Winona electronics manufacturer increases production to combat chip shortages


WINONA, Minn. (KTTC) – supply chain problems are everywhere we go and the country has been hit by a chip shortage for at least a year; resulting in a shortage of popular electronic devices.

During the pandemic, some factories that make semiconductor chips were closed. In addition, a factory fire in a large Japanese plant contributed to the shortage of chips.

So people who spent more time at home during the pandemic bought new electronic devices and even new cars.

All of these things have companies like Watlow Electronic Manufacturing Co. in Winona.

“If you look at electronics today, almost everything we use has some kind of computer chip, from the iRobot, the vacuum cleaner, to your cell phone, to most children’s toys,” said Jeff Harrington, director of operations.

Watlow is developing the technology that helps make these important chips.

“Our products create the thermal environment for chip manufacturing, so we sell them to companies that manufacture chip processing chambers,” said Stan Breitlow, chief system designer.

He said these chambers can make hundreds to even a thousand chips at the same time.

The company is feeling the additional demand for more chips.

“The semiconductor market has really taken off in the last few years, but it really started to take off last year and this year. In the beginning, you can really see that that surge is really going up,” said Harrington.

“That’s an increase, probably by 70 percent this year. And Watlow will use over half of these chambers for their thermal needs, ”said Breitlow. “We have to increase our production of these (thermal) by at least 50 percent to meet our current needs.”

The company now wants more hands-on deck.

“We’re expanding our manufacturing base. We’re opening up our factory for seven days. We have flexible shifts,” said Harrington.

Consulting firm Alix-Partners predicts that the chip shortage could cost the global auto industry $ 210 billion in sales this year. The shortage could last until 2023.

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