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What are some of the obstacles you believe your industry will face in the next 3 to 5 years?

By Dr. David Fried, Chief Technology Office (CTO) of Coventor

All technical innovations will be held to criteria of cost and benefit. As the challenges get more difficult and the solutions become more advanced, rushing to judgement on cost/benefit will limit innovation. The semiconductor industry (specifically silicon) is so massive and has enjoyed significant financial success for so many years. If new innovation is compared to this success story, it will be very difficult for new products to emerge. Many of the large and established industry players (the ones that have the resources and capabilities to foster innovation) are hesitant to deviate from their existing lines of business.

By Don Li, CTO at CUI

One big obstacle is the short-sighted emphasis on the bottom line that can lead to cutbacks in true innovation. Companies are often unwilling to invest in R&D and projects that may have a longer path to profitability because of a hyper-focus on quarterly profits. To compensate, organizations often outsource engineering work and reduce their engineering resources, leading to a shift of engineering capabilities from technology firms to contract manufacturers. This has the effect of shifting capabilities from more developed economies to less developed economies and has had a huge effect on certain industries. In the power electronics space, for example, where many of the basic design capabilities and design support infrastructure have shifted to Asia, it has become very difficult to maintain development centers for power products in North America or Europe.

By Gregory Guez, Executive Director, Embedded Security, Maxim Integrated

Design security will continue to be a challenge, especially as more of our everyday objects become connected. We’re already getting a regular stream of news about seemingly innocuous things like security cameras, toys, and even medical devices getting hacked. We’ve found that for many industries, security isn’t as high a priority as it should be, often because of the perceived cost and time that developers think it adds to the product development cycle. Others aren’t sure about the most effective measures to implement design security.

Hardware-based security provides the strongest protection against hacking and other cybercrimes. For example, software encryption is only as strong as how secure the device’s OS is. Plus, when it comes to operating systems, it’s difficult to exhaustively figure out all of the potential interactions that could trigger a breach. So that leaves the system open to many potential points of vulnerability. Hardware-based security, on the other hand, establishes a root of trust where trusted software—which cannot be modified—is stored in a secure microcontroller’s ROM. This trusted software can be used to verify and authenticate the application software’s signature.

So, while design security will remain a challenge in the coming years, embedded security offers an answer. With embedded security ICs, for instance, designers have access to turnkey technology with features such as cryptographic algorithms, secure boot, encryption, secure key storage, and digital signature generation and verification.

By Anil Telikepalli, Executive Director, Industrial & Healthcare Business Unit, Maxim Integrated

As the world adopts more automation in factories driven by Industry 4.0 initiatives, we expect to see automation to expand in buildings, smart cities, electrification, and transportation. Plus, applications that have, until now, not seen much automation will see it enter in a big way. These include automotive, retail, farming, warehousing, personal transportation, and security/surveillance. The key functional elements of these systems include processing, I/O, communications, encryption, and power management.

If previous lessons are an indication, we expect software-defined platform architectures taking root to accelerate use of the same system in multiple applications. Plus, we anticipate more cloud management of data collected through various sensors. These present new obstacles to system designers in the form of system power faults/diagnostics, data encryption, reliable I/O, and energy management to enable scalability and reduce operating expenditures.

By Rodger Hosking, Vice President, Pentek, Inc.

Complexity is perhaps the greatest challenge for embedded systems, both in hardware and software. Silicon device vendors of FPGAs, CPUs, and GPUs exploit shrinking process geometries to pack more and more processing elements in a single device. Difficulty in effectively managing and controlling these resources will continue to escalate.

Thermal management of these silicon devices is exacerbated by increasingly smaller package sizes and high density printed circuit board layouts. Silicon junction temperatures must be carefully restricted to maximum limits by removing heat. Size constraints imposed by the growing number small unmanned vehicles only make the problem worse.

By Scott Soong, CEO, Pervasive Displays

Mass customization and the ability to deliver reliability and quality will be a huge challenge in the display industry going forwards. In my opinion, engineers today have a responsibility to improve the energy efficiency of semiconductor devices as the more energy conscious we become, the more opportunities there will be to deploy energy efficient, decision-enabling products into the overall environment.

By Louis Parks, CEO at SecureRF

We are in the security sector, and in general, it has fallen far enough behind that the question is not what obstacles it faces but rather can we retard the rate of failure. Security is the tool that supports privacy, and in our world, it is information privacy. Hundreds of millions of people walk around with a 24-hour monitoring device sharing where they go, whom they communicate with, what they communicate, what they see (photo recognition), and more. Using location data after midnight, data is collected that can tell where you sleep and with whom (two phones on nightstands or in a bedroom tell the whole story). Catching up is a challenge—and a bigger challenge is trying to provide security for the billions of devices entering the market every year. The problem is recognized, and many groups are working on it, which has created an additional obstacle—that of standards. If you want to protect all of these devices and have them work in the frictionless fashion they are designed to, then this requires that common standards among developers and manufacturers be established and adhered to. But with hundreds of standards bodies, it takes years to just define needed requirements, even when security technology exists that can address these obstacles. This isn’t helpful because users are slow or resistant to adopt a technology unless it is a standard. So we continue to slip further and further behind.

By Jack Kang, Vice President of Product and Business Development, SiFive

If 2017 is any indication, the market value of the semiconductor industry will continue to skyrocket over the next three to five years. In fact, a recent Gartner forecast showed that the global semiconductor market will reach $401.4 billion in 2017. Yet, there is an underlying issue—one of which many in the industry are familiar with—that isn’t reflected in this macro view.

