electronica 2016 Impressions

Germany’s third-largest city, and capital of the southeastern state of Bavaria, Munich was once more host to electronica, which can justifiably claim to be the world’s leading trade fair for electronic components, systems and applications. With more than 2,500 exhibitors filling 13 halls of the Messe München exhibition centre, and attracting more than 70,000 visitors, more than half of whom from over 80 countries world-wide, this year’s event was almost overwhelming in size and content. Definitely the place to be to meet the whole electronics industry value chain from designer to OEM, to see the components, systems and applications that will enable next-generation developments, and to form trading relationships and partnerships.

Cold and damp outside with an occasional sprinkling of snow, breathtakingly hot in the halls and with many miles to walk (I am reliably informed that we clocked over 30 during the four days of the show, wearing our least uncomfortable shoes), our focus as the I-Connect007 team was to talk with designers and software vendors, PCB fabricators and material suppliers, EMS companies, technology innovators, trade association representatives and anyone interesting we happened to meet on the way. For all the miles we walked, we saw but a fraction of what was on display. To our relief, the universal international language was English and we could communicate constructively with everyone we visited.

electronica2016-6.jpgThe electronica 2016 show was an extremely busy show all round, and one which indicated conclusively that Europe has a leading role in the design of innovative new products, particularly in automotive, medical and industrial electronics. As manufacture scales up, the trend is for these products, having originated in Europe, to migrate to Asia for larger series production. There was a preponderance of PCB manufacturers and EMS providers in Hall B4—some large German companies, some smaller specialists from elsewhere in Europe, and many major Asian suppliers.

It was interesting to hear the opinions of Michael Weinhold, technical director of EIPC, the European electronics association: “You will see European PCB fabricators here with their products, and companies from Asia making the same products. In many cases, they are not in competition because most of the professional and profitable European PCB fabricators have partners in Asia. This is not a competition anymore; this is a partnership.”

Slide Show from this event Part 1:

electronica2016-4.jpgWeinhold had taken the opportunity to attend a series of presentations hosted by ZVEI, the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association, and one which had particularly caught his attention was by Dr. Wolfgang Bochtler from Nippon Mektron, who was also on the management board of Mektec Europe. Referring to new developments in the automotive industry, Dr. Bochtler’s observation was that the business typically stayed in Europe for about two years, before migrating to countries where it was needed— whether that was the USA, China or any other Asian country. He had stressed the importance of developing many new products, but commented that whereas a major multinational company like Mektron had the benefit of being able to shift production between its manufacturing facilities in different regions, most PCB fabricators could only achieve this by developing partnerships, and events like electronica helped to facilitate the development of these partnerships.

Although Asia has long been looked upon as the low-cost option, manufacturing costs are on the increase and now the cost of materials is rising. Weinhold’s comment was that Asian laminate companies had increased their prices over the last three months by at least 20% and up to 50% in some instances, and these increases were having a major impact on the cost of printed circuit boards. “In this show, many purchasing agents came with the objective to lower their prices to get a bonus the next year, but they got the message that there’s no way to lower the prices. They have to accept higher prices, and this is not the message they would like to give to their bosses!”

Elsewhere in the show, automation was everywhere, lots of robots were in evidence and the Internet of Things was becoming an all-pervading reality. And we saw some meaningful examples of three-dimensional interconnecting substrates produced fully additively by multi-layered inkjet printing.

electronica2016-5.jpgPerhaps the most spectacular displays and advances in electronics technology were to be found in Hall A6, focused on automotive developments. Countless innovations in electromobility, control and power management, together with all the sensing, detection, artificial intelligence and safety systems associated with autonomous vehicles, were driving exponential growth in that sector. And wireless electric vehicle charging—high efficiency non-contact transfer of power from base unit to vehicle charging system by magnetic resonance—was convincingly demonstrated. “Park it and charge it” will likely be offered as an option on production cars within the next two years.

Everyone we spoke to, whether exhibitor or visitor, was full of praise for the quality and value of electronica as a must-attend event in the world trade-show calendar; not just a networking event, but a real opportunity to see what’s new, to learn about what the future may hold in the electronics industry, to meet new people, and to form new trading relationships. Those who would suggest that the day of the electronics trade fair is behind us should have been there!

Slide Show from this event Part 2: