Material Gains

Alun Morgan

Embrace Industry 4.0 for cleaner, healthier lives.

Industrial electronics is a stealthy but enormously valuable business. Approaching one-quarter of all PCBs manufactured worldwide are for industrial applications, including not only equipment for use in factories but activities such as construction and power generation. In Europe, about 40% of electronic production is destined for industrial applications.

Though cost-conscious, industrial companies appreciate the importance of investing in advanced technology to secure their market position and take advantage of new opportunities. While investing is critical for survival, early adopters can gain a significant competitive edge. This is increasingly the case as the fourth industrial revolution – Industry 4.0 – continues to transform activities.

It’s good news for product innovators. Although development can be expensive and the pace fast, the value of cutting-edge industrial electronics tends to be high, and differentiating features that deliver extra value for customers can attract a premium.

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Read more: How Previous Industrial Revolutions Can Help Us Approach This One

Alun Morgan

Advanced prosthetics highlight the value of pure research, with or without a business case.

I have said this before, but I am a huge fan of technology’s potential to help humanity, and particularly the opportunities to improve quality of life and restore impaired physical capabilities.

In my last column, I enthused about using augmented and virtual reality to create experiences and environments that help people interact and enhance their well-being. Physical augmentation, with technologies such as powered exoskeletons, have industrial and therapeutic applications and could also be used to help people with mobility problems get outdoors to tackle activities such as hill walking. Lack of mobility can have negative effects on the state of mind, as well as physical condition, so an assistive technology that tackles both these challenges could help us establish healthy approaches to aging and help us all keep engaged with the world around us for longer.

A prime application for exoskeletons is to help people suffering from disability or limb loss reacquire important capabilities such as walking. Remarkable as these technologies are, there is enormous scope for improvement to make them easier to use and more affordable and therefore accessible to more people worldwide.

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Read more: Human-Augmentation Technologies are Worth the Risks

Alun Morgan

Even a small amount of virtual assistance can improve our quality of life.

It may seem surprising that the automotive heads-up display (HUD), an aerospace-inspired innovation, was proposed by designers as far back as the 1960s. It took until the late 1980s to reach production. Interest among OEMs and electronics brands has surged recently. As an increasing quantity of information is pushed at drivers from autonomous functions, driver-assistance features and connected services, today’s HUDs provide graphical and text overlays on top of the view through the windshield to aid concentration and improve safety.

Augmenting reality by overlaying computer-generated images and information on our view of the world can help us in many other important contexts as well. AR is increasing productivity in the workplace and is entering the medical arena. Surgeons are beginning to appreciate the benefits of AR, like a graphical overlay from a scan or x-ray image taken previously, which can show important information about the patient during an operation, alleviate distractions and improve outcomes.

Read more: The Role of AR and VR in Longer, Better Lives

Alun Morgan

Cutting-edge technology demands more care to ensure reliability and resilience.

Human nature is to invent, to create technological solutions to the challenges and problems we see. We are increasingly dependent on high-technology solutions as we address more complex issues. Some of these issues are of our own making. Others arise from our increasing expectations: what we want to do, where we want to go, how safe we want to feel.

All this keeps the electronics industry extremely busy. And the equipment we create – remote smart sensors, street-level broadband infrastructure, full-color digital signage, supercomputers on wheels (or wings) – is more and more likely to be required to operate faultlessly in extreme environmental conditions. Gone is the era when advanced electronics assemblies were mostly destined to spend their lives in air-conditioned telecom offices or otherwise benign environments. Now, they are out in the cold. And the heat. And the humidity. And this presents a major reliability challenge that needs to be addressed at every level from the installation and the enclosure down to the substrate.

Read more: Reliability Needs to be Designed-In from the Lowest Level
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