Ask Hackaday: How’s That Capacitor Shortage Going?

There is a looming spectre of doom hovering over the world of electronics manufacturing. It’s getting hard to find parts, and the parts you can find are expensive. No, it doesn’t have anything to with the tariffs enacted by the United States against Chinese goods this last summer. This is a problem that doesn’t have an easy scapegoat. This is a problem that strikes at the heart of any economic system. This is the capacitor and resistor shortage.

When we first reported on the possibility of a global shortage of chip capacitors and resistors, things were for the time being, okay. Yes, major manufacturers were saying they were spinning down production lines until it was profitable to start them up again, but there was relief: parts were in stock, and they didn’t cost that much more.

Now, it’s a different story. We’re in the Great Capacitor Shortage of 2018, and we don’t know when it’s going to get any better.

The Beginnings of a Shortage

The news of a coming shortage of chip resistors and capacitors hit early this year. Yaego was not taking any new chip resistor orders. The best reasoning for Yaego’s actions were that prices on SMD resistors were already too low. There was an abundance of chip resistors and capacitors, and inventory simply wasn’t moving fast enough. There is a minimum price at which it is economical to manufacture resistors. It seems that price is somewhat north of a few tenths of a penny per resistor.

When we first looked at the impending shortage of resistors and capacitors a few things stood out. Firstly, it is nigh impossible to properly count the inventory of a single value of capacitor or resistor across all manufacturers, markets, and distributors. There’s a reason tiny chip resistors and capacitors are referred to as jellybean parts: if you need a 1MΩ, 5%, 100mW, 0603 resistor, that’s really all you need to know. But that doesn’t describe a single stock keeping unit — far from it. Distributors will list that same part three times, one for tape on reel, one for cut tape, and one for a complete reel. Between manufacturers parts will have slight differences, like in the temperature coefficient. And some manufacturers might not make a 1MΩ, 5%, 100mW, 0603 resistor, instead opting to bin out 1/8W resistors (unless you’re using them as heating elements, these resistors are the same). In short, if you’re building something that needs a 1MΩ resistor that will dissipate 100mW, and you need it in an 0603 package, there’s really no way of knowing how many resistors will work in that application.

Secondly, when news of a resistor and capacitor shortage hit, stock levels were still very, very high. You could buy ten million resistors, all identical, from the same manufacturer. It takes a while for stock levels to draw down; Twinkies didn’t magically disappear when Hostess declared bankruptcy in 2012. It took days for those Ding Dongs to disappear from store shelves, and that was with a story eminently attractive to social media and a public primed to panic buy. Resistors simply aren’t as sexy as Twinkies. Engineers are going to buy them as they need them.

Taking these two items together, we can get some idea of how the passive component shortage is going.

Our first look at the passive component shortage pulled data from FindChips Pro on Yageo’s RC0603JR-071ML thick film resistor (Disclosure: FindChips Pro is a tool built by Supplyframe, Hackaday’s parent company). In August of 2017, there were about ten million of these resistors available across all distributors. In February of 2018, there were six million. Today, there are a little more than two million. Supply levels are dropping, and slowly the price of these resistors is climbing.

In the same way that it’s impossible to tell how many 0603 resistors are available, it’s also impossible to say what the general trend is for these passive components. In the absence of data we can look at an anecdote, and in this regard I can tell you yes, there is a capacitor shortage.

On June 18th of this year, I ordered a reel of 50V, 0.1uF, X7R, 0805 capacitors from Mouser. I didn’t notice they were backordered, so oh well, I’ll just have a reel of parts show up sometime. Since then, the order has been pushed back twice, and I’ll now hopefully take delivery of this reel of capacitors on March 25th, 2019.

The Capacitor Shortage Doesn’t Tie In With Tariffs

The biggest news in the world of electronics component procurement are the tariffs enacted by the United States against Chinese goods. These tariffs may seem like an easy scapegoat but this shortage is not connected to the tariffs. It could be reasoned that tariffs have very little effect on stock levels at all — just because something costs more doesn’t mean you won’t be able to buy it, it will just cost more. No, the bigger threat to electronics manufacturers is the availability of resistors, capacitors, and diodes. These boring but vital components are found in every electronic device, and anecdotal evidence seems to say that we’re in the middle of a shortage.

The truth is that thoughtful discussion concerning a capacitor shortage is at least as hard as an Intro to Economics homework problem. Existing inventory sells for half a cent per piece, and the factory is only profitable if it can sell its widgets at seven tenths of a cent per piece. The factory owner can change what widget they’re cranking out, or give the factory some down time until it is profitable to make widgets again. That seems to be what is happening with jellybean parts.

Have You Encountered Stock Shortages on Parts?

