Connector companies are growing to meet unprecedented demand for electronics across markets and around the world.
The population of Germany expanded by 80,000 people the week of November 12, as electronics industry professionals from around the world gathered in Munich for electronica 2018. This record crowd — a 10% increase in attendance over the previous show — represented over 80 countries. More than 3,100 exhibitors displayed new products in exhibits that spanned 17 halls and demonstrated the many ways technology is infiltrating every conceivable market and service. Special features for 2018 included four conferences with technical programs in the automotive, embedded, medical electronics, and wireless sectors, plus a new live demonstration hall.
Major connector companies and distributors were out in full force, and their presence spanned numerous exhibition halls. Connector Supplier visited with dozens of companies to find out how the industry is doing and what the electronics industry as a whole is keeping an eye on in the months to come. Overall, connector companies reported excellent business in 2018, with new products and increased demand across markets pushing up sales and driving innovation.
Connector Trends at electronica 2018
High-speed products, precision RF, rugged and heavy-duty connectors, and miniaturized electronics are driving sales. We saw more connectors taking on multiple functions; in many cases, connectors are no longer a passive component and instead are playing an active role in systems. In general, a great wave of technological breakthroughs and expansions of existing technologies are driving connector growth.
Autonomous vehicles, or e-mobility, dominated the show this year. Products for automotive systems and charging infrastructure were on display at many booths. EV vehicles are booming in Europe, ranging from scooters and small vans used by post offices, to personal and public transportation options. Many exhibitors showcased engines, charging equipment, fuel cells, or entire vehicles in their booths, and the LEMO booth even featured one of the Formula E race cars. Clearly, transportation is a growth area for connectors, with huge amounts of electronic content supporting mobility, safety, and entertainment on the road.
Cities and industry are getting ready for 5G. High-speed products aimed at this next stage of connectivity were abundant. The connector industry is more than ready to support the 5G rollout. This market encompasses everything from data centers to individual devices, as systems and cities prepare for launches in 2019 and 2020. (Find out more about connector and cable assembly products aimed at 5G applications in our upcoming 5G Special Report on December 11.)
The Internet of Things is no longer a novelty. Greater connectivity is now the norm across consumer products, workplaces, healthcare, and municipal initiatives. We saw a great variety of products designed to facilitate this exploding market.
In addition, USB-C is staking its claim in the consumer arena, and many companies are ready to serve product designers with their take on the next-gen connector. In many countries, high-speed and high-tech rail networks are expanding. Military spending also continues to grow, robotics are coming for (some of) our jobs, renewable energy is taking off, and virtual and augmented reality are poised to grow. (We’ll share more about industry trends in our first issue of 2019, a Special Report on Tech Trends and Disruptors, on January 7.)
Such great technology comes great responsibility, so data security is a serious concern across the industry as well. AI is gaining momentum, even as some experts urge caution, and protecting intellectual property is still a grave issue. (Even so, we did observe several good-natured “spies” observing their competition at the show — all to be expected.)
Connector Industry Insights From electronica 2018
The overall sentiment expressed by connector companies at this show was optimism: Technology is advancing so rapidly and so comprehensively that growth for electronics has its own momentum. It has become unstoppable, companies told us. (Next week, we’ll share Arthur Visser’s insights on the numbers, health, and outlook of the industry.)
Or, almost unstoppable. All this excitement was tempered by geopolitical friction. UK companies and those who work with them were sweating a bit as Brexit negotiations proceeded – then stopped – then started up again during the week of the show. The global stock markets saw precipitous declines during electronica, most troublingly with losses originating in the tech sector.
The elephant in the room was clearly tariffs and price increases. Companies in China and those that do business in that country said the tariffs standoff between the US and Beijing is wearing thin. Some observed that huge orders in midyear were followed by huge slowdowns in the last quarter, as stockpiling and uncertainty infiltrated the industry. On the other hand, companies based in the EU were enjoying the benefits of staying out of the fray, as some buyers looked for neutral alternatives. We heard about creative workarounds involving new factories in neutral countries and alternative supply chain strategies. Still, time is money, and one company admitted that it “costs a fortune to be so creative.” Overall, we heard that customers are becoming more cautious, taking a wait-and-see approach. The people we talked to said that the industry is still on a good track, but expectations are that business will be more subdued in 2019.
Other buzz? The venerable founder of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee, passed away during electronica 2018. Several industry professionals said that they felt his loss. No surprise: An interest in technology and an interest in comics go hand in hand for many. HARTING’s booth even featured a superhero theme.
Elon Musk continues to be the talk of the town. Several connector companies have a stake in his Hyperloop, Tesla, Powerwall, and SpaceX ventures, and despite personal foibles and whipsawing Tesla stock prices, the inventor that Neil Patrick Tyson called “the closest thing we have to a Thomas Edison” clearly held a spot of reverence among attendees and exhibitors at electronica 2018.
Above all, this biennial gathering of the industry underscored one immutable fact: The electronics industry is a global enterprise, and events, whether they be new innovations or disturbances in trade relationships, ripple across many companies, in many countries. We are all in this together.
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