of any possible airborne contaminants in the clean room’s air, but more importantly doesn’t affect the room’s special pressure systems. 

Closing Comment

The chip shortage and supply chain disruptions from 2020 continue to challenge automakers in the new year. To meet them, they’re turning to various solutions from manufacturing chips in-house to recycling auto parts like spent EV batteries. 

Contact an expert at Cybernet if your company is looking for industrial grade computers as part of your solutions to the chip and supply chain woes. 

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