So, how is the engineering community dealing with the shortage of these jellybean parts? We’d like to hear from the Hackaday community regarding resistors, capacitors, or any electronic components that have caused you to face shortages when it came time to order. Please share your experience in the comments below.

83 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: How’s That Capacitor Shortage Going?

  1. The problem here is though: What happens when prices go up and the factory starts up again? Availability improves, price drops again. Seems very simple. Yageo also runs the risk some other supplier IS capable of running their factory at a slightly cheaper price and takes their market during their absence. It’s not a risk free play either way I’d say.

    1. Well ideally a factory would calculate the practical costs of a run on parts, do the run to stock up, then shut down again for a while. But that’s machine time, floor space and cyclical labor. Too difficult to justify. A smart company would only produce a few parts in a series, and rotate through the series such that they are ‘aleays working a Little’s and proportion production time based on popularity of a particular value / size. The other issue is so many companies in the space making the same part that it’s like two gas stations across from each other… agressive Price Waring in 10ths of a penny.
      An even smarter INDUSTRY would get together and coordinate such that for example “Panasonic makes the electrolytics in series x. Yago makes the 0805 from x ohms to y ohms” etc.

  2. Well.. if this is serious then it is a good reason for hobbyists to re-embrace through hole components and start attending hamfests.

    What am I talking about? Where do you think all the old stock went when commercial producers mostly quit using them? Just two days ago I watched a vendor at a local hamfest sell a guy a cardboard box full of new old stock electrolytics that was about 3 cubic feet. I’m sure it was a several-lifetime supply for most hobbyists. I think it went for $5.

    Ok, that’s not really where most of it went. Most of it probably went into landfills but there is plenty enough to keep us busy for a long time still available. It won’t be forever though. These sellers are getting tired of hauling those old unwanted parts around. Also many of them are retiring. I see a lot of them throw stuff away at the end of the shows rather than pack it back into their trailers to take home.

    Also, best of all, you don’t need a PCB to prototype! Dust off your solderless breadboard!

    Ok. I know a lot of parts just aren’t available in through-hole but so what. Nothing stops one from mixing the two. And yes, I know, they are bigger. Does everything you make need to go in your pocket? Don’t like drilling holes? Well so? Most of you are having your PCBs made by someone else anyway right? I haven’t seen any per-hole charges on the PCB production sites I have looked at. Oh, you are making your own PCBs? Good for you! Go drink a beer or a Bawls or whatever is your thing while your CNC drills all those holes for you!

      1. Agreed on all points. I have a lifetime or two supply of resistors, and nearly as many capacitors, all sorted into individual plastic drawers. Very few of these came from Digikey or Mouser. Instead, most came from hamfests and other hobbyists that got sick of having so much on hand.

    1. I agree. Through-hole and even point-to-point are the best for diy projects. And parts are always available from dumpster diving. Most SMT stuff (parts from discarded boards) is just unusable for most people.

  3. “Now, it’s a different story. We’re in the Great Capacitor Shortage of 2018, and we don’t know when it’s going to get any better.”

    At what point does one jump out the window?

    1. If a capacitor shortage leads you to that then I think you should go seek help. Then again, many of us aren’t that eager to talk to people. I think you should ask your question to Eliza.

      1. > Hello, I am Eliza.
        * I am concerned that there is a shortage of capacitors.
        > How long have you been concerned that there is a shortage of capacitors?
        * My concern started today.
        > I see.
        * If it gets worse, I might jump out a window.
        > Come, come, elucidate your thoughts.
        * If I can’t get capacitors, I won’t be able to build electronic stuff.
        > How do you know you can’t get capacitors, you won’t be able to build electronic stuff?
        * Circuits just won’t work without capacitors.
        > That is quite interesting.
        * You are no help. I’m going to go rant on the Hack-a-day blog.
        > Does it please you to believe I am no help?

        1. 😂

          Love it.

          I always show people my editor has a built-in psychotherapist. If you open the menu (F10, maybe right click), then it’s under the “Help” category, which I find hilarious. Truly, an editor to manage your life.

          1. ELIZA is a pioneering “chatbot” program from the 1960s. It was introduced as a “computer therapist”, and would ask a lot of open-ended questions, or repeat back to the user what it was told. It was a landmark tool that had long-term impact in computing culture (and parody…)

            Apparently you can get a version that runs in emacs : )

            You can read more on Wikipedia.

          2. Interesting! Reminds me of a Sci-Fi paperback I read decades ago, the name of which I’ve long forgotten, that featured an electronic psychoanalyst called Siegfried that the protagonist generally made fun of but was able to cure his problem by the end of the book. It was very funny, I only wish I could remember the name. Suppressed memory and another job for Ziggy, the robot shrink, perhaps?

          3. @jjonas: That’s it! Sigfrid von Shrink was name he gave his computerized analyst. If Eliza had an offspring that would be it. Great story, thanks for bringing it back for me!

