electronica 2012 – More than coffee and sausages

There are two ways to view large shows. One is to ignore them, as any message that is delivered is going to become lost in the thousands of other messages. The other is to embrace them, to take advantage of a large gathering of engineers from multiple disciplines all in one place, and there is no doubt that electronica falls in this category. As the industry prepares to gather in Munich for electronica 2012, Steve Rogerson talks to some of the speakers and exhibitors to see what will be creating a buzz this time round.

The show held every two years, with the next one in Munich from 13 to 16 November, is arguably the world’s largest business-to-business electronics exhibition and conference; only Embedded World in Nuremberg in March comes close.

“electronica is a huge, huge show,” said Benjamin Jackson, senior manager for automotive power at International Rectifier, who will be speaking at the conference. “There is a risk that something will get lost, but you have such a huge gathering of experts in one space, it is very important to be there.”

He said this was growing in importance as electronics becomes more integrated.

“You have to understand how all the parts interact with each other,” he said, “so having all the disciplines in one place is not a bad thing.”

Conference and exhibition

Supporting the show does not mean it is necessary to have a stand, as Fujitsu Semiconductor has found. Instead, the company has taken speaker spots at the conference and will be represented on the exhibition floor by its distributors.

“We will be there to answer questions on our partners’ booths,” said Dirk Fischer, senior product marketing engineer. “We decided to focus on the conference and the distributors.”

The company will be doing three linked, consecutive talks looking at USB and Ethernet connectivity with Arm Cortex-M3 based microcontrollers.

“USB is well established and you might think everyone should know about it and not need such a session,” said Fischer. “But we are finding that many need guidance and help implementing USB. Daily, there are new applications, so it is still useful to provide guidance. You can say the same with Ethernet. It is still not so well established in embedded systems.”

Texas Instruments will also be having three linked talks and will be having a stand, but the faint hearted may wish to stay away. The company has just introduced its Safe TI certification scheme and the stand will have a working circular saw to demonstrate a safe control environment. As visitors approach the saw, they will have to stand on a mat that automatically reduces the speed and the saw itself is protected by a light curtain that will cause the saw to stop if broken.

“This is all about safety,” said Frank Forster, TI’s marketing and systems applications manager. “It will be protected by several mechanisms to show the safety in industrial environments.”

The talks will explain this and other demonstrations and provide more background about the technology.

No circular saws but the promise of something out of the ordinary is being hinted at by ams for its stand. While they are being more than a little secretive, Bernd Gessner, a senior vice president at the firm, said that it would be “more science fiction like, very interactive in the way people will get information about what we do”.

He said the normal coffee and sausages will still be available and there would be some specific demonstrations, “but not in the way that you are used to”.

The firm’s main focus, as one would expect, will be on sensors and the company will be launching a family of rotary magnetic position sensors for industrial markets.

“It is always good to have something new at the show,” said Gessner. “There is a lot of information coming across but we have to let people know what we are going to be doing in the future.”

IGBTs in automotive

In his talk, International Rectifier’s Jackson will be tackling a growing problem of how IGBTs originally designed for industrial and air conditioning applications are making the transition to automotive with the growth of electric and hybrid electric vehicles (EVs and HEVs).

“They have a certain form factor that is not very compact and not very scalable, and they use wire bonded technology,” he said. “There can be hundreds and thousands of these wire bonds, and these have inherent limitations.”

Not only can they suffer from fatigue and failure, they are also not very scalable as designers try to make the IGBTs smaller and lighter. He will thus be discussing solderable front metal die as an alternative.

“We solder the piece of silicon to a circuit board,” he said. “That eliminates the wire bond joints altogether. This also reduces the size. And you can get a good physical connection on the under side and the top side of the die.”

He said that while there were two or three other companies working on using solder, the method he was proposing was the only one to use dual-sided cooling, which helped to improve power density.

Challenge from China

One topic that will cover all the disciplines at electronica will be the growing influence of China, not just as a cheap place to manufacture (and it is not that cheap any more) but as a source of innovation that will influence the rest of the world. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the automotive sector where China has a high percentage of young drivers who have grown up with smartphone technology and expect the equivalent in their vehicles.

“We have seen very clearly in the past few years that there has been more variety and this is because of the growing needs of the customers,” said Klaus Zimmer, senior vice president of Neusoft. “The buyers there are much younger and that is driving innovation. The average BMW driver is under 30 compared with 60 in some places in Europe.”

Zimmer’s talk will explain how the connected car is becoming a reality in China and how the car manufacturers are using that experience to bring the innovations to a global market.

“True mobility will see mobile and automotive technologies merging,” he said. “The young have very specific needs. That is passed to the car makers and they have to think about it. In China, they have to be much more alert as to what the drivers need and this is driving the global demand for innovation.”

Another move that could come from China in the coming years is for it to have home-grown semiconductor companies with their own fabs, believes David Bagby, president of Alliance Memory.

“I talk to a lot of people in China and I do think China is interested in trying to get into the semiconductor market,” he said. “The main semiconductor companies are in Silicon Valley, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, but they are not in China. I think we could see that change. The government is interested in investing in this field.”

He said the Chinese were no longer happy with depending on other companies and wanted to make a name for themselves.

Bagby’s company will be back with a stand at Electronica after getting a large return on investment last time out.

“We had meetings with fifty customers last time,” he said. “Our distributor network is also very strong in Europe and they will be there as well. It is a good opportunity to see our sales force.”

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