The Institute of Circuit Technology Spring Seminar 2024

March 5th 2024, Meriden

alun morgan

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Alun Morgan 

Meriden continues to be a popular midlands venue for Institute of Circuit Technology events and some encouraging signs of early springtime were evident as members arrived to attend the Annual General Meeting and to enjoy the 2024 Spring Seminar.

The seminar speaker was Alun Morgan, President of EIPC, the European Institute for the PCB Community, who presented a comprehensive analysis of the global electronics industry, a business outlook with an emphasis on Europe and an exploration of some capabilities of Artificial Intelligence.
Morgan acknowledged the generosity of Jon Custer of Custer Consulting Group, the principal source of the information he had gathered, and the contributions of Michael Gasch of Data4PCB and Hayao Nakahara of NT Information.

Reflecting on 2023, there had been a rapid expansion of generative AI technology against a background of economic uncertainty and accelerating climate crisis. Post-Covid, massive sums of money had to be reconciled, supply chains had been disrupted and geopolitical tensions had resulted in increasing sanctions and trade controls.But new innovations and opportunities technology were emerging. Artificial intelligence, electric vehicles, automation and robotics, new energy outlooks and aggressive data collection had all made major gains in 2023, although the future held risks in economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal and technological categories.

World GDP growth was forecast to reach 2.9% in 2024, from 3.5% in 2022 and 4.0% in 2023, but the Euro area forecast was only 1.0%, from 3.3% in 2022 and 0.7% in 2023.

World PCB output for 2023 was estimated at $90,090M, from $91,375M in 2021 and $97,505M in 2022. By comparison, the 2023 estimate for Europe was $1,980M, from $2,025M in 2021 and $2,160M in 2022, and the downward trend in European PCB output appeared to have flattened off. Nakahara had predicted that 2025 will be a good year for the world industry, but commented that this will be heavily influenced by recovery in IC substrates, since they now represent 20% of bare-board output.
Custer’s global business outlook forecast that worldwide GDP would expand by 2.6% during 2024, with the unemployment rate across all the economies covered by Custer’s sources currently standing at only 0.5% below its pre-pandemic level, even in some key economies that had seen very low real GDP growth, such as the euro area. And inflation was cooling across G10 and emerging market economies

By contrast with the worldwide figure, Custer’s outlook for Europe expected real GDP growth in the euro area to be around 1% in 2024, and somewhat lower growth was expected for countries like Germany with a high proportion of industrial production

Economic growth in the US was expected to be somewhat stronger, partly because the US is less affected by high energy prices than European economies.

However, the predicted economic growth in 2024 would only happen if there were no additional effects such as new global supply bottlenecks that could lead to interruptions in production. Geopolitical uncertainties posed a further economic risk, and an escalation of existing conflicts, particularly the war in Ukraine and the conflict in the Gaza Strip, could result in significant supply chain problems and rising commodity prices. Custer considered that if political parties whose policies focused on economic isolation were to prevail in upcoming elections in Europe and the US, there would be negative consequences for all export-oriented economies.

And while the biggest economic risk in 2023 had been energy security, political and geopolitical uncertainty would pose the biggest risk in 2024, resulting in declining investment. This would weaken both short-term and long-term growth and employment, and permanently weaken overall economic production capacities.

Michael Gasch had made some interesting comments on the European PCB industry. His figures indicated that the German-speaking countries jointly represent the largest share of production, 62% of all Europe, with the Latin countries jointly representing 22%, the UK representing almost 9% and the rest of Europe about 7%. The production percentages related to the industries served in those regions, Germany, Austria and Switzerland being strong in industrial electronics, and Switzerland additionally in medical electronics. France, Italy and UK were heavily engaged in defence, aeronautics and space, and all had a fair share in supplying the EMS industry, for which in most cases no end-use sector could be specifically allocated.

The Germany-Austria-Switzerland region had seen a decline of about 5% in its PCB business, while the Latin countries achieved an increase of 16%, the UK an increase of 4% and the Central European countries a slight decline of 7%. On balance, the total for Europe in 2023 was about the same as in 2022 although there was still a lot of uncertainty because of world geopolitical factors.

There was some good news! Teltonika, a leading manufacturers of Internet of Things and network connectivity solutions, is investing around 143 million euro in a new PCB factory in Vilnius, Lithuania, covering an area of more than 33,000 square metres and expected to become one of the most advanced of its kind in Europe, with the highest level of automation and meeting the strictest environmental standards. Teltonika aims to complete the project in December 2024. Morgan handed round some examples of their products and commented that, altough this would be a captive shop, it would help to secure the supply chain.

Morgan turned his attention to the automotive industry, and listed the world’s top 10 plug-in electric car brands of which the leader by far was the Chinese BYD, with Tesla in second place and European brands quite small in comparison although, as he remarked, still representing an important market opportunity for the PCB industry.

He discussed the growth in driver-assistance systems and classified the “levels” for ADAS and autonomous operation. Levels 0 to 4 defined the extent of automation from zero to high: “full attention”, “feet-off”, “hands-off” and “eyes-off” respectively. Full automation, Level 5, was not forecast to be reached before at least 2030.

Having delivered a wealth of information and opinion while holding his audience engrossed with his fluent and articulate style, Morgan concluded his presentation with a short discussion of his current favourite topic - Artificial Intelligence. He began by illustrating the response he got from Chat GPT to his question: “Tell me about artificial intelligence usage for printed circuit board design and manufacture”

The chatbot replied that AI is increasingly playing a significant role in the field of printed circuit board design and manufacture, and gave him three pages of detailed information under the heading Automated Design Optimisation and sub-headings Topology Optimisation and Routing Optimisation. Further section headings were Generative Design, Predictive Analytics, Automated Testing and Inspection, Supply Chain Optimisation, Machine Learning for Fault Detection, Process Optimisation and Customised Design Assistance.

Its summary was that “AI is transforming the PCB deign and manufacturing process by introducing automation, optimisation and predictive capabilities. This not only enhances the efficiency of the design and production phases but also contributes to the creation of more reliable and high-performance electronic devices”.

Morgan commented that if he asked the same question at a later date, he received an updated reply, as the chatbot was continously learning and improving its expertise.

He ended with a demonstration of how a photograph could be edited, modified and transformed, just by telling the AI system what was required and allowing it to use its creative imagination. “The camera doesn’t lie…” was no longer the case – Morgan explained that in the digital age, an original photograph was effectively only a complicated set of ones and zeros, open to manipulation. He avoided being drawn into a debate about the finer points of copyright!

The evening was rounded off with a buffet supper and networking session – the constructive exchange of opinions, experiences and industry gossip that features whenever members of the Institute get together.

Many thanks to Bill Wilkie for his organisation of a splendid event.
Pete Starkey. ICT Council. March 2024

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