Material Gains

Alun Morgan

Even our wildest predictions for new technologies like the IIoT could be too modest.

“One day there will be a telephone in every major city in the USA.” This outrageous assertion, attributed to Alexander Graham Bell, illustrates the difficulty we face in trying to grasp the full potential of great opportunities. He also suggested – presumably later – that “the day is coming when telegraph wires will be laid onto houses just like water or gas – and friends converse with each other without leaving home.”

And so it is, I’m sure, with the Internet of Things (IoT). It’s just getting started. Of course, great claims have been made, particularly on the number of devices that will become connected. The IPv6 address space permits more connections than we can practically contemplate. But it’s the types of applications and services, the capabilities we will gain by leveraging data from IoT devices, that will change the way we live and work in ways we cannot conceive right now.

Under the general heading of the IoT, the Industrial IoT (IIoT) has taken on a life of its own as commercial organizations realize the potential benefits. It’s a key element of the fourth industrial revolution, the enabler for physical systems to become cyber physical systems.

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Alun Morgan

We can make more (money) by making less (product).

Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all.”

Today, we’re all familiar with gorgeous gadgets, and not only those we carry in our pockets, wear on our wrists or help us drive our cars. The factories we work in are dripping with sensors and automation, which is increasingly robotized, bringing a level of dexterity, efficiency, and reprogrammable flexibility that previous generations could only dream of.

We are fortunate to live in this period we now call the fourth industrial revolution, although we should recognize our predecessors have been working toward this for generations. It’s simply human nature. Since the beginning of industrialization, people have been making analyses – of processes, end-products, and how things are done – to achieve some improvement. Often, the goal is to increase productivity and quality but also to ensure safety and reduce environmental impacts. Recently, of course, reducing pollution and energy consumption, while addressing issues like recyclability, has become increasingly important.

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Alun Morgan

Could optical interconnects and graphene change the view?

Many things, including the electronics industry, have changed beyond recognition over the past 40 years or so. It’s all the more incredible how little the PCB has changed in its makeup since its inception, and thus fitting that PCD&F named its Hall of Fame after the printed circuit inventor, Paul Eisler. His radio, the first commercial product to contain a PCB, is on display at the Science Museum in London. It was made in 1945, containing a simple and straightforward PCB designed to implement point-to-point connections. Things have become more sophisticated, of course, as human nature provides both the push from engineers’ curiosity and the pull of market demands.

The main goal of early PCBs was to replace traditional soldered wire connections. This helped streamline assembly, reduce wiring errors, and increase reliability. The PCB’s arrival also facilitated automation of electronics product assembly. In early PCBs, the role of the substrate was barely considered, except to separate the conductors. Now, the substrate properties are the most important aspect where high signal frequencies are present. In other ways, it’s surprising how little has changed, as the constituent parts remain the same: a composite core, comprising a reinforcement and a resin binder, and copper conductors.

Of course, much has been done to boost and optimize the properties of the entire assembly. With efficient thermal transfer a key demand in high-power circuits, unreinforced materials have come to the fore that remove the effects of glass as a thermal insulator.

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Alun Morgan

The controversial technology could help cut the carbon footprint of daily living.

We know the pandemic has forced many to work from home (WFH) and as a result driven up demand for products like PCs and home IT equipment. There has also been a large reduction in commuting to and from workplaces, which many have enjoyed and vowed to continue even after lockdowns are lifted.

These changes ought to benefit the planet by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution. We should consider the impact of the extra demands placed on data infrastructures to handle this upsurge in remote working, however. It takes energy to move all that data back and forth, although arguably this would happen whether workers are at the office or at home.

Data center businesses have blossomed during the pandemic, with an uptick in demand for their services. These include work-related services as well as home entertainment. Netflix has reported record consumption, although the rise has flattened recently, perhaps as content has become exhausted.

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