In the electronics manufacturing space, at least, less is more. There are a whole plethora of reasons that have been driving down the size of electronic assemblies for many years—a trend which shows no sign of diminishing. The price we all have to pay as electronics manufacturers is not trivial, as existing paradigms of assembly, inspection, test, and quality control are challenged to the extreme. The digital twin is supposedly the new paradigm, yet—as with many things these days—the term has already been abused by various marketing teams to promote many disparate products and bespoke technologies, causing confusion, which stifles progress. Let’s consider what the true digital twin is really all about—including the components, uses, and benefits—and see that it is not just an excuse to show some cool 3D graphics.
Miniaturization, in one form or another, has led the way competitively between OEMs of key consumer devices—a phenomenon that has now stretched across the whole industry. The trend started back in the 1980s when portable consumer devices first appeared, and rivalries between the giant consumer device manufacturers became public. One great example was the launch in Tokyo by Sharp, who launched their smallest ever mini-disc player to huge media accolades. Attending the event was Sony’s president at the time, Norio Ohga, who—when asked about his reaction to Sharp having the smallest player in the world—took out of his shirt pocket what appeared to be a prototype of a player half the size, and said, “I don’t think so.”
Though with less fanfare, perhaps, the reducing size of electronics has been a continuous pursuit. It is not just a matter of being stylish and easy to carry. Sophisticated electronic controllers are now being integrated and embedded into the majority of everything that we own or use, including phones, energy meters, automotive intelligence, and military and space technology. There are many other factors apart from size itself that are important, including the weight; the space required for storage and transportation related to packaging; the amount of material consumption, especially for key materials for which there is a finite supply; the energy consumption of the device, including the safety of power supplies—especially batteries; and the physical strength of the device in terms of protection for example of an automotive module involved in a collision.
To read this entire column, which appeared in the February 2020 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.