Automotive Electronics Still in the Driver’s Seat

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The past few weeks had been hectic. In mid-February, I travelled to San Diego, California, to attend IPC APEX EXPO 2018. It was just my third year of attending the show but seemed bigger than the past two I have attended. This year’s show highlighted new features, including the CFX demo, which I found interesting; it looks like Industry 4.0 is beginning to take shape and cement its presence in the roadmaps of every stakeholder in the industry.

By now you have probably seen our Show & Tell special edition (if not, click here), which is a comprehensive recap of the IPC APEX EXPO 2018 event, complete with our video coverage, interviews of award winners, as well as insights from our expert columnists and editors, among others.

Less than two weeks after arriving home, I travelled to chilly Shanghai, China, to attend the productronica and electronica China 2018 shows, as well as the CPCA 2018 show.

The productronica and electronica China shows were massive and, by all accounts, very busy. One exhibitor expressed to us that in the three days of the show, he had not had a chance to walk the show floor—it was that busy in his booth. The CPCA Show likewise was a big event, and Happy Holden’s presentations at the conference, on topics ranging from automation to Whelen’s lights-out factory, were well attended. The shows were well-attended by engineers from Chinese PCB manufacturers.

Industry Driver

The past year was one of the strongest years that the PCB supply chain and the rest of the electronics manufacturing industry in general, has seen. Everyone we talked to at the shows, including the HKPCA & IPC Show 2017 event we attended last December in Shenzhen, China, were optimistic that the strong growth in the industry in 2017 will continue through 2018.

And most industry players point to one thing when it comes to what’s driving this strong growth—automotive electronics. In fact, one of my RealTime with… interviews at IPC APEX EXPO 2018 show was with Henk Biemans, managing director of MEK Europe. During our discussion, he mentioned the increasing use of THT AOI systems in the wave-soldering process because most power electronics in cars still use through-hole devices—and most of these assemblies are manual.

All industry analysts are forecasting continued growth in the automotive electronics market. According to Global Market Insights, the global automotive electronics market will surpass $395.91 billion by 2024, up from $206.33 billion in 2016. The growth is attributed to the increasing automotive electronics adoption in cars to deliver safety features such as vehicle data recorder systems, emergency call systems and alcohol ignition interlocks, to name a few.

Infinium Global Research, meanwhile, expects the automotive electronics market to register a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.9% over the 2017 to 2023 period.

Another market analyst, Transparency Market Research (TMR), on the other hand predicts a CAGR of 7.4% between 2017 and 2022 for the global automotive electronics market. The market analyst firm expects the market to be valued at $5.05 billion by the end of 2022, up from $3.53 billion in 2017. Fueling the growth of the automotive electronics market include rising safety considerations, demand for high-end electronics for navigation, information, and entertainment, and the rising popularity of electric and hybrid vehicles due to environmental considerations, according to TMR.

One trend in the automotive electronics sector is the shift to LED lighting. In an interview, Greg Marini, director of business development at EMS firm Vexos Inc., says the advent of LED lighting in cars—from headlights to tail lights to interior lighting—was one of the biggest game changers in the past decade. He also mentioned the prevalence of back-up cameras, rear-view mirror systems, entertainment systems, and the touchscreen, or just the display of information and content that is available for the driver. “There’s so much information that you put down into these cars that I think there’s actually a pull back now on what’s going to be available for users, to keep them focused on driving the vehicle instead of being distracted by all the accessories that are available for them to tinker around with.”

Safety is another trend that’s driving innovation in automotive electronics, according to Future Market Insights. The research firm added that powertrains, wheels, parking assistance, and electrical suspensions are the major application areas most likely to spur the growth of the market, as well as increasing environmental sustainability plus rising demand of cutting edge infotainment systems. These, in turn, will fuel the demand for complex electronics systems. In line with this, protection of complex electronic systems from damaging electrical hazards and stringent government regulation regarding vehicle safety are some of the major challenges facing designers in the automotive electronics industry, FMI added.

While reliability continues to be one of the main challenges in automotive electronics, there are others. For instance, Marini mentioned lead time. “Materials are leading or extending out there like copper for PCBs or just simple components like resistors. I was having a conversation when I was in China a few weeks ago. There is a simple resistor there that seems everybody in the industry is using. Lead times are getting way out of the normal lead times, and it’s a challenge to manage that for ourselves and our customers to understand that. People that are used to see an eight-week time for their products are now looking at two or three times that for some of these because of the components they’ve selected. So, we try to mitigate that by offering alternatives, or working with the customers to see if they can design with different components.”

To read the full article, which appeared in the April 2018 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.


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