I can still remember when I first encountered the concept of integrated circuits during electronics lessons at school in the 1970s. As a naive child encountering this technology for the first time I imagined the integration process would rattle along at a good pace until all electronic functions were integrated into a single chip. At that point, the world would only need one chip because it would be able to offer every function any electronic product would ever need.
I could not have got that more wrong if I tried. Every ‘integration’ the semiconductor sector achieves is followed by a ‘disintegration’ caused by new technology requiring a standalone device. There can’t be a product catalogue in the world bigger than that of semiconductors.
Thanks to this growth, the sector followed the outsourcing model which began in the 1990s and we arrive at today’s centralised model. All was well until the pandemic revealed the risk associated with having all your eggs in one basket. The obvious de-risking response was to start reshoring and dispersing production, a task so great in scale it warrants state support.
There will be many twists and turns in this road, from people and skills to geopolitical shifts, each operating on disjointed timeframes. I still wonder what the industry would look like based on my original ‘one chip’ solution with all products defined by their software. Then I remind myself it’s a very childish idea.