As it currently stands, if you are a small to midsized company without tens of millions of dollars in loose capital, it’s nearly impossible to get a new design off the ground. The upfront costs of a design have become so prohibitive that only the biggest, most lucrative companies are able to tape out new projects. Simply put, this model is killing innovation in the semiconductor industry—and perhaps even equally as important, is resulting in a loss of critical engineering talent. Hundreds—if not thousands—of engineers are choosing not to enter the hardware world, keenly aware that their design may never make it to market.

By democratizing access to silicon, leveraging open-source and simplifying the process by which IP is licensed, the semiconductor industry can change its course. Take the RISC-V ISA, for example, which has already garnered attention from the likes of Intel, Google, IBM, HP, and many more. Open implementations like RISC-V have the potential to reinvigorate the market with innovative concepts and push the boundaries of hardware development. Ultimately, it will take a collective emphasis on democratization, automation and open-source to overcome the challenges associated with current model of developing silicon.

By Jim Toth, Vice President of Materials, TE Connectivity

Customers across all industries are working to shorten their product development cycles. The problem has been the same for years, but constantly improving innovation includes offering additional solutions. One way for us to provide prototypes and low volume production parts faster is to through additive manufacturing, including 3D printing. We can now routinely produce prototypes in a matter of days that would have formerly taken us six weeks using standard processes. It also provides the ability to produce complicated, intricate geometries and lattice structures that would be impossible to create using standard manufacturing processes. 

By Chuck Alexander, Director of Product Management, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing (AM) is still relatively new. The market knows of the technology and wants to implement it, but some companies just aren’t sure which technologies to use for which applications. Companies have developed unique processes to address manufacturing methods, but they aren’t willing to disclose this proprietary information. And it’s hard to blame them for that. But because of this, it hasn’t yet been possible to develop broad standards for implementation. Fortunately, there are additive manufacturing consultants and service providers, like ours, that are able to help companies through this process and successfully integrate the technology into their existing framework.

By Eric DeRose, Field Applications Engineer, AVX Corporation

The main obstacle I foresee the electronic manufacturing industry facing is meeting demand. Electronics are taking off all-around. We are continually being introduced to significant and exciting automation advancements, such as autonomous self-driving cars, robotics, and avionics, and electronic components and devices are the critical enabling technologies that fuel these innovations and developments. As such, there is super high demand for all electronic product offerings across the board. This is causing lead times to get dragged out, as we are booking at very high rates relative to capacity. It’s a tough position to be in, but it also means that economic times are favorable.

By Todd Walter, National Instruments and Avnu Alliance Industrial Segment Chair

Networks are converging and becoming shared across a wide variety of applications. As more devices in manufacturing and industrial systems settings move to the network, engineers are faced with the task of ensuring synchronize, reliable communication between these systems and devices. A strong reliance on open standards means that companies will need to look for solutions that enable a secure, predictable, reliable and uninterrupted flow of information from sensor to the cloud.

Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) supports real-time control and synchronization, for example between motion applications and robots, over a single Ethernet network. TSN can at the same time support other common traffic found in manufacturing applications, driving convergence between IT and operational technologies. 

It is helpful to be able to reuse this technology in modern machines using video cameras in control loops. As TSN supporting network infrastructure become more prevalent, many of today’s modified Ethernet networks can move to TSN based networks, using their OT-based application layers on standard 802.1 Ethernet.

By Brynt Parmeter, Director, Workforce Development, Education and Training, NextFlex

A Luddite mentality—fear of AI, of what machines may be able to do in the future—presents a potential obstacle to widespread integration and adoption of new technologies. Another big hurdle is a shortage of people trained to fill emerging jobs.

NextFlex aims to address such challenges through FlexFactor, a four-week, project-based learning program developed in partnership with the San Jose / Evergreen Valley Community College District that exposes high school students to the range of professional opportunity within advanced manufacturing. Small teams of students identify a human health or performance related problem, conceptualize a flexible hybrid electronic related device to solve it, and package their concept into a business model.

FlexFactor’s project-based learning model is integrated into an existing class, providing an alternative learning structure into which classroom learning objectives can be embedded. The program’s key benefits are that it:

  1. Familiarizes young people, parents and educators with advanced manufacturing technology so that they become truly aware of the opportunities available.
  2. Provides students with an entrepreneurial mentality; the ability to turn an idea into a value proposition, iterate through a customer discovery process, and use the feedback to improve the original concept. Through this process, participants learn how new products are developed and integrated in the business world.
  3. Exposes students to a variety of education and career pathways that lead to secure and rewarding employment opportunities.

By Doug Patterson, VP, Military & Aerospace Business Sector, Aitech Defense Systems

Component obsolescence is the elephant in the room—and it’s getting bloated and fatter every day. It’s time to stop ignoring the issue and come up with some real solutions now.

By Krishna Shekar, Senior Director of Flash Memory Marketing, Winbond Electronics Corp.

The Internet of Things and devices' increasing reliance on code storage are taking hold at a rapid pace, so Winbond envisions systems designed for set-it-and-forget-it deployment will demand low-power components to deliver maximum product life.

By Scott Phillips, Vice President of Marketing, Virtium Solid State Storage and Memory

For one, IoT/IIoT is expanding so fast that some organizations deploying it may not take the proper steps to ensure devices’ data are protected. For example, using an off-the-shelf solid-state drive for an application in harsh conditions—like extreme temperatures or regular shock and vibration—is just asking for trouble.

