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A shortage of the semiconductor chips that serve as the brainpower in millions of electronic devices has stalled the production of everything from cars to cell phones and sent companies racing to buy up as many of the chips as possible before supply runs out.

Experts expect the shortage to last a couple years and will drive up the price of products in the short term. But it could also spur innovation and a re-imagining of the global supply chain as we know it, say two Northeastern scholars of engineering and supply chain management.

“In the immediate term, there’s no question that we’re going to see massive shortages,” says Nada Sanders, distinguished professor of supply chain management at Northeastern. “This is a great example of how supply chains work—a simple product can stall the whole assembly.”

“Everyone is fighting for the supply that’s already in the pipeline, but there’s only so much,” she says. “We have a very significant shortfall, and I don’t see that turning around quickly. You can’t rebuild the supply chain that quickly.”

This isn’t the first time the pandemic has disrupted global supply chains over the last year: Masks, hand sanitizer, cotton swabs, and even toilet paper were all in short supply at some point or another. The semiconductor chip shortage may end up being the final straw, Sanders says, that spurs a change in the entire system.


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