Coronavirus Induced Supply Chain Shortages and Ham Radio?

One thing that is certain, in the period of about two months the level of uncertainty has gone up hugely on most ever axis.

The normal supply chain difficulties with a significant disruption has revealed the frailness in the China-based economy.  If our Chinese partners cannot deliver, and being sick is an excusable reason, we do not have ready alternatives to supply the small & big items we’ve allowed to become “single sourced.” 

What a complex web we’ve woven!

Unlike the supply disruptions and tolerance for a near economic stand down after the 9/11 attack, there is not much to point at or rally around.  The threat is a virus, which few of understand in much detail much less know any specifics for this variety, affecting people largely “not from around here” as folk are prone to say, that kills off some of those sickened at a level we don’t much like.

Some goods are coming again from Asia – the designers from Midnight Design Solutions announced that they had received their next batch of circuit board and were cleaning them:

NEWS FLASH … PCBs Arrive from China
Dateline: February 29, 2020 — The long-awaited 100 Phaser PCBs have arrived for final Round 3 kitting operations!  This box from Shenzhen, China, was immediately into the Bio Hazard Level 4 Containment room at chez N2APB in preparation for a carefully-controlled extraction and cleansing process, whereby each board was meticulously wiped with Clorox disinfectant, which purportedly “Kills Staph, E.coli, MRSA, Salmonella, Strep, Kleb, Cols & Flu Viruses, and 99.999% of Bacteria in 10 seconds.” So you can REST ASSURED that the Phaser PCB is absolutely free of any bugs, germs, bacteria, viruses, Polywater Intoxication, Teplan Blight, Nanoprobe infection, Interspatial Parasites, Symbalene Blood Burn, Pa’nar Syndrome, and Transporter Psychosis.

Humor aside the supply disruptions put their batch #3 behind a month, and they did clean them down as a precaution.

Professionally we have looked at things we need to do our work to stock up a bit more than usual, figuring that when resupplies start the time lag in getting resumed production to us would leave us at risk of not having what we need to keep working.  I’m in the process of brushing up our ICRA (Infection Control Risk Assessment) and finishing the initial draft of an ICAP (Infection Control Action Plan) is response to our clients and our team health needs.  The latest workstation computers we brought in were revised twice to get delivery from sub-components Dell had on hand, as our preferred configuration was at least a month out – with that target date being a projection based on China resuming production.  

So what happens to Ham Radio in this world of uncertainty?

Electrical components and sub-assemblies may be impacted by the virus response.  From what I have read there is both production impact and more annoying impact from generic small items (screws, spacers, connectors…) production disruptions.  So final products may be affected.  Reminds of the story how the battle was lost “for the want of a nail”:

  • “For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
  • For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
  • For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
  • For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
  • For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
  • And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.” ― Benjamin Franklin

The quote tells of the underlying interdependence and complexity making the outcome of a battle dependent on a small horseshoe nail, which is pretty much the situation I’m seeing affecting the availability of our ham radio gear.

As production returns certainly the focus will be on those mission-critical nails – the stuff that has a greater affect down the supply chain.  As our passion is a hobby, the resumed production for ham radio will follow much later after more critical needs are first met.  

Large scale gatherings are done for, at least until we receive the “all clear.”  I’m sure that unless they completely close the grounds at Xenia Hamvention that some die-hards will be there.  My prayers are that they they are only figurative “die hards” and avoid getting ill or worse.  I’ve already scrubbed any Hamvention plans, plans for both work & pleasure travel and am deciding whether I will attend a trade group set of meetings in a few weeks closer to the date (as I live close enough to the venue that I will drive and come home each day, so other than pencil marks on my calendar I have no skin in the game if I decide to bail at the last moment.)  

Once we have had the “all clear” it will be a while until new events can be organized.

“Two is One, and One is None” is a lesson driven home by the Coronavirus Interruption.  If there are no more to buy, spare parts are scarce, and alternatives not readily available you simply have to have backups and spares.  So if you want to stay on the air, you might want a backup transceiver (some fellows are buying one extra as a backup among a group) and you might want s supply of those fuses your amp needs, as they might be out of stock if ordered some at some point during the Coronavirus Supply Chair Crisis.  Maybe some spare connectors?  One of the ham shop vendors told me that they are really uncertain on resupply when they run out of stock.  Might be a while.

“I’ll meet you on the Air, but stay away from here” will reflect the risks of any eyeball-QSO vs the safety of conversing on the air.  While it will have to get much worse before we shun each other, there simply is no reason to meet in person when a radio QSO would suffice.

Interesting times, and yes Ham Radio at least temporarily has changed.  

In our facing up to the consequences of allowing single-sourcing to overtake our hobby – and the world – will hopefully lead to a more balanced approach to sourcing in the future.  It that wisdom lingers, it will about the only good effect of the crisis.

Personally I think this will fundamentally change large group gatherings, especially as the internet already can substitute for many of the benefits of a ham show.


Steve K9ZW


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