By Ben Green, Head of New Business, Harwin

In many Western economies, both in North America and in Europe there is a clear engineering skills gap developing. Many experienced engineers are currently moving towards retirement and there are simply not enough youngsters entering the sector to cover the shortfalls that are starting to appear further up the line. We are trying to combat this through the ongoing recruitment of apprentices, as well as university sponsorship activity. We believe that other companies should be taking a similar approach. At the same time, governments need to work together with industry and academia to encourage more young people into engineering disciplines, otherwise the problem is going to get worse.

By David Caserza, Embedded Computer Architect, Elma Electronic; and Michael Munroe, Technical Product Specialist, Elma Electronic

Loss of historical knowledge and experience as system engineers with 30 to 40 years of experience retire.

By Robert Blenkinsopp, VP Product, Ultrahaptics

We're very much in a golden age of AR and VR and the technologies that are being developed around these markets. Currently, we're in the stage where a lot of these technologies are very exciting and generate a lot of headlines, promising and visions of the future. There's a huge amount of emphasis on ensuring as manufacturers we follow through and deliver those technologies, as well as being a part of developing an acceptance to them in everyday life so that they move beyond being seen as an exclusive experience. This is a huge challenge for us at Ultrahaptics. People assume that what we are doing is something futuristic, but the reality is that it is here and being incorporated into a huge number of products that will soon be available to consumers.

That doesn’t mean that we are resting on our laurels. Beyond common acceptance of our technology, we are also encountering more physical challenges. One example of which would be the transducers we use. We’ve found that there has been nothing really pushing innovation in transducers, so the ones on the market have been around for a long time, doing a great job at what they were intended to do. We are using them in a new and innovative way, with different requirements, which means that we are pushing manufacturers to make smaller transducers that are more targeted for our applications.

Finally, there is the obstacle that lots of companies face, and that is predicting the market. For us, is VR and AR heading towards mobile devices, requiring smaller, lower power everything at low costs? Or is there a call for bigger solutions, such as installations into things like arcades and theme parks?

By Zach Bradford, director of marketing – enterprise, Molex

There will be two major obstacles to overcome:

  1. Mechanical and electrical modeling will need to be reinvented to ensure that products will meet the expected performance in customer applications.
  2. Manufacturing processes will be forced to meet certain requirements as product performance will vary greatly as components/assemblies deviate from true nominal.

Transmission speeds keep on doubling up, and at one point we will be reaching physical limits or lacking greater advancements of other elements of a channel that will prevent the use of copper, which will possibly start the migration over to fiber links. The impact would be on the cost effectiveness of the solution, so this is an area of study and R&D.

By Thierry Marin-Martinod, Chief Technical Officer TE Connectivity (TE), Aerospace, Defense & Marine Business Unit

Rules and standards. The big storm of exchange of information will require new rules or standards to keep all this the tsunami of technologies under control. It is a challenge for the standardization committees to keep up with the technological evolution. How can we guarantee self-driving cars are safe without being sure they don’t talk to each other? How can we mange flying taxis or cars with no rules? In addition to that I see security as another field that requires focus. Due to the Internet of Things (IoT) we have multiplied by tens the number of potential entry points in our life and therefore risk of penetrating our personal network.

In the next 3 years, what current or future innovations will impact your specific engineering discipline the most? How will you specifically be utilizing those innovations?

By Dr. David Fried, Chief Technology Office (CTO) of Coventor

The advent of artificial intelligence, increased computational abilities (at a fixed cost) and “big data” is going to substantially impact semiconductor processing and design. Predictive, model-based process control, in conjunction with advanced statistical analytics, will be used to proactively improve the efficiency of semiconductor design and fabrication. This will lead to shortened development cycles for new semiconductor technologies, and an acceleration in the pace of innovation. We are (and will be) using advances in computer power and “big data” to help our semiconductor industry customers increase the efficiency of their design and manufacturing processes.

By Don Li, CTO at CUI

Wide-band gap devices will have a significant impact on power electronics and the ability to configure these devices will introduce software programming capabilities to designers. With their ability to switch at much higher frequencies, smaller magnetic components can be embedded directly into the silicon. The combination of the GaN/SiC device, magnetics and passives can be made into a power cell that can be scaled. The result is the possibility to design power circuits like digital circuits, which has the potential to fundamentally change the power design process and the engineering skills required.

By Rodger Hosking, Vice President, Pentek, Inc.

High level, graphically oriented tools have been evolving for decades to deal with both obstacles raised above: complexity and thermal management. FPGA design engineers can now easily work with complex logic blocks, each containing thousands of elements that have been abstracted to a high level function. They are manipulated into a larger design by dropping them onto a worksheet and interconnecting them by drawing lines. Each year these tools and methods become more powerful and easier to use.

Thermal modeling tools that harness finite element methods, fluid dynamics, and other techniques are advancing both in accuracy and computation speed. After entering the dimensions, locations and materials of each component, 3D thermal performance of complex systems can be simulated under many operating conditions, saving the time and expense of building and testing its iterative designs.

