High-Tech Industry - Riding the Disruptive Waves

High-Tech Industry - Riding the Disruptive Waves

28 Sep 2022

This informal CPD article High-Tech Industry - Riding the Disruptive Waves was provided by Cambashi, a leading global industry analyst & consulting firm.

The high technology (high-tech) industry is at the cutting edge, driving innovation across virtually every other manufacturing industry. Like many industries, high-tech is undergoing significant transformations driven by waves of technological and economic change. 5G networks, blockchain, and artificial intelligence (AI) are driving technology development, and “big tech” companies such as Amazon, Meta, and Google continue to redefine the way services are delivered to customers.

These disruptive digital waves are causing high-tech companies to reinvent themselves and their products, business models, and processes. For those engaged in the high-tech space, the pace of change means they will need deeper industry insights, underpinned by industry training, to enable them to not only understand the challenges, but also maximise their opportunities.

The Technology Wave

Today, innumerable products in the global economy rely on microchips, from computers and electronic devices to perhaps less obvious products, such as motor vehicles and industrial machinery. Products produced across the manufacturing industry are increasingly becoming ‘smart’ by incorporating high-tech features, components, and software.

For example, in the automotive sector, modern vehicles make extensive use of electronic systems and software. Power steering, brakes, infotainment, heating and air conditioning, engine controls, and lighting systems all rely on microchips to function. A modern car might include 80 electronic control units, consuming 1,500 – 3,000 microchips. For Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid cars this can be even higher.

In such a technology-driven industry the success or failure of high-tech companies relies to a large extent on their IT infrastructure and software applications. High-tech companies are often early adopters of new IT technologies, gaining technological, process, and commercial advantage.

High-tech IT investment aims to:

  • improve innovation and efficiency in design, and manufacturing – across the whole supply chain;
  • reduce costs across the whole business;
  • speed up time-to-market.

Factory automation, the use of robots, flexible production lines, just-in-time production systems, and quality management are core technologies essential to manufacturing performance. The industry has also been instrumental in advancing information technologies which support business processes across the value network including Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Supply Chain Management (SCM), and Lifecycle Management (PLM).

Factory automation in the automotive sector

The Employment Wave

Although the industry is highly automated, much of high-tech production is still labor intensive which has driven the growth in dominance of countries in Asia in this sector. China is the largest employer in this industry with almost 3.3 million workers, nearly 10 times the size of the US market. However, the distribution of types of occupations in key countries is revealing.

The APAC countries have a far larger proportion of manufacturing workers and machine operators—these are typically blue-collar employees working on the plant floor. This contrasts with the US where, despite having a smaller pool or workers, they typically occupy positions such as engineers and technicians, managers, and supervisors.

Future industrial automation is more likely to affect production workers than, for example, engineers, with consequences more keenly felt in countries where those occupations dominate.

The Investment Wave

In April 2020, US President Joe Biden reaffirmed previous plans for the US to invest heavily in semiconductor research and manufacture. In August 2022, President Biden signed the CHIPS Act which will inject over $50 billion into the industry. The Act authorizes up to $200 billion in subsidies over 10 years.

The fabrication plants required to manufacture semiconductors are extraordinarily expensive, and require many years to build and then reach peak manufacturing capacity. For example, in February 2021 Samsung Foundry filed documents seeking to build a new semiconductor manufacturing facility in the USA. With an expected cost of over $17 billion, it is expected to come online towards the end of 2023.

The levels of capital investment and planning required to build large fabrication plants such as these means the industry cannot always be responsive to sudden and unexpected increases in demand—as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic for home computing devices - or sudden shortfalls in supply, for example during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

It can take years for high-tech component suppliers to adjust to unexpected changes like these. Many Asian countries like Taiwan, China, South Korea, and Japan are also planning to increase investment expenditure from existing levels to help plug the gap in semiconductor supply. We can see that Taiwan is expected to invest the most in this industry, almost 30% more than China and 50% more than the US.

The Supply Wave

The high-tech supply chain is a complex and interconnected global network of component suppliers, OEMs, and contract firms, who often produce both consumer and industrial products. Although the industry tiers and connections are similar to other major manufacturing sectors such as aerospace and automotive, the key role of the ongoing development of semiconductor technologies adds an additional level of dependency.

Furthermore, in 2021 just five countries made up over 80% of the global value added for the electronic components and boards sector (which largely consists of semiconductor manufacture). Additionally, four of the top five producers are from the APAC region. For end markets in the Americas or Europe this adds further risk and cost factors related to shipping and transportation logistics.

The increasing dependence on semiconductors in automotive leaves the industry extremely vulnerable to supply-side shocks—for example, Renault’s 2022 H1 sales were down 12%, with the company citing the semiconductor crisis as a key reason for the decrease*.

The auto industry is just one sector where the supply chain has come under strain due to chip shortages. Shockwaves have spread across the technology sector and even those with maximum purchasing power, such as Apple, are feeling the effects.

Consumer markets have also been impacted. Home gaming rose in popularity during the lockdowns of 2020 and, at the end of that year, both Sony and Microsoft released their latest gaming consoles, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X respectively. This resulted in an additional surge in demand, with supplies selling out quickly. Both Sony and Microsoft continue to struggle to manufacture enough consoles to fulfil demand.

The chip industry is a cyclical sector, and the current period of consistent shortages suggests there will be a period of oversupply at some point in the future. Based on the current timing of capacity ramping, there are estimates** that the earliest there would be broad-based oversupply of semiconductors for cars, for example, would be at some point in 2023.

With a looming global downturn likely to affect consumer spending, the high-tech sector will face further demand driven challenges in 2023, placing further pressure on OEMs and suppliers at a time when technology development is increasing.

We hope this article was helpful. For more information from Cambashi, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.




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