  4. When producing I just let the fab source those jelly bean components. I didnt have the case where a specifc spec was not available. Though I only needed a few thousandth this year. This might be a bigger problem for large productions.

    What I encountered numerous times was that specific part numbers that I specfied last year were not available anymore but there was always a replacement of similar cost available.

    1. I would not recommend this, its really best practice to call out all the parts on the BOM and know for sure what will work and waht won’t also you need to call out several replacements for troublesome parts before submitting the BOM to a manufacture/assembler. And with passives parts go out of date each year so designs need to be constantly maintained. YOu might not notice issues in your production runs but when you scale up problems will arise.

  5. We have secured what we need for a couple years of production, good luck to the rest of you especially the DIY maker companies that can fork over an extra few hundred thousand to secure parts.

  6. The bigger problem is with automotive grade parts (AEC-Qxx designation). There are parts that are out of stock globally with foundry production already paid for by big automotive suppliers. This is making it nigh on impossible for smaller companies to even build product. I’ve seem common resistor and capacitor values with 30-50 week lead times on things like 0.1uf and 1uf caps.

    1. Rule of thumb if you are not an automotive company or supplier don’t use any automotive parts, its only going to burn you. They almost always have 6 week leadtimes and are mostly nonstock, know why? brand new cars are made every 6 months and new models every year.

        1. My company designs and produced mechanical test and measurement machines, machines so large and forcefull they qualify as heavy machinery. We make both lab and industrial grade machines from little ones to giant ones (rip oil rig drillbits apart). We use none of those automotive parts and we pass all regulations in worldwide, our systems are functionally safe and industrial grade. Our embedded control systems are redundant at the hardware level as well, yet no AEC-Qxx designations for any parts, so its not so cut and dry. Failure analysis and derating and proper system design can eliminate your dependence on certain parts and without sacrificing performance. Or you could have a crazy application that I’m not considering but IDK man

  7. When it is profitable to make them, they’ll get made; meanwhile we just increase our finished prices to account for any increase in supply costs. May not be Tarrifs but inflation is well and kicking.

  8. I hate it that somebody buys that reel or two while your purchase order is processing. Happened to me multiple times.
    And in general it sucks to look after designs and re-assure the pcba houses that yes they can substitute that stackpole resistor with yageo in that place.

  9. I work as an EE designing circuit boards that are produced through a contract manufacturer in medium quantities. The shortage hasn’t been limited to capacitors and resistors, but other components such as ESD protection diodes and LEDs. Sometimes listing 3+ alternates to a single part hasn’t been enough. We’ve basically resorted to buying as many parts as possible to ensure that our supply chain remains uninterrupted. Which, hilariously enough, further contributes to the shortage since we are buying more parts than we need.

  10. We got hit hard time by NXP, Factory failed to source components in time for production, when the issue landed on our table we got informed that it was 48 weeks lead time for Kinetis K10 and ~40 weeks lead time for our NXP accelerometer. We had to redesign our product and are no longer using any NXP products… We also have to swap between different parts between batches depending on what is available, mostly LDOs and caps.

    Have a BOM size of ~120 components and have produced ~16K units so far this year.

    1. “Resistors simply aren’t as sexy as Twinkies. Engineers are going to buy them as they need them.”

      ehmmm… how many flavors of twinkies are there? And how many possible values of resistors?
      You can’t expect “engineers” to buy them all can you? Get real!

      Especially when there was absolutely no reason to stockpile these most basic components!
      And even if there was a reason to do so… and all “engineers” did that from the moment they heard there what was going to happen, would individually stockpiling (hoarding) really have solved the problem?

  11. Capacitor shortage has been painful! We validate and approve an alternate showing stock, only to find that the alternate is now unavailable… and so on. The problem is worse for ‘older’ passives (i.e. larger 0805, 1206 and/or with lower voltage ratings, and older dielectrics). Availability gets somewhat better with 0402 and smaller. That’s where the factories are allocating their capacity to serve consumer market.

  12. I’ve recently had a lot of problems with SMD caps with high capacitance. This is super hard to get ahold of, apparently. My electronics manufacturer (who also sources the components) reports that they have a really hard time finding some components. Luckily, I’m not doing high-volume products or extremely price-sensitive products, so I do get by.
    I did found a big roll of 0805, 4.7uF caps at mouser, so now I’ve got like 1000+ of them, that my manufacturer knows about, so they’ll ask me if I have any components they could use.

    1. Also design for multiple values where possible. One of the substitutions I had to make this year to get a production line going was 100uF -> 150uF because we could only obtain the latter on short notice.
      In my designs, the vast majority of MLCC capacitance values don’t matter at all – they are used for either signal coupling or power supply decoupling and only the case size (which determines the ESL) matters above a few tens of MHz.