By Louis Parks, CEO at SecureRF

The impact from the successful introduction of an elementary quantum computer will influence many decisions in the area of security and how an engineer addresses this innovation. The idea of a quantum computer has existed in theory for nearly 40 years, but with IBM and MIT both successfully creating a functioning quantum computer, a slow but sure march to a security dilemma has begun. The dilemma arises from the existence of two known algorithms, that when running on a sufficiently large enough quantum computer, will defeat several key security methods we use today. Secure things we use every day include our online banking, shopping, records, office access, and more. Moreover, what about transportation systems, flight controls, and autonomous vehicles? Quantum computers large enough to run these algorithms are likely ten years away—which is not much time if you are running a large financial or communication network worldwide. In fact, for some, there may not be enough time to get ready. Quantum-resistant security will be the focus for many of us, and we will be using these methods to address the systems and devices that we depend on but would make life difficult, and dangerous, if we could not safely rely on them. Engineers who are designing systems that require security will have their hands full.

By Chuck Alexander, Director of Product Management, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing

I like to call 3D printing “automated manufacturing,” because, as the name implies, most everything is automated or has the capability to become automated. In our current landscape, technology is starting to emerge that delivers scale and speed requirements for the production stages of the product lifecycle. The machines, in order to realize the production capabilities of the technology, need to automate as much as possible. What will get us there is software that supports and replaces manual functions. We need software that can assess and adjust details throughout the build process and into post build, like which part to build first and ways to automate parts inspection.

By Eric DeRose, Field Applications Engineer, AVX Corporation

Right now, we are experiencing strong impacts from IoT and energy harvesting applications. Customers are requesting tighter specs in smaller packaging to reduce both their weight and physical footprint, which challenges manufacturers to satisfy these requests while continuing to prioritize reliability and cost-efficiency. Another exciting and upcoming innovation is the increasing inclusion of supercapacitors in designs. Supercapacitors are capable of energy harvesting, pulse power, power hold-up, and battery replacement, so we expect the market for supercapacitors to expand quickly and continue to multiply in support of advanced consumer and industrial products with appealing energy characteristics.

By Doug Patterson, VP, Military & Aerospace Business Sector, Aitech Defense Systems

We’re having to allocate our design teams across different engineering work, essentially splitting resources between sustaining projects—including redesigning and extending product lifecycles for the military/defense market—and developing future products through independent research and development (IRAD) as well as innovation.

By Krishna Shekar, Senior Director of Flash Memory Marketing, Winbond Electronics Corp.

We're witnessing flash storage undergoing a revolution that's presenting engineers with phenomenal opportunities and challenges in terms of densities, power requirements and ever-broadening array of applications.

By Scott Phillips, Vice President of Marketing, Virtium Solid State Storage and Memory

Solid-state storage technology is experiencing tremendous innovation—higher flash capacities, new ways to increase reliability, and built-in data-security methods—enabling Virtium engineers to design SSDs for an ever-widening array of industrial-embedded applications. We’re also seeing innovation on the integration front, in that we envision a blending of industrial-grade storage with intelligence, through processing power, and networking features.

By David Caserza, Embedded Computer Architect, Elma Electronic; and Michael Munroe, Technical Product Specialist, Elma Electronic

Robust, high-speed connectors for boards and chassis will mean that speed and robustness no longer need to be mutually exclusive. Also, much of the emerging technology will leverage mapping data, remote sensing and optical recognition.

The complexity of these tasks, and the need to provide real-time data to mobile clients, will drive an increasing number of these tasks to the cloud, where more powerful processing engines will allow this processing to be done by generalized computer resources. FPGAs with optical I/O and neural processing will allow the development of even more powerful cards and systems.

And, of course, cooling will need to advance to keep up with the power that will be consumed by these components.

By Robert Blenkinsopp, VP Product, Ultrahaptics

For us it is the developments within AR and VR; both have come a long way in the last couple of years. I think what we're seeing now will pale in comparison to what is developed over the next three years. Lots of people can easily visualize how VR can become an immersive game world and are willing to completely engage in experiences like that. But we're increasingly seeing those technologies being used in other innovative ways, for example in working environments where augmented reality is used as a method of visual annotation, we’ve seen this in small AR apps like train and plane trackers; or adding virtual objects into your environment, so that you can, for example, preview furniture or TVs in your house before you’ve even purchased them.

In the automotive market, we seem to have hit a bit of a stalling point in terms of the aesthetics of a car, essentially a car today looks almost the same inside as a car from ten years ago. There's a big push at the moment to design novel, innovative interaction mechanisms for car interiors which are materializing as the design-in of gesture recognition in cars. These bring their own challenges in terms of being able to provide haptic feedback so there is no temptation for a driver to look away from the road to check their instruction has been received by the car.

These areas, as well as a host of other markets, are where the technology we have developed comes in; bringing back the missing sense of touch in these interactions. Ultrahaptics’ technology gives a user a haptic response in mid-air, based on a user’s gestures and movements without any physical interaction. Our aim is to make these responses more natural, intuitive, and expected for consumers as an everyday experience.

By Zach Bradford, director of marketing – enterprise, Molex

High end and complex modeling software, especially on the mechanical side via FEA predictive tools and gaining the correlation needed to make it effective.

By Thierry Marin-Martinod, Chief Technical Officer TE Connectivity (TE), Aerospace, Defense & Marine Business Unit

I can see definitively some global trends:

  • Miniaturization: this is a challenge everywhere. Customers want to take advantage of innovation; smaller objects mean smaller components with more functions. This will have an impact at the engineering level but also at the manufacturing level.
  • Contactless power and data: we do not want wires any more, we want to leave cable free.
  • High voltage: this is a challenge in every industry. It reduces the size and the weight of the objects but in aerospace, we have a huge constraint due to the corona effect. The industry needs to invent new materials.

