Not that long ago, the idea of a radio and a refrigerator talking to each other was reserved for a “Jetsons” episode or the movie “2001:A Space Odyssey”. However, today it’s not so farfetched. Internet of Things (IoT) has revolutionized the way we live, and how we interact with our environment. What’s better, is any house can become a smart house and you don’t even need a “HAL” to interact with components like your smart switches, Wi-Fi routers or even your advanced camera.

Lights Out!

In manufacturing, IoT allows for faster and more efficient workflow. “Lights out” manufacturing (or dark factory) is when automated devices, 3D printers, and CNC machines are able to run without any physical person being present to observe the machines running. All can be controlled remotely from a handheld device. When a machine is down, a signal is sent to someone to repair the device. Minimal contact with the machines means manufacturers are able to save money and allow a person to be freed up to work on a more critical job and let the computer follow its own mission objective.

Do-it-yourselfers aren’t left out either

As for those of us that enjoy building things ourselves, the possibilities are endless, with help from cheap single-board computers. Products like Raspberry Pi (delicious name, powerful board) and Arduinos (speedy and adaptable) coming in at about $40, single board computers can help automate various appliances to perform tasks such as plant watering or activating a motor. Here at PWI we have used Raspberry Pi’s and Arduinos for prototyping as well as to build smart displays.  

The true MVP

With the price of processors down in comparison to 10 years ago, wireless controllers have become more With the price of processors down in comparison to 10 years ago, wireless controllers have become more mainstream. The unsung hero in the IoT landscape is truly IPv6 or internet protocol version 6. The introduction of IPv6 has allowed the creation of almost a limitless number of IP addresses. IP addresses allow wireless devices to be located within a network. Without IPv6 or with a limit on IP addresses, only select devices could be controlled at a time. With help from IoT you’ll never have to worry about hearing “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

This month we are going to move away from manufacturing technology and talk about something that is affecting the entire manufacturing industry – the lack of silicon for producing computer chips. Everything from the phone you’re most likely reading this on, to the wireless keyboard I’m typing this on, is comprised of computer chips. We all rely heavily on chips and more specifically semiconductors that make up those chips.

What is the bullwhip effect? 

The demand for silicon is far beyond the current supply and it’s affecting almost every industry causing the bullwhip effect. (I’m going to refrain from any Indiana Jones allusions here.) The bullwhip effect is a phenomenon within manufacturing that shows that distortion in the supply chain can multiply, meaning that small standard errors can compound as you move up the supply chain causing massive shifts in demand. Recent events (i.e., Covid and the shift of work and school at home) have created a massive demand for chips in computers and hardware inside the home. This demand has put stress on the entire supply chain, spiking prices, and generating greater lead times, thus the bullwhip effect.  So, grab your fedora, and let’s dive in -ok, I couldn’t resist.

When did this start?

Despite the once in a century global pandemic. This shortage did not start in 2020 and X never, ever marks the spot. As developing nations have become more developed, the need for more chips in those regions have increased. Economists had starting taking note of the silicon shortages all the way back in 2018.

The hits just keep coming. 

As we have discussed so far, the bullwhip effect has caused a bulk of our silicon shortages. However, a once in a century global pandemic is also more directly to blame. While the United States is returning to business as usual, other countries around the world are still being devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic. North America only makes up a small portion of the total silicon production in the world. Those facilities are currently being slammed with orders that they simply can’t fill. Countries like China and India are still having issues with the virus and are unable to keep up with silicon manufacturing. 

When will things return to normal?

This could be a new norm for a little while. Some companies have announced a push to add to their silicon manufacturing facilities; however, this may take as long as 2 years to finish construction of these new facilities. This could cause more of a bullwhip effect in reverse.  And so, the cycle continues. But if you can look on the bright side, there’s no snakes. At least this time, It didn’t have to be snakes.