    2. How should this be possible, except in a prototype or evaluation board, hand soldered of course? You can not use one big footprint and set the small parts on it, you would have to set them side by side. I could not waste that much space. And through hole is a complete no-go. How should those be soldered by reflow? And of course I use the smallest possible component.

      1. Well, yes, it would be a pretty big waste of space to allow for through-hole parts, but once you have the through-hole footprint, it’s pretty easy to place a 1206 footprint between the holes, and then superimpose 0805 and 0603 footprints over that. Other than high voltage applications, there’s really no problem with extending the pads this way. I’ve seen a number of products that did this to allow for different IC packages, in order to minimize the impact of supply chain problems.

  13. One time about two months ago, Digikey had 850,000 pieces of 100nF in 0603 – which is probably the most used component in electronics. This was their only 100nF 0603 SKU in stock out of almost 100 part codes. Over the period of two to three hours I watched as great lumps were eaten out of the stock until it was all gone. It was a talking point in my office that afternoon – “what’s the stock down to now?”

    I think things are actually improving slightly, although you still need to play fast, lose, and flexible to find the parts you want. I have noticed the replenishment cycles are shortening; you can find the exact parts you need from at least one of the main distributors (Anglia, Arrow, Avnet, Digikey, EBV, Farnell, Future, Mouser, RS and Rutronik are my main suppliers) with some searching and patience. I am cautious though in case this is just an after effect of demand naturally falling during the summer.

    Another suggestion for the companies’ buyers (not much use to the hobbyists) is know and work with your local sales reps and FAEs. They can’t turn water into wine but they can rejig schedules or try and get a few hundred pieces here and there to at least keep prototyping work going.

    PS I am an electronics design Engineer in the UK.

  14. Good grief. As long as their is a consumer demand for products the require electronic components, electronic components will be made, electronic component will be manufactured. And they will cost more Persons in the US who don’t like how tariffs increase the cost need to get together to restart manufacturing in the US.

  15. Maybe it has something to do with Trumps import tarifs after all. I could see some manufacturers in the US expecting the taxes to just fill up theyr stock on standard value components before the taxes are set, because they know they will get used up sooner or later anyway. Combined with a lower component production, this would quickly dry up the market, especially on the standard value components.

    1. The shortage followed collusion and price fixing charges against Japanese and Korean capacitor manufacturers. . The price fixing likely only happened because of the new Chinese cap manufacturers who had been undercutting (at a rumored loss) the Japanese and Korean capacitors for years. The Japanese and Korean companies were the only ones to announce their supply reduction. It’s a smart business move because it allows them to go up the food chain while getting customers to place massive, negative profit, orders with the Chinese loss leaders. At least one Chinese cap supplier has folded since the shortage started a year ago…. long before Trump.

  16. I had 150 custom smartwatches built this summer as part of a research project and several small passive parts would disappear from stock and have to be replaced weekly. An IC (touch sensor) became obsolete and the e-ink display became difficult to find also. The main MCU, a FRAM MSP430 became very hard to find. The LiPo battery went in and out of availability several times. I bought some of the parts we needed on eBay, some from China, some from small vendors who still had some stock.
    All of this means that even though we open sourced the hardware and software design, it will be very difficult for anyone else to ever build their own watch. They’d have to redesign the circuit to replace parts that are no longer available, and potentially redesign the case to fit the new parts (especially the battery and LCD).

    1. My personal experience is that we use maybe 5 inductors on a BOM with 80 resistors and 150 capacitors. Inductor count might be a bit higher on a dedicated multi rail power suppy, and if you count all the ferrite beads into the inductor category, it helps to get the number up a little. But in the end, inductors are just not that common in most electronic circuits as the other passives.

      1. Yes, very true. Intereestingly, and I’m not proposing this as a reason they are relatively scarce, inductors are also the least understood among the three since they work on that spooky wierd magic called magnetics. :-)

  17. BOM scrub -> Quote -> BOM scrub -> Place PO -> More parts go out of stock -> BOM Scrub -> Good to go

    It takes more iterations than ever before, but we’re able to get things manufactured. Haven’t run into a show stopper yet.

    1. Agreed, though for one part I had to go to Japan because that was where the only supply was. Not cheap when you’re doing low quantities – they kill you on shipping. And *then* that same part which was backordered until next year at my normal vendor shows up in the mail. Chaos.

  18. I’m confused. There is a shortage because there are too many of them in inventory. How does that work? If your stock level drops from 8 million units to 2 million units wouldn’t that mean that you were just less overstocked than before? Doesn’t that mean they are still available?

    1. This isn’t that complicated. If you have 8 million in stock, and a demand of 4 million per week, and there’s a lead time of 4 weeks to restart production, then you already have a shortage.

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