With 2018 drawing to a close, we start dusting off the old crystal ball and start gazing into prospects for 2019, and particularly what it holds for the electronics industry in South Africa.
Before looking forward, just a short reflection on the past year. For most South Africans, 15 February 2018 was a day of hope, with the start of a new era as Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in as our new president. Almost immediately we saw positive reaction from the markets, the currency strengthened and a new energy was evident in the way we went about business.
But as ‘Ramaphoria’ has faded, we have settled back into our trusted, regular routines. Much like a step change in an electronic circuit, there is an overshoot, and then as the overshoot is damped, the signal settles down to a new steady state. With Ramaphosa at the helm, I do believe that the new steady state is at a much higher level than before, but still below where it could be.
What are the prospects for the electronics industry in 2019? There will be new challenges and opportunities, and this is what engineers thrive on, is it not? By definition engineers are problem solvers, but often the problems are outside our domain or outside our control.
As AREI (Association of Representatives for the Electronics Industry), we have realised that we need to make our collective voice heard more loudly. To this end we are reaching out to other engineering disciplines, educational institutes, and of course government (specifically the department of trade and industry and the department of science and technology) to assist in growing our important industry. But this is no easy task, and we must simply keep knocking at doors. One thing we cannot afford to do is stand still; for if we stand still… we go backwards.
For 2019 one of the disruptive technologies we will hear more about is the 4th industrial revolution, also referred to at the Digital Industrial Revolution (DIR). The key components of the DIR – the Internet of things, big data, artificial intelligence, automation, robotics, new processes and materials, additive manufacturing, logistics, marketing techniques and sales channels – will mean we all have to start thinking differently about how we do things. If you are interested in seeing developments of this in South Africa, you can visit www.4ir.co.za
A major problem that has faced the electronics industry in 2018 from a component supply point has been the severe shortage of multi-layer ceramic chip capacitors (MLCC). Who would ever have imagined a simple component like a capacitor could go on allocation? MLCC chip capacitors are used in almost every electronic product, and even with annual production estimated to be around 1 trillion pieces, demand is still outpacing supply. This of course is a worldwide problem, and according to many of the chip capacitor manufacturers, the situation will only improve in 2020.
On a more positive note, AREI and our members will be exhibiting at the Local Manufacturing Expo taking place in May 2019 at NASREC. This expo will be attracting exhibitors and visitors from all manufacturing industries, including our electronics industry. If you are interested in exhibiting, please contact AREI for more information.
In closing, the South African electronics industry has proved its resilience and innovation over many decades. Our engineers are still some of the best trained and skilled. Because of our remote location, our engineers must often find their own solutions, and cannot easily rely on help from Europe and the US. But what we need is greater support from government. AREI’s mission is to grow the South African electronics industry through collaboration with all stakeholders.