What technological challenge(s) do you think your industry will help to improve/solve in the near future?

By Andrew Girson, CEO of Barr Group

Security. If we do not get a good handle on security and incorporate it into the designs of upcoming IoT devices, we are—as an industry—inviting chaos. With IoT, there will be a huge increase in the types of devices connecting to the Internet. And with the pending 5G cellular upgrade, there will be more and better ways for these devices to connect. These developments have the potential to create tremendous efficiencies and improvements in business processes and personal quality-of-life. But, to the hacker, this is a goldmine too. Already, we have many legacy embedded devices connecting to the Internet with inadequate security. These legacy devices will interoperate with new IoT devices. Considering that security is a “weak link” type of problem, our industry as a whole must up our game, or there are going to be an increasing number of security failures that have the potential to cause daily problems.

Not to say that this is an easy problem to solve. Incorporating effective security features into a low-end wireless sensor, which is necessarily very low in cost and with limited processing and power consumption, is by no means trivial. In addition to that, we need to be educating all electrical engineers and software engineers on integrating security into their designs. What engineering and corporate managers need to understand is that we are at a point where even a single line of software source code or a simple electronic circuit has security implications. Engineers must seamlessly integrate security-aware design into their daily activities. If we do that, we can make the hacker’s challenge that much more difficult in the future.

By Dr. David Fried, Chief Technology Office (CTO) of Coventor

The semiconductor industry has continually provided improved, more integrated and lower cost electronic devices as time progresses. These devices have increased the functionality and breadth of everyday consumer and industrial electronics products, and have enabled the ubiquitous collection and use of data for many diverse purposes. Your smartphone, smart watch and drones are just a few small examples of electronics integration challenges that have been successfully met in the past. The semiconductor industry needs to continue scaling down the size of devices to create the next generation of electronic products. This is becoming increasingly difficult as the physical limits of semiconductor technology are being approached. I believe that the industry will meet this scaling challenge, through the use of new materials and new lithographic and processing techniques.

By Don Li, CTO at CUI

The power electronics industry can help solve the wireless power transfer challenge. In reality, the power electronics industry has always been engaged in some aspects of wireless power transfer, especially in near-field applications. Near-field transfer has been widely used in mobile phone charging where a mobile phone equipped with a receiving circuit is placed on a charging pad. The next challenge is the mid-range application, where the mobile phone is located at some distance from the transmitter, such that charging can occur while the user has the phone with them. A number of problems need to be solved, such as transfer efficiency, available power and electromagnetic interference as well as involving different disciplines in power electronics, such as materials, semiconductor devices, software and protocols.

By Paul Wiener, GaN Systems VP of Strategic Marketing

Using power in a more efficient manner has been and continues to be a challenge. Getting more power out of a smaller unit is a continuous pursuit. These improvements are needed for the electrification of vehicles, bidirectional energy storage systems, and the power supplies used to power servers that manage the explosive growth of data. Incrementally, the power also needs to transfer from source to user in the most convenient manner. Trends to move to 48V systems in datacenters and automobiles and a move to wireless power transfer for things as small as a phone or laptop to as large as a car or bus are optimized with our GaN technology.

By Jeff DeAngelis, Managing Director, Industrial & Healthcare Business Unit, Maxim Integrated

Factory automation is an area that the semiconductor industry can help advance in the near future. Successfully creating smart factories calls for:

  • The ability to communicate with equipment starting from the factory floor level.
  • Creating smart sensors and actuators that enable manufacturing lines to perform adaptive manufacturing. When this happens, a single production line can be remotely reconfigured to manufacture a variety of different products, leading to economies of scale and a better ROI.
  • Integrated diagnostics to support predictive maintenance, which keeps the manufacturing line up and running continually for increased productivity.

For IC manufacturers, these Industry 4.0 challenges represent new opportunities to apply advanced process technologies to enhance power efficiency and lower power consumption. Increased integration is also important, in order to reduce component footprints inside the programmable logic controllers (PLC), the brains behind automated factories. 

By Anil Telikepalli, Executive Director, Industrial & Healthcare Business Unit, Maxim Integrated

Literally every piece of electronic equipment needs to be powered. Power and thermal management is a challenge now and will continue to be in the near future. There will be continued demands for smaller size, higher energy efficiency, low heat dissipation, longer battery life, reduced carbon footprint, and increased power density. For high-power data centers, medium-power industrial applications, and low-power portable devices, which are all adding more intelligence/functionality into the same size, power delivered per area is a key metric. We’re continuing to push for this via advanced processes, packaging technologies, unique algorithms, and design and system architectures. Consumer electronics are continuing to shrink (think wearables and hearables, for example). In applications like industrial automation, more robots are being squeezed into the same amount of space as one robot used to occupy, and more sensors are being deployed into an existing factory floor to increase processing efficiency. Shrinking product and equipment sizes place enormous pressure on allowable thermal and power dissipation. Engineers are continuing to explore techniques to further reduce the heat dissipation in our power management ICs (PMICs) in order to address these challenges. Our PMICs are also designed to extend battery life and to reduce operational expenditures while boosting performance per watt. We will persist in stretching the boundaries of engineering to address continuing and emerging challenges in managing heat dissipation, power density, power efficiency, and form factor requirements. 

