Power management IC shortage holding cars, laptops, hostage

Couple of cents-worth of kit causing big problems for the year to come


The shortage of power management chips is worsening and holding back companies from building cars, PCs and items with batteries or an on-off switch, Trendforce said in a study this week.

Power management ICs cost just a few cents, and are among cheap chips that include display driver and USB-C components that are in short supply. These chips are as important to PCs and other electronics as CPUs or memory.

The demand for PMICs has gone through the roof with the emergence of electric cars and growing demand for PCs and consumer electronics during the past 20 plus months. Trendforce expects the prices will go up by 10 per cent to a six-year high of $0.23.

The price may not seem high, but the critical nature of PMIC is shutting down production of some electric vehicle models. Companies supplying power management have lead times of up to a year for production and the lack of chips has forced some car makers to cut orders and cease production of a few models, Trendforce said.

Car makers have shut factories because of semiconductor shortages, and chips that they get their hands on are going into more expensive vehicles, said Kurt Sievers, CEO of NXP Semiconductor, earlier this year. The company makes PMIC chips.

Electric cars have PMICs to maintain voltage levels, which is a critical part of the safety and zero-failure requirements. Power management is also important for recharging batteries and conversions of currents and voltage reductions. By comparison, PCs and smartphones require fewer power management circuits.

The lead time for power-management ICs in consumer electronics is between 12 to 26 weeks, Trendforce said. But PC makers are expecting shipments to slow down, driven by chip shortages, which should reduce the supply stress on PMIC makers.

PMIC producers are boosting capacity to make these inexpensive chips. Texas Instruments is building a new facility in Richardson, Texas, where it will make PMICs starting next year. TI's PMICs, which are available through retailers like Mouser and Arrow, are popular among the maker audience.

Other major PMIC manufacturers include Infineon, STMicroelectronics, Renesas, ON Semiconductor and Microchip. ®

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