The CEO of GoPro, which manufactures small, stout action cameras, literally can’t make enough of them. The culprit, reports Quartz’s Daniel Wolfe, is a worldwide shortage of one of the modern world’s critical cogs: multilayer ceramic capacitors (MLCCs), which are cheaper than a penny and about the size of a speck of dust. There’s currently a one-year backlog for MLCCs, and the shortage is expected to run through at least 2020.
The physics of capacitors are fascinating, but compared to the other wizardry that goes into our electronics, MLCCs are workmanlike components with critical but limited functions. Imagine if we couldn’t meet the demand for toilets because there weren’t enough rubber valves, or that roadbuilding was on hold because there weren’t enough traffic lights.
The simplicity and cheapness of MLCCs is a big reason why there’s a shortage. Capacitors are small, but their production is sophisticated. Meanwhile, the cool kids—like Elon Musk—are more interested in the MLCC’s big brother, the supercapacitor, which could have a crucial role in renewable energy.
What happens when there isn’t enough capacity for capacitors? Read on.