As we embark on a new year of business, it is a good time to reflect on the electronics and technology trends that dominated the electronics industry in 2021. After 2020 saw wider use of consumer electronics products to facilitate remote interaction, entertainment and productivity, the market for electronics has continued to grow.
COVID-19 remained at the forefront of our minds last year, and projections suggest that many pandemic-related changes to the way we live and work will continue in the long term. Enhanced gesture recognition, contactless capabilities, medical equipment and smart home devices are just some examples of digitisation improving our day-to-day lives.
From lockdowns to remote working, coronavirus has been the catalyst for the next stage of the digital era, advancing technological innovation worldwide. So, what are the main electronics trends that emerged in 2021, and how has the electronics manufacturing industry overcome challenges to manage the rapid proliferation of electrical devices?
The rise of the internet of things (IoT)
As digitisation ramps up, consumers expect their electronics devices to provide uninterrupted connectivity, enhance efficiency and generate accurate real-time data — all of which the IoT facilitates.
The IoT is all around us. And IoT device propagation forecasts suggest there will be 75 billion IoT connected devices in use by 2025 — nearly a threefold increase from the IoT installed base in 2019.
Currently, there are six main categories for wireless IoT tech: low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs), cellular, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, radio frequency identification (RFID) and various mesh protocols. This technology enables the connection between global networks of devices, sensors, machines, buildings and more through the internet.
The extensive rollout of super-fast 5G will also facilitate superior connectivity to allow us to build a ‘smarter’ world, with IoT features in everything from cars and homes to workplaces and entire cities. Plus, not only do we find IoT in our homes and offices, but it is also becoming a driving force in manufacturing, with data from sensors and IoT-enabled devices being used to optimise factory functions, manage logistics chains and reduce downtime.
The popularity of wearable devices
As technology evolves and electronics components become more compact, intelligent and connected, electronics designers and engineers find new ways to digitise everyday items. And with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to drive demand for consumer electronics, the wearable technology market exhibited strong growth in 2021.
Wearable technology developers integrate physical electronics with mobile apps to create digitally enhanced, portable products that can assist daily activities. For example, as innovators combine the capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI) with the IoT and virtual reality technology, more and more high-end gaming and mixed or virtual reality products have entered the market. From smartwatches that track fitness activity and biosensors that record medical data to advanced hands-free headsets and ‘smart’ rings, the possible applications of this technology are endless.
There has also been a particular increase in the demand for wearable devices for the healthcare sector. Digital health technology monitors patients’ health, recording anything from blood oxygen and sugar levels to heart rates, helping to register early warning signs of illness. By providing real-time health data, medical professionals can make more informed diagnoses and treatment decisions and stay connected with their patients — something which became especially important during the pandemic, when in-person assessment and intervention were limited.
The adoption of industrial robotics
Another primary area of expansion within electronics in recent years has been robotics development. Thanks to advancements in AI, what was once a novel idea has become a practical reality for many applications as logistics, manufacturing, construction and healthcare industries have embraced robotics to support operations. For example, drones were used for medical applications in cities during the first year of the pandemic, delivering samples and reagents from hospitals to laboratories.
Robotics is also crucial for flexible automation in manufacturing facilities. Factory robotic automation involves using industrial machinery to perform routine manufacturing tasks, such as welding, assembly, quality control and material assembly, freeing up human workforces to carry out other, more complex tasks. Not only does this reduce human error and improve productivity, but it also helps to mitigate the skills and labour shortages facing the engineering and manufacturing sectors.
And now that robotics’ overall safety and performance has been demonstrated, 2022 will be the year robot delivery really takes off.
Innovation in automotive electronics
Despite what was a challenging year for the automotive industry in the wake of supply chain disruptions and component and labour shortages, the demand for electric vehicles and self-driving cars is rising, and the automotive industry continued to evolve fast.
According to a report on the market outlook for EVs in 2021 and beyond, the industry was expected to grow 66% over last year. And since leading automotive companies and governments committed to removing fossil fuel cars from production lines by the end of the decade, experts predict that ECs will represent 48% of all new vehicles sold in 2030.
The automotive industry continued to face crippling shortages of semiconductors and other essential electrical components in 2021. As such, automotive electronics manufacturers have shifted their focus to ensure they can provide a reliable supply of printed circuit boards (PCBs) and meet the demand for enhanced entertainment, navigation and safety features in cars in the future.
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