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Renée Clarke, Deborah Hawkins


Global computer chip shortage poses threat to print manufacturers

Feb 26, 2021 11:22:28 AM


Since early 2020, computer chip manufacturers have not been able to meet customer demands. A trickle-down of shortages across digital product industries has begun. Digital products rely on microprocessors and associated chips to function, and printers and copiers are no exception. Within one printer alone, the main control board, the image process board, network controller, and display panel drivers all function on microchips.


A typical interface/control board found in a printer is full of various chips
(image from Konica Minolta bizhub C250i)


Affected Output

Sporadic demand and fluctuating Chinese manufacturing rates brought about by the pandemic are the greatest causes behind the chip shortage, or “Chipageddon” as the Wall Street Journal is calling it. The gaming industry was the first hit by the shortage in 2020, with gamers unable to find new graphics cards. Graphic cards are at the heart of PC gaming, which was already experiencing a resurgence in popularity before the stay-at-home lifestyle encouraged it even more and brought about a sudden increase in demand. The auto sector also felt a great hit from the chip shortage, greatly reducing their output in late 2020. Even Apple felt the shortage, forcing the company to stagger their latest iPhone release.


Print and Chips

The impact these sudden shortages could have on the print industry on a micro and macro level are worth taking note. Outside of the industry, printers are directly related to IT equipment and jobs that require printing. Should IT equipment become limited, that would reduce the opportunity for printers. Internally, the manufacture of printers themselves as well as the IT devices necessary to support remote services—a trend that is increasing due to the pandemic, but also as a more sustainable measure—could be greatly threatened if these devices can’t be supplied and replaced as needed.


Chip shortages may also impede the expansion of print manufacturers hoping to enter parts of the globe with low printer penetration rates, like China and India. Our industry and the manufacturers have high hopes those countries will provide strong growth the coming years.


What is to be done in the meantime? Stockpiling chips as Apple and some Chinese companies have done puts additional pressure on an already tense market by creating additional shortages. Instead, being aware of this market potential and having several contingency plans in place should a limited supply become an issue is recommended.


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