Electronics Innovation in 2024: Transforming the IoT with Technology Advancements
The electronics industry is at the center of the IoT, connecting systems and technology that operated independently in the past. The re-emergence of AI is accelerating innovation even further, from applications ranging from autonomous vehicles to robotic manufacturing and advanced healthcare technology. Electronics innovation is vital to maintaining the high rate of advancement in technology.
Three applications—next-generation sustainable materials, miniaturization and immersive technology—are transforming how electronics innovation is evolving as we move into 2024.
Next-Generation Sustainable Materials
Many companies publicly state sustainability goals to reduce their carbon footprint to zero. 2050 was a popular timescale, but increased regulatory pressure has led many businesses to pull that date up to 2030 or before. It’s become a competitive advantage as well, further driving change. And because sustainability goals include Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions (carbon footprint up and down the value chain), using sustainable electronics materials allows the entire supply chain to improve its carbon footprint.
Materials like graphene and carbon nanotubes (CNTs) in electronics deliver sustainability for manufacturers and OEMs. Graphene is one of the strongest materials on the planet, exhibiting electron mobility, thermal and electrical conductivity and absorption orders of magnitude better than incumbent materials. These properties make graphene an advantaged material for consumer electronics like phones and computers, along with faster transistors.
Graphene’s high electrical conductivity and structural integrity improve durability of smartphone screens, while improving the speed of computer circuitry with higher processing density. Its raw material is graphite, the natural state of carbon. However, while graphite is widely available, its inherent stability requires substantial energy to separate it to make graphene. Ensuring this energy comes from renewable sources is essential to preserve a lower carbon footprint and responsibly/sustainably sourcing the graphite material.
Graphene is a single-layer sheet with carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal, honeycomb lattice structure. Conversely, carbon nanotubes roll graphene into a tube to leverage cylindrical strength. The materials have similar electronic and mechanical properties, but their shape affects which geometry best suits a given application, such as energy storage or quantum computing. Carbon nanotubes are stronger than graphene sheets, making them ideal reinforcement elements for composite materials. Conversely, graphene’s larger surface are improves material contact with surrounding components and provides higher homogeneity in material blends.
Graphene sheets transfer properties to material blends more readily due to their higher surface area and pack together closer than the round cylinder shapes. Nanotubes have improved column strength, improving axial load strength.
In 1975, Gordon Moore, a founder of Intel, predicted that the number of elements on a single chip would double every two years beginning in 1980. “Moore’s Law” is an empirical relationship that represents development in sophisticated wearable technologies through miniaturization: getting more from less space and materials, delivering portability, longevity and energy efficiency gains. And example of miniaturization is reduced case sizes on surface mount components.
While the number of transistors per unit area of PCB has increased over time, the overall case size has decreased, further increasing processing density. Optimizing the size, weight and power (SWaP) of electronics for maximizing processing density can also maximize manufacturing throughput due to smaller-scale components. Capital equipment can fit higher numbers of smaller parts in a given manufacturing run, delivering this improvement.
Microelectronics are essential building blocks for electronics innovation. By further down-sizing them, manufacturers can realize compound benefits. Smaller components can have increased integration, limiting heat loss and inefficiency. These advantages improve both cost and sustainability. Developing electronics that consume smaller spaces enhances user experience and offers improved flexibility from modular solutions. This approach improves the scale economy of components while ensuring the modules’ output voltages don’t exceed a safe level.
Miniaturization is an enabling technology for industrial automation, improving factory throughput and energy storage, an increasing area of need as more [intermittent] wind and solar renewable energy comes online. Higher efficiency and a smaller footprint compound how much renewable energy can be stored and supplied, increasing the importance of miniaturized equipment.
A third application for electronics innovation is immersive technology (mixed reality–MR), like augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR). These trends have wide-ranging applications, enhancing quality, efficiency and training through nearly every industry, from gaming to healthcare. Design engineers in each application can experience the output of their design during the concept phase, making it much easier to uncover, diagnose, and correct a product feature. This approach saves time and cost in prototype creation, evaluation, inspection and testing before implementing the design change,
MR requires a seamless interface between humans and technology to provide the best experience. And because consumers and businesses experience a new product virtually before purchasing, this allows them an immersive experience. Enhancing sensor and camera technology provides a more natural experience.
Conclusion and Enabling Technology
Businesses, regulators and consumers are pushing technology size, efficiency, performance and cost. In addition to component innovation, it is imperative that latency and data processing happen as fast as possible. As processing moves to the edge, electronics manufacturers should ensure the improvements at the component level will not negatively impact performance in IoT applications like autonomous driving. Ensuring the devices are ready for 5G while designing in forward compatibility for 6G is a consideration as network technology improves to enable edge computing.