Connector Industry Leaders Share Their Thoughts
Connector Supplier celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, so we talked to some of the connector industry’s leading suppliers about the big changes in the electronics industry that drove connector design and application over the last decade.
From an industry standpoint, the biggest change we’ve seen in the past 10 years is how the Internet has impacted the interconnect sales cycle, from product selection to fulfillment. All aspects have changed, from the expectation of immediately available product specifications and performance data, to the speed at which product comparisons can be made, as well as the role of the technical sales representative. Face-to-face meetings have been increasingly replaced by web searches, conference calls, and emails. However, since staffs have been cut and engineers are wearing many hats, OEMs often rely on technical sales people from suppliers to be an extension of their design team — the specialists assist with component product selection and recommendations for customization to solve difficult design challenges. Selling from a catalog has been replaced by the Internet, but consulting and presenting qualified solutions has become the new role for interconnect and other component suppliers.
While some trends and transitions are still moving forward, others have seen fairly major shifts or “corrections.” For example, many OEMs, CMs, and component manufacturers that turned to offshore manufacturing for the promise of reduced costs have begun to reinvest in North America with gains being achieved in quality control, time to market, and overall supply chain management. As electronic products continue to become more complex — smaller, faster, and embedded into previously low-tech items — the challenge has become how to manufacture in North America and be competitive.
It is a reality: Data is expected to be more accessible than ever before. The electronics industry has been forced to significantly reduce time-to-market in order to satisfy a market with rapidly changing needs. It is expected that product size and weight will continue to reduce while maintaining superior performance. To complicate matters, market penetration by copycat products requires constant innovation. In short, improving business and manufacturing process models to deal with serious price pressures and shorter product lifecycles mandates constant pressure for cost reduction.
Dave Jakubowski, Vice President of IP&E Supplier Management, Avnet Electronics Marketing Americas
The most significant change I see is that we have become truly global. We are in an environment that requires a “design anywhere, build anywhere” mentality. If I put myself in one of our account managers’ shoes as they are servicing a customer, what used to be a couple of questions like, “Do you plan on building this yourself or are you considering a contract manufacturer?” are now questions that involve more complexity, such as, “What contract manufacturer are you planning to use and in what country will it be built?” That account manager now needs to coordinate with the CM as well as with its Avnet counterpart in the region of production to protect and get compensated for its design efforts. With roughly 30% of new designs coming from the United States, and production happening elsewhere, that creates an opportunity for quite a volume of coordination.
In an “always on” world, there is an increasing trend towards modular equipment design to allow on-site assembly or replacement of easily exchangeable parts. This approach helps to increase flexibility while reducing costs and downtime. Robust and easy-to-use connectors are vital to the reliability of modular equipment, making it more important than ever before to work with experienced and trusted suppliers.
Bob Hult, Director of Product Technology, Bishop & Associates
The short answer is, market acceptance of smartphones and tablets at the expense of desktop computers; recognition of energy conservation and the introduction of chips using ARM low-power architecture that enable that market acceptance; massive integration of electronics in automotive applications; and the Internet of people evolving into the Internet of Things.
John MacWilliams, Senior Consultant and Analyst, Bishop & Associates
The most significant changes include the explosion of Internet speed and applications, driving all sorts of electronic activity, from R&D to design to the supply chain, hardware, and product marketing; the shift from OEM to contract manufacturing and outsourcing to China, which resulted in major challenges in the connector industry; chip developments (microprocessors, flash memory, Si radios, WiFi, etc.); mobile systems taking over the lead in personal communications, from Ultrabooks to tablets and smartphones, resulting in the demise of POTS and potentially many PCs; and Apple’s emergence as the industry pace-setter in new computer/communications/entertainment devices and applications, transforming computer, consumer, and communications markets.
Lynda Nolen, Product Specialist, Bishop & Associates
I think one of the most significant changes has to do with the general crossover of electronics into what has traditionally been considered the electrical world. Examples of this include the smart grid, smart homes, solid-state lighting, power management in all kinds of applications, electric vehicles and other automotive applications, and industrial production applications that involve sensors.
Arthur Visser, Managing Director, Europe, Bishop & Associates
The rise of China.
It would be difficult to argue a more disruptive and widespread change than the RoHS directive, which was adopted in 2003. Companies had little choice but to absorb the major costs of becoming compliant. Unfortunately, more disruptive changes lie ahead as the electronics industry prepares for RoHS 2 and 6 of 6.
The electronics industry has been revolutionized over the last 10 years. Market demands and increased expectations for smart data anytime, anywhere, are at the heart of this amazing electronics revolution. Expectations driving change are always centered around the need for smaller, lighter, faster, and more durable products. This is true across all electronics platforms, from mil/aero to medical, industrial, telecom, and other emerging markets. People now expect everything to be “smart” and for technology to conform to a rapid, fast-paced, and constantly “connected” lifestyle. Radiall’s passion statement sums up our view on technology and the importance of connectivity: Our belief is that the next 10 years will undoubtedly be even more revolutionary than the last 10 years.
Pete Doyon, VP Product Management, Schleuniger
With the incredible number of innovations that have been introduced over the last decade, it’s very difficult to pick the most significant change. Broadband Internet, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS-enabled smartphones, cloud computing, color touchscreens, HDTV, LED lighting, hybrid cars, and battery technology are sure to be somewhere in or near the top 10. If I had to pick one theme that these innovations have in common, it would be that the electronics powering these devices and technologies are smaller, faster, cheaper, and more energy-efficient. Miniaturization has made it possible to have the world at your fingertips. It will be interesting to see how much more computing power and memory density will increase over the next decade.
Gabriel Guglielmi, Vice President Business Development and Strategy, Smiths Connectors
Well, this is a very broad question. However, in looking out over this constantly changing landscape, from an overview perspective, it appears to me that the most significant change across the electronics industry is twofold in nature. First, we’ve seen the emergence of a truly global marketplace that has spawned a customer base that is younger and whose needs are growing in leaps and bounds. In order to capture this exploding growth, solutions providers need to develop their competitive presence by speaking directly to the unique needs of this new breed of customer. In terms of specific changes, clearly, there has been an evolution towards higher speed, and this is due in large measure to a dramatic increase in data traffic. Smiths Connectors addresses this with high-speed copper and fiber optic solutions.
The biggest change has been in the proliferation of smart devices and the interconnection of these devices by means of wire, fiber, or wireless technologies. This is going to continue and maybe accelerate as the Internet of Things becomes prevalent and autonomous systems with artificial intelligence become more widespread. The consequence of this is an ever-increasing need for higher reliability, higher data transmission speeds, increased bandwidth, better shielding, and mobile power sources.
The migration of OEMs outsourcing from North American subcontractors to offshore subcontractors that were perceived to be more cost-effective and now the recent trend to “re-shore” many subcontractor services back to North American subcontractor suppliers. Outsourcing with North American subcontractors continues to allow the OEMs to meet their goals of focusing on their core competencies and achieving cost savings, along with the ability to release their products to market faster, and to have improved communication channels with their suppliers.