18 Feb 2019
IoT and Bespoke Data Security Loom Large as Electronica Mega-Trends
Apart from price pressures and market fluctuations, the most recent Electronica – Europe's largest electronics expo – also saw exhibitors preoccupied with several mega-trends, including miniaturisation, sensors and data breaches.
While many of the themes that characterise most large trade shows – price pressure versus quality reassurance, mass production versus customisation, etc – were evident at the most recent edition of Electronica, several, less-predictable, mega-trends were also clearly discernible. With the Munich-hosted event now one of Europe's largest electronics expos, these mega-trends provided a quick snapshot of just where this none-more-dynamic sector is currently heading.
Indeed, it wouldn't take even the most casual of showgoers long to grasp just which issues were currently preoccupying the sector – cloud computing, miniaturisation, machine-to-machine communication, sensor networks and data security. The fact that many of these trends are interlinked made them all the easier to identify, although, occasionally, it was hard to tell where one particular issue began and the previous one ended, such was the overlap.
Making things a little more complex still, there was also an overlay of several international concerns – most notably Brexit and the continuing trade tensions between the US and China – that coloured pretty much every aspect of the event. In both instances, however, many exhibitors were seeing diversified component supply chains as a means of getting around any current or future trade barriers.
Overall, though, many of the large and very noticeable number of Chinese exhibitors seemed none too concerned about the ongoing machinations of the Trump administration, with the majority of them far more preoccupied with their imminent prospects within Europe. Typical of such attendees was Golten Electronics, with the Ningbo-based business on its second visit to the show and keen to push its PCB screw terminal blocks in particular.
Outlining the company's positioning within this notoriously competitive segment, its spokesperson said: "There's a lot of rival operations attending this event that offer seemingly very similar products to ours. When you look at the better-known brand names, however, you will find that although they use the same quality of materials, we offer a lower price point. This is largely because our cost to market is lower and our margins are narrower.
"In terms of our overseas sales, our strategy is to work with local distributors. We also have a distributor-protection policy in place, giving them certain guarantees in terms of pricing and exclusivity. Basically, we give them all the support they require and see them as key elements in our overall brand-building programme."
Looking to super-serve its customers rather than its distributors was Positronic, a Missouri-based manufacturer of electronic connectors. The company was attending the event to showcase its Scorpion range of connectors, a product series it sells under the tagline: "The Science of Certainty."
Explaining the USP of the range, Design Engineer Guillaume Bordier said:
"Our best seller, the Scorpion connector, is modular, giving us the facility to combine different components and create whatever configuration a customer requires. This allows us to offer what are, essentially, custom connectors at a very reasonable price."
As it focuses on high-end connectors in small lots, Positronic prides itself on the fact that all its quality control is done manually without any reliance on automated processing. Taking quite the opposite view, however, was Guangdong-based Victory Giant Technology, a high-density PCB manufacturer that sees its extensive use of automated processes as a key element in its offer.
Keen to emphasise the company's overall level of technological integration, Business Manager Debbie Wang said: "We currently operate four manufacturing facilities all of which are highly automated. In fact, one of our plants is now wholly automated. Despite that, we still have the flexibility to support relatively small orders."
Overall, one of the developments that was driving increased automation for many exhibitors was the growing use of sensor technology in conjunction with a high level of surprisingly complex databases. One company that had refined such an approach more than most was Arrow Electronics, a Colorado-based distributor of electronic components and computer products.
This year, the company had taken the 17,000-kilometre round trip to promote its Wonderstore shop-surveillance system. An interactive monitoring aid, the system is said to be able to track individual consumers / groups and can even estimate their ages and determine their pre-and post-purchase moods as a way of evaluating their shopping experience.
According to one of the company's Solution Architects, this system is already able to differentiate between customers who had a lot to spend and, say, migrant workers who had a far less disposable income, allowing stores to then deploy their sales staff more effectively.
The system can also be used to cross-reference data from online sales and conventional retail outlets. This gives sales staff the facility to approach a designated customer with products they had already shown an interest in online.
Given their high level of data exchange and multiple access points, systems such as Wonderstore frequently excite security concerns among potential users. Inevitably, this has only further spurred the growth of the data security industry and the development of a number of safe storage products. With convenience as well as immunity from cyberattacks seen as the key attributes of such products, the highly compact ExoKrypt – a smartphone smart case designed to securely store mobile-phone data – proved to be one of the expo's undeniable hits.
Introducing the unit, Tobias Kohlhuber one of the developers of the product, said: "The problem with smartphones is that they are closed ecosystems, giving you a limited range of options when it comes to improving security. Normally, then, if your smartphone gets compromised, all your data is lost.
"With our case, though, you can separate your data from the phone's OS. All of your designated data is then stored within the case, which is, itself optimised across a number of safety parameters. You can also use it to securely store crypto-currencies, all financial information and any required biometric data. The standards unit costs only €150, which is about a tenth of the current asking price of a high-end smartphone."
At the core of the ExoKrypt – manufactured in Germany by a company of the same name – is the ability of the phone case and the smartphone to communicate directly with one another, with this kind of interoperability seen as a standard requirement for many digital devices. Indeed, this particular facility – under the guise of the Internet of Things – was another of the mega-trends in evidence across the showfloor.
A graphic demonstration of just where such technology is heading was provided by Lumberg, a German connector business. This saw the company's stand feature a transparent car body that highlighted the huge number of interconnected electronic devices already housed within the typical automobile.
Explaining the technological innovations that have seen the number of such devices continue to surge, Ulrich Schmidt, Lumber's Managing Director, said: "One reason why the average number of interconnected devices in cars and buildings has increased quite so dramatically is that it is now technically possible to make connectors for smaller contacts and lower power ranges. As the technology continues to become more compact and more adaptable, it is a trend that will show geometric growth for several years to come."
Electronica 2018 took place from 10-13 November at Messe Munich.
Marius Gombrich, Special Correspondent, Munich