By Scott Soong, CEO, Pervasive Displays

Building e-paper displays into electronic and IoT connected devices enables the user to make an informed decision based on the information instantly provided. For example, the display on a medical product can alert a shopper to ingredients they may be allergic to. An e-paper display in a production line will enable an inventory worker to move products to the right production staging area. E-paper displays are ultra-low power as they only draw from the battery when updating the displays; the text or image stays on the screen indefinitely afterwards until the next update which makes e-paper displays perfect for products used in environments where there is no access to a mains power supply or you don’t want to be changing a battery frequently. Technology like this ultimately contributes to a greener better earth.

By Louis Parks, CEO at SecureRF

Our industry is getting better at applying security to devices and things entering the marketplace, but we have a long way to go. Just ten months ago, hackers showed what innovation could do to our daily lives when they harnessed nearly 500,000 unsecured things connected to the Internet, like baby cameras, monitors, and office devices, and used them to mount a denial-of-service attack on major web-based services in the United States. Thinking about security when you are designing and creating things, even simple kitchen or play things, that connect to the Internet will reduce some of the exposure we are now seeing.

By Jim Toth, Vice President of Materials, TE Connectivity

One of the most interesting technology challenges we face is working with our customers on safer, more efficient systems for autonomous vehicles. Autonomous vehicles require a large amount of data and video to be transported throughout a vehicle at high speed with perfect accuracy and reliability. Electronic and optical connectivity solutions must be cost effective and 100 percent reliable over the lifetime of the car to ensure the safety of the passengers as well as other vehicles on the road. 

Weight is also a heavy consideration when it comes to vehicle energy efficiency.

By Chuck Alexander, Director of Product Management, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing

In additive manufacturing, we need better ways to predict the outcome of a particular part geometry without having to build the part multiple times. Development of predictive software will fill that gap. In that same vein, we also need better feedback systems on equipment. We need to be able to monitor machines and receive readouts on builds, so we know the process worked the way we wanted it to – without having to inspect the machine post-build. These challenges are currently being worked on, and I foresee them being overcome in the near future.

Another challenge that’s becoming a bigger part of the manufacturing conversation is environmental impact. 3D printing can already be considered a greener way to manufacture because it uses less material and produces less waste, but we can go beyond that. One thermoplastic that’s commonly used is Nylon 11. Nylon 11 is the only plastic material in AM that’s renewable, and we need to push for further adoption of plastics that we can truly reuse and recycle.

By Eric DeRose, Field Applications Engineer, AVX Corporation

Electronics engineers are actively working to create new qualifications and guidelines that will help ensure that innovative new components can be reliably designed into the next-generation devices they were designed for. The environments our products are exposed to are out of our control and often present significant design challenges. To ensure that components are able to outlast harsh environmental conditions, we begin by gathering hours upon hours of reliability test data, which includes qualifying parts for automotive, medical, or military requirements. Qualifications are strenuous and exacting, but it is necessary when potential lives are at stake and the margin for error is non-existent. Brand new qualifications continue to arise, are intriguing, and make for greater competition that ultimately improves the industry. This is particularly true for supercapacitors since there are no AEC-Q200 guidelines for electric double-layer capacitors (EDLCs) yet; although, the industry is actively working to create one. Engineers who pride themselves on quality, reliability, and being price-competitive will walk the right path.

By Todd Walter, National Instruments and Avnu Alliance Industrial Segment Chair

The growing Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) means that more manufacturing facilities are seeing an increasing need for interoperable infrastructures and network capabilities as more devices are added to the network. Recent work by IEEE 802, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and other standards groups has extended the ability to operate time-sensitive systems over standard Ethernet networks, supporting diverse applications and markets including professional audio/video, automotive, and industrial. These standards, driven primarily by the IEEE 802.1 Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) task group, define new mechanisms for creating distributed, synchronized, real-time systems using standard Ethernet technologies that will allow convergence of low latency control traffic and standard Ethernet traffic on the same network.

By Brynt Parmeter, Director, Workforce Development, Education and Training, NextFlex

Machines and robots will need people who know how to program, design, install, maintain, synchronize, and operate them. These requirements will create a new taxonomy of jobs and lexicon for how we educate and employ people in the future, and will greatly impact the employment sector’s environment and demand signals over the next five to 10 years. We will need to get young people, incumbent workers, and different stakeholder systems (e.g., schools, local/federal government, companies) to all invest their time and resources into attracting young people into the education and career pathways that will prepare them for the new jobs as they are needed, identified, and developed?

By Doug Patterson, VP, Military & Aerospace Business Sector, Aitech Defense Systems

Engineering talent and resource migration will become an issue again, now that the economy is expanding, and solid, predictable growth is attainable. Younger engineers are drawn to the panacea of web and IoT app development, rather than helping to protect the country against cyber security threats and the “bad actors” out there in the real world. It’s up to the senior management of our defense community to entice graduating engineers with the expectation of challenging defense applications that, over time, will actually make our world more stable and safer for everyone.

By Krishna Shekar, Senior Director of Flash Memory Marketing, Winbond Electronics Corp.

At Winbond, we feel the overall reduction in designs' power demands serve multiple purposes—not the least of them being energy savings and highly efficient storage. Improvements in technology and enhanced design techniques planned for the future will help in improving efficiency, power saving and provide enhanced feature sets that will help resolve the new challenges that the new applications of tomorrow will bring.

By Scott Phillips, Vice President of Marketing, Virtium Solid State Storage and Memory

Well, one really stands out: Many industry segments need to take data security and the methods to achieve it far more seriously than they have. Tackling that challenge really will help improve those segments’ prospects now and in the future.

