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12 June 2019

Worries about the rare earth minerals needed for high-tech products

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Rising tensions between US and China have sparked worries about the 17 rare earth minerals needed for high tech products like robotics, drones and electric cars.

China recently raised tariffs to 25% on rare earth exports to the U.S. and has threatened to halt exports altogether after the Trump administration raised tariffs on Chinese products and blacklisted telecommunications giant Huawei.

With names like europium, scandium and ytterbium, the bulk of rare earth minerals are extracted from mines in China, where lower wages and lax environmental standards make production cheaper and easier.

But trade experts say no one should panic over China’s threats to stop exporting the elements to the U.S, since there are rare mineral mines in California, Australia, Myanmar, Russia and India, which could step in when needed.

“The sky is not falling,” said Mary B. Teagarden, a China specialist, professor and associate dean at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix. “There are alternatives.”

Simon Lester, associate director of the centre for trade policy studies at the Cato Institute think tank in Washington, agreed. “Over the short term, it could be a big disruption, but companies that want to stay in business will find a way,” he said.

Although the US is among the wold’s top countries for rare earth’s production, it is also a major importer for the minerals, looking to China for 80% of what it buys, according to the US geological Survey.

Mountain Pass, located in San Bernardino County, California, was once top supplier of the world’s rare earth minerals, but China began taking over the market in the 1990s and the U.S. mine stopped production in 2002. Mountain Pass later restarted production only to close again amid a 2015 bankruptcy. Since then, Mountain Pass has focused on achieving greater autonomy with a $1.7 billion separation system set to go online late next year that would allow it skip sending rare earths ore to China for that step.

Australian rare earths production giant Lynas Corp. Ltd. this month announced a proposed deal with Blue Line Corp. of Texas for a separation facility at an industrial site in Hondo, Texas.

There may be other options, too. Deposits of rare earths have been detected in other U.S. states including Wyoming and Alaska, as well in several remote areas of Canada. The Interior Department is calling for more prospecting and mining of “critical minerals,” including on public lands currently considered off-limits, and even in oceans.

“We have to be more forward thinking,” said Alexander Gysi, an assistant professor in geology and geological engineering at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden. “It would be better for the U.S. to have a greater range of sources for rare earths.”

Tags: huawei china tariffs technology exports usa


29 May 2019

What's happening with Huawei

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For the past few weeks, Chinese technology company Huawei has been put under severe restrictions by the United States of America. Mr Trump accuses the world’s second-largest smartphone maker of allowing its equipment to be used by Chinese spies.

In recent weeks, Alphabet’s Google has suspended business with Huawei, that requires the transfer of software, hardware and technical services except those publicly available via open source licensing

Following Google’s lead several other American businesses have cut ties with Huawei and two British telecom giants EE and Vodafone have announced that their 5G services will not be offered on Huawei handsets.

The Trump administration on Thursday added Huawei Technologies to a trade blacklist, immediately enacting restrictions that will make it extremely difficult for the company to do business with US counterparts.

Washington is widely seen as having taken the initiative in the global campaign against Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, a tech magnate that in the three decades since its founding has become an important part of Beijing’s bid to expand its global power and influence.

Now, according to Reuters, German chipmaker Infineon has also suspended shipments to Huawei technologies, in a sign that US restrictions on Huawei are beginning to affect its relationships beyond America. Infineon joins Qualcomm, Qorvo, Micron Technology, and Western Digital as firms that no longer ship to Huawei. ST Microelectronics, TSMC, Toshiba Memory, and Japan Display Inc. have not yet stopped shipments to the Chinese firm but are investigating the issue and could also suspend business dealings.

Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s founder, told the media that the company would be fine even if their American suppliers refuse to sell chips to the company. He revealed that the firm has been preparing for this outcome and it’s believed that Huawei will be ready for the next six to twelve months on the hardware front. “We will not change our management at the request of the U.S. or accept monitoring, as ZTE has done,” he said to Reuters.

During Trump’s three day state visit, which kicks off today, he is expected to discuss ties between UK companies and Huawei- adding to suggestions by the Tory leadership that they could tear up plans for the Chinese tech giant to build parts of UK’s 5G network, after the ambassador, Woody Johnson, warned it was a “big risk”.

Tags: huawei trump uk infineon spies 5g network america


23 May 2019

Stretchable electronics: the future

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(c) Rafael Libanori, Randall M. Erb and André R. Studart

Have you heard of stretchable electronics? You may already be using them! Stretchable electronics is an emerging technology that creates devices with the ability to conform dynamic surfaces such as the human body.

According to a study, current stretchable configurations are constrained to single-layer designs due to limited material processing capabilities in soft electronic systems but represent a promising new technology for next-generation wearable electronics.

The industry has, in the past, long predicted the emergence and growth of wearable technology that could be integrated with our clothing by installing sensors within the seams and stitching, indeed having electronics woven into our fabrics!

Traditional circuits are made from stiff and inflexible components, which might limit its use when it comes to wearable electronics, but a team in Switzerland have overcome the problem of snapping electronics by creating materials that mimics the way tendons connect to bones, which has sped up the development and delivery of stretchable wearable technology.

"You have two materials with very different mechanical properties," says Andre Studart, a researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, told reuters. "The challenge is to bridge these different properties."

The swiss team have created a stretchy material made from polyurethane that contains "islands" stiff enough to house and protect delicate circuits.The soft part can stretch by 350 per cent without failure due to localised internal stresses, the hard  parts which house the electronic components and protect them are made stiff by using platelets of aluminium oxide and a synthetic clay called Laponite.

According to a research published in Nature Communications, the material is made from bonded layers formed by solvent welding and hot pressing individual layers with progressively higher elastic modulus using DMF as solvent.

