Since our inception in 1988, we have seen major changes in our business, which we reflected on in a previous article. But what will the NEXT 25 years hold for electronics manufacturing? These are our predictions.
One thing is certain: electronics are becoming ever more pervasive, and that isn’t about to change. Predictions about the end of Moore’s Law continue to be thwarted by incredible new advances in technology that make electronics ever more efficient and more ubiquitous.
Three of these defining technologies-to-watch are:
- Energy harvesting devices
- Printed electronics
- Quantum technology
We touch on each of these below, as well as two other trends that we predict are on a long-term up-swing.
Battery life has never kept pace with our use of everyday electronics, but super low-power device designs are now proving their mettle. Even more promising are devices that harvest energy through body motion or the flexing of a surface. The energy generated is stored and used by low-power devices, such as wearable electronic products. Consumer devices can only be expected to become increasingly energy-savvy in the coming years.
Printed electronics have been in use for more than 20 years but only now is this technology being used in a wide variety of applications. Printed electronics can contribute to a range of manufacturing goals, including reduced costs, smaller form factors, and faster production. In fact, we’re currently using a metal oxide board printed on a polyethelene terephathalate (PET) substrate that is two orders of magnitude less costly than etched copper.
There is also promise for spray-on electronics, such as LEDs and films, which enable new characteristics, such as exceptional flexibility.
The evolution of printed and spray-on electronics is due in large part to advances in conductive polymers. In the past, these have been difficult to spray or shape, and were susceptible to corrosion. Today, revolutionary materials like graphene are enabling applications such as components that are a mere single atom in thickness with great strength-to-weight ratios, higher frequency transistors, lower cost solar cells, and many other benefits. This same technology is the foundation of microscopic devices that will be able to self-assemble.
We expect to see more and more manufacturing return to North America. One impetus for this is cost—fuel and transport are increasingly expensive and Chinese labour prices continue to rise. But, there are other compelling reasons for “onshoring” and “reshoring” beyond diminishing cost advantages.
In the low- to mid-volume, high-mix electronics sector, we and our clients have generally understood the importance of manufacturing close to the customer. There will continue to be global players, and mass electronics will likely continue to be sent for manufacture where greater populations enable lower labour costs and greater output. But for the types of niche, or specialty, electronics products that we at OCM Manufacturing see most, there are greater advantages to having design, manufacturing, and after-market support all available near to the customer.
This article in EBN magazine makes a strong case for North-American based contract manufacturing.
Design and Manufacturing Merge
Many of the trends that we see or predict happening above will result in tighter integration of the design and manufacturing processes. At OCM Manufacturing, we often evangelize the importance of manufacturing being a part of the design cycle—because great product designs are non-starters (literally) if they can’t be manufactured.
We predict that the ability to integrate design and manufacturing will become critical with shorter, more iterative design cycles. With no time margin to redo designs that can’t be manufactured—or which can’t be produced or shipped at the required cost—there will simply be no choice but to make manufacturability a key design consideration.
As technologies such as those we discussed above come to the fore, the distinction between design and manufacturing will all but disappear.
If we’ve learned anything over the past 25 years, it’s how to evolve with the times! By staying close to our customers and our industry, we’ve been successful at anticipating change, differentiating trends from transformation, and helping our clients to make the best decisions for their products and businesses.
Stay ahead of the curve by talking to us about your electronics product designs and ideas! –