By David Caserza, Embedded Computer Architect, Elma Electronic; and Michael Munroe, Technical Product Specialist, Elma Electronic

Rugged systems that make less use of copper connectivity and more use of modular fiber connectivity within embedded black boxes will meet new data communication speeds. The demand for more capable cooling and the need for complex simulation of electrical channels will also both grow, which will increase the time to design and increase cost, making high performance general purpose computers more attractive.

By Robert Blenkinsopp, VP Product, Ultrahaptics

People are so used to receiving a haptic response when they interact with something. This ranges from picking up and manipulating items all the way through to our interaction with technology: keyboards, mice, and touch screens on mobile devices. It seems to have been accepted that the next stage in the way we communicate with technology will be gesture control, but in most cases, that means asking people to move to a different way of interacting where you're gesturing but because you aren’t touching anything there is no tactile feedback. This leads to a very jarring experience.

This challenge is going to become more prevalent as gesture control does, so what Ultrahaptics has done is develop a technology that can be utilized today, to give the user back the missing sense of touch. We feel that as a company we are helping make interaction with virtual worlds more intuitive and that we are adding that missing piece of the puzzle in AR and VR space.

By Thierry Marin-Martinod, Chief Technical Officer TE Connectivity (TE), Aerospace, Defense & Marine Business Unit

At TE Connectivity we are helping create a safer, better future for others. In today’s more and more connected world our products enable people to travel faster and safer. We are giving people time back in their day by enabling automatization of many of our daily activities such as online grocery ordering through intelligent refrigerators or smart-phone based house energy management just to name a few beloved habits of our new connected life. In the medical world TE’s product solutions enable minimal invasive surgeries and health monitoring devices that help people to live healthier and safe. At some point in our lives, TE products touch us in a positive and impactful way.

Any advice you would give new engineers entering the field?

By Andrew Girson, CEO of Barr Group

Take a software course. Learn about software development. This applies to mechanical and aerospace and other types of engineers, beyond just electrical engineers and software engineers. Software is becoming more and more important and more intertwined in all aspects of engineering. Devices are getting smarter and with the increasing interest in artificial intelligence, this is the result of new and better software at the device, PC, and cloud levels. Traditional languages such as C are being augmented (and in some cases replaced) by other C variants such as C# and by languages such as C++, Java, Python, and others. Knowing something about these languages and software development in general will benefit your career, even if you are not creating code directly.

By Dr. David Fried, Chief Technology Office (CTO) of Coventor

The work is challenging, but the rewards are significant. Electrical Engineers form the foundation of most of the exciting technical innovation in the world these days. Being a part of those innovations is incredibly rewarding in many ways: financial, personal fulfilment, technical leadership, etc. Our industry supports and enables the growth of hard working engineers into all different areas of innovation and development, so the flexibility is tremendous.

By Don Li, CTO at CUI

It is important for a new engineer to start with a solid understanding of the engineering process. Technologies will evolve, but the fundamentals that underpin the process will not. It is also important to gain exposure to associated disciplines such as manufacturing, quality and supply chain. Engineers today are being asked to wear multiple hats, so an understanding of the entire process from design to manufacturing is vital for success in the technology firms of the future. Finally, it is important to stay curious and to remain open to new ideas. True innovation often occurs when engineers move out of their comfort zone and approach the problem from different perspectives.

By Anil Telikepalli, Executive Director, Industrial & Healthcare Business Unit, Maxim Integrated

If doctors are protectors of life, engineers are the creators! Armed with a passion to identify the world’s most difficult technical problems and persevering to solve them, engineers are creators and builders. A simple advice I will give engineers entering the field is to always be curious. Curiosity and a genuine desire to seek is what drove mankind into engineering, and this core underlying principle has not changed with new technologies. All the new technologies are simply your tools to identify and narrow the problem and solve it. Remember—good engineering is in solving complex problems with simple solutions, not the other way around.

By Rodger Hosking, Vice President, Pentek, Inc.

Get involved in many aspects of your company or industry, rather than specializing in one area of expertise. Not only will you be more ready to react to rapidly shifting technology trends, it will also be easier for you to redirect your career as you grow. Having direct contact with customers is an excellent way to find out what’s really important to them, and also to become more aware of new opportunities.

By Louis Parks, CEO at SecureRF

Learn about security and how to apply it to the field you are practicing. It will make a big difference in our world and add significant market value to those engineers who can create and apply a strong understanding of security in their field.

By Roberto Lu, Vice President of Technology, Automation Manufacturing Technology, Global Operations, TE Connectivity

Engineers entering the field commit to innovating solutions that improve human safety, quality, and function that elevates the level of civilizations. Engineers are enablers, solution providers, and innovators tasked with a significant role in improving quality of life. Those who choose this field of expertise will discover a lifelong journey of constant learning.

By Eric DeRose, Field Applications Engineer, AVX Corporation

Keep an open mind to any and all opportunities. You never know where you may end up, and maintaining too great a focus on your engineering degree discipline, or even engineering, might cause you to miss excellent opportunities. For instance, you may climb the ranks within a company (and especially smaller or start-up companies) so quickly that you find yourself working on the business side of things versus the engineering design side. The connections you will make throughout your career are extremely valuable as well, and will likely shape your future. Lastly, always stay motivated. Being an engineer usually means that you’re subject to high expectations. You may make a mistake and get discouraged, but the reality is that it more than likely won’t be your last mistake. No matter the circumstances, always stay motivated, don’t be afraid, and actively try to bring positivity to work because you are contributing to the future and making a difference. Completing engineering school will likely be one of your toughest challenges, and since that is (or is at least almost) already out of the way, embrace each day as a new day.

