Friday, December 4, 2009

Technology for a New Year

Each year brings its own challenges and opportunities. During a recessionary period, people get creative. Though we have struggled for financial security, new ideas and applications in electronics will bring forth growth in the upcoming year.

For example, the new refrigerator in my kitchen has a bright Energy Star symbol on the front and a written estimation of operation cost for the year. The thermostat on the wall came with an Energy-Star-approved program recommended by the EPA for energy efficiency.

The grid system of energy usage in the U.S. is slowly evolving to smart electronics control as well, as we adapt to reduce power consumption. Lowering our carbon footprint will march right along in 2010.

RoHS Directive rules (2002.95/EC) are expected to apply to medical electronics in 2010, and many medical monitoring equipment makers are already converting to lead-free parts. This presents more challenges in a steady manufacturing sector that didn’t have the initial burden of RoHS that most board assemblers experienced. For more on REACH and RoHS, as well as new environmental legislation, read advisory board columnist Laura Turbini, Ph.D., RIM, in Our Relationship with the Environment.

One area that has been developing all along, and will see healthy support in 2010, is printed electronics. This should save on costs and fabrication steps as well. New circuit printing processes promise lower-cost ICs than conventional printed circuits.

Printed electronics on flexible substrates will affect many markets, adding RFID tags, OLEDs, and LEDs to traditionally non-electronic items. As I write this, I’m en route to California, where I’ll visit Kovio Inc. in Milpitas, CA. This company has been active in printed electronics since 2001. It manufactures RF barcodes from specialty inks using a printing process. Read a 2007 interview with the company from SST's WaferNews.

What will the new year mean for SMT? Market shipments are up and the North American PCB book-to-bill, published monthly by IPC, is strong. For some applications, PCBs will have printed RF on them for tracking; expect this higher level of traceability to become increasingly common.

Gail Flower, editor-at-large

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