Predicting the future is always dangerous. Happily, those predictions are rarely held to much scrutiny—perhaps because we all know that whatever is shared will, at least in some aspect, be wrong. There is much value in an ever-evolving conversation, enabling us to see and observe trends as well as the data that points to those trends. There are some paths that seem very likely, but the tricky bit is the timing. That being said, let me dip my toe into the world of prognostication for a little bit, but know that I realize that nothing is certain.
There are several very exciting, game-changing electronics industry technologies at the forefront. Any one of these would merit days of exploration, but out of necessity, I will just barely scratch the surface of each. As Dr. Humphries, my EE professor, used to say, “I will leave the details of that problem up to the interested and dedicated student.”
The development of true 5G communications, additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, new materials (graphene and other nanomaterials), quantum computing, and others is happening right now as you read this. Any one of these areas individually has the potential to greatly impact the future of electronics, the economy, and how we live our daily lives. However, the combination of two or more of these technologies could have awe-inspiring, and potentially fundamental, shifts in the way electronics are not only used but also made.
As much as I am sure all of us would like to spend some time geeking out over what some of those potentials are, I only have so many words available, and we also have to discuss some business shifts that will have as great an impact on our industry as upcoming technological advances.
The global marketplace is changing. How much or how drastically it will change remains to be seen. But let me share one scenario that I feel is likely. There is a great degree of distrust that has risen up between countries and regions (e.g., Brexit and various tariff disputes). This unrest and distrust will likely result in more regional and national approaches to the building of electronics.
What might this look like? As more regional resiliency is desired, at a minimum, I expect a deeper expectation from the large component distributors to have more vast stores available regionally. A more costly approach may also be to create a local version of the total supply chain, so if something breaks down with a partner, local options might be expanded as required.
Given the tensions between nations, I expect this regional trend to last through the 2020s. After some time has passed and trust has been developed or enforced, the costliness of a heavy regional and local approach to manufacturing will become less tolerable, and a purer globalized supply chain will begin to advance once more. As a global association, we work closely with our international partners to maintain awareness of international events that affect the electronics industry.
As I mentioned earlier, the danger of predicting the future is that there are so many potential variables to consider. Think back to just last year. Those who thought 2020 would have the economic performance we’ve seen would have likely pointed to a tariff war or perhaps even actual war as the impetus that might cause such a shift. I don’t know of anyone who predicted that we should watch out for a killer virus.
Because none of us can see into the future, we need a deep knowledge of our own industry and how it changes rapidly, and how it reflects the upheaval in the world. When holding a roadmap that points to excessive change and disruption, we can more easily deal with those difficult situations as they arise.
Dr. John Mitchell is president and CEO of IPC. To read past columns or contact him, click here.