"There are many biological materials that have these properties as well, like the way tendons link muscle to bone," says Studart. "But there are not so many examples in synthetic materials."

The practical applications for such technology is limitless, with it first being used by a US based company called MC-10 inc, who have used it to develop flexible skullcaps that can monitor impacts to the head during sports. But the use of these electronics can rage as far as rebuilding cartilage or even false teeth.


30 August 2018

Electric cars will change the component marketplace

electroniccarThe automotive industry is undergoing a radical transformation. And the electronic components sector will undeniably have to adapt to the changing needs of a rapidly growing and evolving market.

The advancement of hybrid- and electric-powered engines are a disruptive influence that’s changing how cars are designed and manufactured. Component manufacturers, distributors and companies at all levels of the supply chain will have to adapt to this shift.

According to a recent report published by GlobalData, registrations of electric cars will rise from roughly 1% of all global vehicles in 2017 to more than 15% by 2030.

In terms of numbers, Global Data predicts over 300 million electric cars will be traversing our road networks in the next twenty years.

This shift will change buying patterns throughout the whole automotive supply chain. Component manufacturers will have to keep pace with growing demand and offer a portfolio of products that are commercially and technologically suitable for use.

This will mean increased R&D expenditure and unprecedented market disruption. Buyers of electronic components will have to contend with increased demand and therefore, will have to budget and act accordingly.

You only need to look at the ongoing shortage of multi-layered ceramic capacitors to see how franchise markets react to sudden surges in demand. Don’t be a passenger; make sure that you are planning your path forward.


21 August 2018

European Semiconductor Sectors Seeks EU Backing

ecselWith competition in the global electronics industry intensifying, the European electronics sector has come together and called on the EU to help bolster its competitiveness.

The report, submitted by the ECSEL, highlights the continents need to invest in and embrace new technologies and spearhead investment in the next-generation of semiconductor architecture.

Examples given include high-growth and high-tech sectors such as artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous driving.

It also requests that the financing of an existing research and development programme, launched in 2014, be doubled to nearly £9 billion.

Other suggestions put forward was the creation of a pan-European ‘Design Alliance’ that would act as a centralised hub for multinational design houses and the formation of an education and skills task force.

After a period of decline, Europe’s semiconductor £250 billion sector is showing signs of growth.

Though, this resurgence is under threat. With trade tensions mounting, Europe’s semiconductor must increase its self-reliance, especially with protectionist policies being pushed by the likes of the United States and China.


16 August 2018

Computer Virus Hits TSMC

tsmcA computer virus that struck TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) is expected to cost the chip manufacturer in the region of £130 million.

The virus hit the firm’s computer network late last week and quickly spread to the machinery used to manufacturer chip and processors, TSMC said in a statement on Monday.

The press release went on to say that the virus caused equipment to crash or enter a reboot cycle, and was a variant of the WannaCry ransomware that made global headlines last year.

TSMC said the disruption in production is likely to knock 2% off its 3Q revenue, which was previously projected to be in the region of £6.5 billion.


15 August 2018

SK Hynix to invest in new £2.4 billion fab

skhynix-200South Korean memory manufacturer SK Hynix plans to spend £2.4 billion on the construction of a new DRAM fab at its headquarters in South Korea.

Building work is expected to begin later this year, with completion set for late 2020.

This comes at a time when the market for memory products – and DRAM especially – is undergoing something of a boom period. With demand outstripping supply, the DRAM market grew by 76% last year and is predicted to grow by a further 33% this year.

This announcement came the day after SK Hynix reported strong second-quarter results, with sales of £7 billion, a 55% year-on-year increase.


14 August 2018

Outlay on semiconductor design to top £240 billion

amd-1310766_640By the end of the year, the world’s leading electronic and technology companies will have spent over £240 billion on designing the next generation of semiconductors.

Figures released in a new IHS Markit report puts the projected figure at £243.7 billion, a new record that eclipses the total spent last year of nearly £229 billion.

The United States leads the way in terms of market share, accounting for 28% of global spend. However, this is slightly down from 2017’s market share of 29%, due to declining sales in the wireless sector, caused by slowing consumer demand for smartphones and media tablets.

Driven by heavy investment by Samsung and LG Electronics, South Korea’s projected spending is expected to increase by 13% this year, up to £22 billion. Two other fast-growing nations are India and Germany, with both countries posting increases of nearly 10%.


13 August 2018

Infineon explored takeover of STMicro

InfineonInfineon held preliminary discussions with STMicroelectronics about a possible takeover last year.

According to an article on Bloomberg, Infineon hired the French international banking group BNP Paribas to study and advise them on the viability of such a deal.

A combined Infineon-STMicro entity would have created the biggest European semiconductor group with sales of around £13.5 billion.

It is not known if STMicro were open to a merger and it is understood that no talks have taken place after those preliminary discussions last summer.

Industry analysts cite political implications and the fear of job losses in France and Italy as potential barriers to the merger, which is perhaps why talks never got off the ground.


11 August 2018

US and China announce further trade tariffs

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The ongoing trade war between the United States and China escalated this week as both nations rolled out a new wave of tariffs. This conflict shows no sign of slowing down.

After a period of consultation, the Trump administration confirmed that a second round of tariffs would come into force later this month.

Starting Thursday 23rd August, the US will impose a further 25% tariff on $16 billion worth of Chinese goods coming into America.

Again, many types of electronic components have been targetted, with integrated circuits and diodes featuring on this second list.

In response, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce struck back, announced that China would place an equal 25% tariff on $16 billion of US imports

Speaking on Beijing’s decision to retaliate, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said that China’s leadership should instead address “the longstanding concerns about its unfair trading practices.”

With further tariffs under consideration and the Trump administration hinting that it is thinking about raising the proposed levy from 10% to 25%, this situation is likely to only intensify


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