Can’t Find a PlayStation 4? Blame It On a Part Barely Bigger Than a Speck

It happened in Japan earlier this year when Sony Corp.’s PlayStation 4 suddenly became hard to find. A popular new game called “Monster Hunter: World” led to a surge of demand for the videogame machine. Engineers at Sony say the company couldn’t quickly make more because components ran short, especially the part called a multilayer ceramic capacitor, or MLCC.

Consumers never see one of these tiny components, but their smartphones have hundreds of them and their cars have thousands. The part, which costs less than a penny apiece, helps control the flow of electricity and stores power for semiconductors, a function without which virtually no electronic device could work.

A proliferation of smart devices, factory automation robots and more sophisticated cars has lifted demand for the MLCC. A typical gasoline-powered car may require only a few thousand, but an electric car might need 10,000, say industry experts.

“The industry is going through tightness it has never seen before,” says SMBC Nikko Securities analyst Ryosuke Katsura. He says electronics makers accustomed to getting the part right away now have to wait six months.

Only a handful of makers, mostly Asian, produce the component. The top three companies— Murata Manufacturing Co. , Samsung Electro-Mechanics Co. and Taiyo Yuden Co. —own 60% of the market, according to research firm Paumanok Publications. Samsung said in June that it wouldn’t be able to accept new orders “for a while.”

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