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Could a huge 90-minute power outage in Taiwan draw out the global chip shortage?

A power plant in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, suffered a major power outage on Thursday that lasted approximately 90 minutes, Taiwan News reports. The outage at state-owned Taipower was caused by a malfunctioning power-station that resulted in a decrease in power generation and power-grid failures -- notably affecting several Taiwanese regions with semiconductor manufacturing bases, which may have long-term impact on global chip-shortages and tech supply chains.

According to TechPowerUp, there was a malfunction with steam leaks in the turbine room, which then triggered an emergency shutdown. Since AC frequency fell out of the safe range, transmission equipment in switch-yards tripped and resulted in cascading power outages.

TSMC, one of the most important semiconductor suppliers in the world, reported that the power-failure hasn’t significantly affected most of its plants. Some plants did experience a voltage drop lasting 400 to 1,000 ms, and its impact is currently being accessed. 

Power to TSMC’s UMC Nanke plant was restarted, the company says. But considering that TSMC has reported issues with its 3nm process yields, this could delay production even further.

Many other tech companies throughout Taiwan were affected by the Taipower plant power-grid failure; reports have slowly rolled out during the day.

Display panel maker Innolux ran on backup generators after it experienced either a voltage drop or a shutdown. Passive component maker Yageo Kaohsiung faced an outage and also ran on backup generator power. 

PCB manufacturers Taihong, HannStar, and more faced plant shutdowns as well as wasted product. Power connector producer Zhengwei Tucheng lost power for 1.5 hours, while Nanzi Science and Technology Park reported a power outage. Finally, DRAM makers Nanya and Winbond reported no power loss.

As damages are still currently being accessed, there is real concern that this could have a major impact on semiconductor manufacturing in the long-term even as the tech industry is struggling under the persistent chip shortage.

Analysis: can a 90-minute shutdown rattle the supply chain for months? Yeah, it can

So 90 minutes without power doesn't sound like that big of a deal for a lot of people, and generally it isn't.

The problem with industrial processes at foundries and at the plants of their customers and suppliers is that the global supply chain has been operating under just-in-time logistics for the past three decades, and there is absolutely no slack in this system.

The whole point of a just-in-time system is to get you exactly the precise quantity of parts you need exactly when you need them with no surplus for inventory. Meaning a missed truck can take an entire factory line offline for an entire day. In turn, whatever that factory wasn't producing doesn't get to its customers, who then also have to suspend assembly lines, and so on.

Now imagine if you shut off all the power to one of the most semiconductor-dense industrial regions of the planet for long enough to spoil the product that they were producing when the power went down, and starting the process over eats up additional time. Or, you might have to wait until tomorrow to get the parts you need to start the process again, since you don't keep enough inventory as a buffer because storing materials costs money. 

Thanks, just-in-time-logistics!

What's more, the global economy is skittish right now about its supply chain, so any further disruption is sure to drive up costs, delays, and frustration from end-to-end. So yeah, it's just 90 minutes -- but it's 90 minutes we just don't have to spare right now.

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