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Shrinking electronics overtakes AI, 5G and the IoT as top electronics design trend for 2019


By Tom Gregory, Product Manager, 6SigmaET

From artificial intelligence (AI) hardware to 5G standardisation, advancements in edge computing to the Internet of Things (IoT), 2018 was a year of bold technology promises. Looking back at 2018, we can evaluate which technology trend was worth the wait, and which was just hype.

As we enter 2019, many designers are left uncertain as to how to proceed. With each new technology trend comes a host of new expectations and design challenges for device designers and engineers.

As thermal simulation software provider that’s working closely with design engineers, 6SigmaET was keen to understand the extent of these trends. It recently conducted research, involving over 100 electronics professionals, designers and engineers, to assess their priorities and predictions for 2019. Conducted at the UK’s Electronics Design Show, the research asked participants to identify the top trends they believe will define electronic design in the year ahead.

Despite the hype surrounding new disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, the number one trend recognised as defining electronic design in 2019 was the continued shrinking of electronics components and devices. Of those surveyed, 33% believe that shrinking device sizes will have more of an impact on electronics design in 2019 than new technology developments such as 5G, AI or IoT.

This was followed by the incorporation of IoT technologies, then the need for AI capabilities, and the demand for longer battery lives for devices.

Other trends, such as adding 5G capabilities to devices and making them more computationally powerful didn’t rank as highly, whereas “making them greener and more sustainable” ranked the lowest in the poll, with a mere 2% of electronics designers agreeing it was their top priority for 2019.

Added to this are thermal management issues, especially as devices become smaller and are pushed together even further, which will give rise to thermal complications and demand accurate, responsive thermal simulation solutions. At the same time, new technologies such as AI and the IoT are also bringing their own unique challenges and a host of new hardware requirements.

In the case of AI, thermal complications come through the new variety of hardware to support machine learning; hardware such as Google’s new Tensor Processor Unit 3.0 (TPUv3) which needs a colossal amount of processing power. From a thermal perspective, however, this dramatic increase in processing density represents a minefield of potential complications – for a start there’s more heat generated throughout the device, which will need managing. Such thermal considerations will be at the heart of electronic design in 2019.

Despite this need to focus on potential thermal complications, 6SigmaET’s research suggests that many designers still aren’t taking these considerations seriously enough. In one such study, which surveyed over 350 electronics engineers, it was found that 40% consider thermal management to be of low importance, while 13% of engineers don’t test the thermal performance of their designs at all.

6SigmaET’s previous research also shows that many of today’s engineers are failing to run simulations and do not identify thermal complications until after a design is complete.

If engineers are going to successfully develop the complex designs needed to capitalise on technology trends such as AI and edge computing, this approach must change. Clearly, 2019 will see a fundamental shift in the electronics landscape, with new technologies and expectations providing both opportunities and challenges for the engineering community. While focusing on these significant challenges, however, it’s important that engineers don’t forget the day-to-day considerations; issues such as thermal management and design shouldn’t get lost among the hype. The rush to adopt new, innovative technologies should not allow us to compromise on the quality or reliability of those technologies further down the line

Image Credit: Alexandre Debiève on Unsplash

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