By Chuck Alexander, Director of Product Management, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing

Keep your eyes open because there’s a lot of opportunity out there. Nothing can beat firsthand experience so get a job that gives you the opportunity to not just use what you’ve learned in the classroom but also to grow and develop. That’s particularly important in a rapidly changing industry.

By Brynt Parmeter, Director, Workforce Development, Education and Training, NextFlex

We need people who are not only experts at solving problems, but can also recognize that there is more than one way to solve them. Universities have tended to yield engineering graduates with knowledge that’s a mile deep and an inch wide. In the future, we will also need people who understand the breadth of problems as well as the depth.

With that said, I also would remind them that there are three variables associated with developing a career: talent, opportunity and passion. We always hear people say “pursue your passion,” but frankly, that isn’t good advice if you’re not looking at the other two aspects. If you only focus on developing talents that fit your passion, you may become very good at something no one is willing to pay for and that no one needs. Ideally, you find a career in which there are a multitude of opportunities to utilize your talents and feed your passion. One of the things we’re looking at with the FlexFactor program is how we can inspire young people to become passionate about advanced manufacturing, so that they can develop talents to align with the available opportunities and still scratch their “passion itch.”

By Krishna Shekar, Senior Director of Flash Memory Marketing, Winbond Electronics Corp.

Refine your coding! There will never be less of a need for it.

By Scott Phillips, Vice President of Marketing, Virtium Solid State Storage and Memory

I’m sure the Virtium engineering team would agree with me when I advise engineers to anticipate a future where practically any device they can imagine will be interconnected to countless other data-collecting devices, so designing storage intelligence into them and protecting their crucial data will be paramount.

By Ben Green, Head of New Business, Harwin

There is now a lot of debate as to whether school leavers who want to follow an engineering career should study for a degree (and have to deal with the related tuition costs) or alternatively look to get on-the-job training instead. Though both are clearly valid, we have put a lot of investment into our apprentice program to develop the skills of young engineers. Over the years it has allowed us to gain access to some great engineering talent, with individuals that have new ideas and strong work ethics joining our workforce. We’ve be able to give them the opportunity to grow over time, taking responsibility for their own projects, solving problems and expanding their knowledge. As a result, many of our apprentices have eventually moved up the ranks into high level positions within the company.

By Bruce DeVisser, Fujitsu Components America Product Marketing Manager

Welcome to a strange new world! Or not, depending on the type of job you start in, perhaps doing research or designing a product. I say “start in” because, typically, your first job will not last very long, even if you stay with the same firm. You will hopefully progress as you learn and are exposed to other engineering areas, and may find you want to change your focus.

I say this mainly to Electrical Engineers (EEs) and closely-related disciplines, because the Electronic Components world is heavily slanted towards Embedded Computing and Electro-Mechanical (EM) work, or Animatronics.

I consider myself fortunate to have started in Analog, RF and EM, and progressed through the early days of ICs, digital design, and integrated EM products, always with a tie-in to Man-Machine Interface and application engineering. The industry and economic cycles have led to organizational changes and downsizing that effectively eliminated traditional mentoring of new engineers by senior staff. Thank goodness for online sources and Application Engineers to help out those needing product-building knowledge.

The secrets to success in our universe of engineering aren’t so different from succeeding in any venture. First the basics: Make a reasonable effort to get the job done. Be willing to do more when needed. Don’t violate your personal beliefs. Be fair and consistent in peer work reviews. And finally, don’t be afraid to take on a task that will stretch your abilities – that is how you grow.

Finding your best-fit space may take time, and you may find re-education necessary to change what you are doing – like taking some robotics or (gasp) business/marketing courses. In fact, an understanding of basic business and marketing principles can make you a better product designer.

Good luck!

By Doug Patterson, VP, Military & Aerospace Business Sector, Aitech Defense Systems

Look at all your options before making an industry career choice. Some will opt for the technological glitter, the lure of quick monetary gains and the flash in the pan. Others, however, will take a longer view and see just how much of an impact their innovations can truly make. Those are the ones whose contributions will endure.

By David Caserza, Embedded Computer Architect, Elma Electronic; and Michael Munroe, Technical Product Specialist, Elma Electronic

There is huge opportunity for your career path as many key individuals are approaching retirement.

By Robert Blenkinsopp, VP Product, Ultrahaptics

I would say, "Don't feel constrained by the art of the possible.” You have to think beyond what is possible today to really push technology forward and to come up with really innovative solutions. So, I think you should never be haunted by the success of other people, or scared of a challenge. Approach every new task like you would anything else: chip away at the bits you do know how to address and train, read, and research the bits that you don't. You'll surprise yourself when you achieve what you didn't think was possible at the start.

By Zach Bradford, director of marketing – enterprise, Molex

Use systematic approaches and data to drive decision making and development.

By Thierry Marin-Martinod, Chief Technical Officer TE Connectivity (TE), Aerospace, Defense & Marine Business Unit

We have never seen so many opportunities in the engineering field as today; everything is exploding and at the same time everything is faster and that won’t stop. We are just catching up with the sci-fi movies and comics! Now a young generation of engineers comes on board and develops new stories for the future.

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