Information technologies (IT) departments are dealing with plenty of issues when it comes to sourcing the electronics required to run a business smoothly. Desktop computers, monitors, laptops, printers, printer cartridges, and even servers are hard to find, out of stock, or seeing incredible price hikes – stretching timelines and budgets.
And this electronics problem does not seem to be going away anytime soon. According to top manufacturers and providers such as Nvidia and Intel, it is unlikely the industry will find a supply-demand balance until closer to 2023. The availability of parts is a factor in assembling more complicated devices. However, the continued semiconductor shortage is the most significant contributor to the ongoing electronics supply chain.
Semiconductor Chips The Root Cause
As with most businesses, semiconductor chip production facilities shut their doors in response to health protocols for a large portion of 2020. But then the unexpected happened. To continue operations and maintain at least a share of their regular revenue, a swath of businesses made the quick move to remote work. The demand for tech gear to support the unexpected move away from the main office generated a boom in sales, quickly eating through stock backlogs.
The pandemic response coupled with the transition to remote work would have been enough to create strains on the semiconductor market. But drought in Taiwan, a hub of semiconductor production, forced the country to divert water supply away from industrial areas, halting development even further.
Today chip manufacturing companies are investing billions in building new fabrication facilities in the US. In addition, they have begun lobbying for a collaboration with the European Union to double semiconductor production by 2030. However, the current work to build up capacity will take time, and experts estimate it will take around two years to scale back to standard production levels.
Why Do Printer Cartridges Use Chips?
Perhaps one of the most unexpected items to be impacted by the semiconductor shortage is the availability of ink and toner cartridges. While the costs of many standard office supplies have risen, these essential items are not only more expensive but harder to find. But why would a chip shortage affect office printing?
Printer ink and toner cartridges have been equipped with electronics for several years. In the office, their primary purpose is to communicate ink and toner levels and other warnings associated with the performance and connection of the cartridge within the printer. Today, cartridges can get very granular with their configuration to the point of tracking the number of droplets each cartridge has released and calculating it against the total supply initially loaded in the unit.
Another reason for using semiconductor chips in printing cartridges is to verify the type of ink or toner inserted into the printer. An incompatible chip can affect printing quality or keep the machine from running altogether. In some cases, bypassing a specified warning to continue using a third-party or unauthorized cartridge can void the manufacturer’s warranty.
The Chip Shortage And Printing
Just as semiconductor chips are an ongoing issue for other electronics manufacturers, printer companies are faced with similar problems. However, cartridge manufacturing did not see as hard of a hit amidst the depths of the pandemic response in 2020, when offices closed down and a rush on consumer printers meant temporarily lower volumes for heavy-duty office printers.
However, as health protocols eased, offices began to re-open, and companies started to sort out printer issues for their remote workers. As a result, print volumes have begun to ease slowly back toward pre-pandemic levels over the past year. Even at-home workers report fifty percent or more of their print volumes are dedicated to work-related purposes. As printing volumes have risen, so has the need for offices to source ink and toner reliably.
Cartridge Production Levels
One printer manufacturer, Canon, has seen such an issue meeting required cartridge production levels they have taken drastic measures. In early January of 2022, they announced they would temporarily produce cartridges without their standard semiconductor chips.
These cartridges, they acknowledged, would not have the same capacity for providing ink or toner levels or any of the other error messages typically available from their standard products. So, in addition to the loss of some common functionality, the company has released notes on how to bypass the usual warnings, errors, and blocks used to keep their machines from operating third-party ink and toner products.
Pricing And Availability
Other manufacturers have yet to make any similar moves. But pricing and availability for many direct branded cartridges remain volatile. And, with semiconductor production still in the process of stabilizing, it is still possible the industry will see a similar position from other big names as 2022 progresses.
The semiconductor shortage has IT departments struggling to meet the demands of new business models and general office operations. Meeting employee needs for printing is no exception to the rule. However, printer manufacturers are making decisions that may help ease some of the burdens. Meanwhile, major semiconductor manufacturers are taking action to create a supply-demand balance as quickly as possible.
Fortunately, printing industry partners, including managed print services providers and printer leasing and supply experts, can help provide relief. Their knowledge of cartridge compatibility and direct connections to industry warehouses, manufacturers, and suppliers can help any business find suitable printers, paper, and cartridges to keep their offices operational now and into the future.