Anyone can get innovative product ideas off the ground nowadays, as Antonio Fernandez and Frank-Steffen Russ from EBV explain. They outline what part semiconductors have to play in the process and how EBV can help as an electronics distributor.
Today, thanks to the ever falling cost of electronic components and ever easier access to expertise in integrating electronic solutions, anyone can harness the power of cutting-edge technology in their products. Antonio Fernandez, Vice President Technical Development at EBV, and Frank-Steffen Russ, Director Market Segments at EBV, are unified in their belief that this democratisation of technology will increasingly transform all aspects of our lives in the future.
Technology and passion are rather contradictory for many people. Why do both belong together in your eyes?
Frank-Steffen Russ: What exactly is it that enables previously unattainable goals to be reached with new technologies? Quite simply, the passion to improve things with technology.
Antonio Fernandez: I assist technology companies all across Europe. When doing so, I have observed how it is precisely those companies that employ passionate people and encourage them to push the boundaries of what is currently possible that really make a difference in their respective markets. We at EBV share this passion for technology and work together to collectively promote innovation.
What fascinates you personally about technology?
A.F.: Technology is indispensable if our civilisation is to make progress. Using technology to bring about a more sustainable future really fascinates me. And the possibilities are endless…
F.R.: More and more new possibilities are opening up. For a long time, bionics was simply just a dream, yet it is now becoming a reality through the use of cutting-edge technology. By consistently applying such new technologies, we can understand more and more complex processes before applying these to newer technologies in turn. However, it’s also the small things containing smart technology that excite me.
What part do semiconductors play in current technological developments?
A.F.: Semiconductors, electronics and software – together with new, sustainable materials – are driving the latest technological developments forwards in every industry. Anyone can use electronics to make products whose new abilities make them stand out among the existing range – or even to create entirely new business models.
F.R.: Semiconductors are a key technology; they are the foundation for digitalisation.
Has semiconductor technology perhaps also changed the possibilities of technology – or access to it?
F.R.: Smart helpers – first and foremost smartphones – are a good example of just how far along the democratisation of technology is today. New sharing concepts that make technology available online with a small price tag to everyone would still be pure fantasy without semiconductors.
A.F.: The cost of integrating electronics into new products is very low today, as is the cost of developing electronic systems. Our manufacturing partners offer excellent, low-cost development tools, while we at EBV assist our customers in applying cutting-edge technologies quickly, easily and successfully.
So what you’re saying is that semiconductor technology is no longer just the preserve of high-tech companies with the electronics expertise to match?
A.F.: The budget required for designing electronics has come down in price dramatically – even for highly complex semiconductors. Yet this is a kind of engineering that still requires a good deal of expertise. The clincher is that it is now easier to acquire that expertise. All you need is a suitable partner for rolling out the technology and engineers who are motivated to take on the challenge.
The lifespan of “smart” products or solutions for the Internet of Things in particular is very short. How is the semiconductor industry responding to this development?
F.R.: Good point – and product complexity is also increasing. In this case, it is very important for us to recognise the trends and make technical support available to our customers promptly in response. However, requirements in IoT applications often go beyond mere semiconductor solutions. In other words, we need to be in a position to see things from the perspective of the customer’s overall system while broadening our range of support solutions. These might include modules or reference designs. What’s more, we need to know the right answers to problems involving cloud connectivity and security, and be able to assist customers or help them with networking.
A.F.: However, it’s not always about consumer products that get replaced by a new generation every 18 months. We have a lot of customers who make products that need to be fully functional for more than ten years, like in industrial, transportation, aviation and aerospace applications. That’s why we at EBV also work with our manufacturing partners in support of longevity schemes that guarantee the supply of selected key semiconductors for more than ten years.
How does EBV assist companies who are new to electronics with turning their ideas into “real” products?
F.R.: With our market segments, we have the technology and systems know-how to convert our customers’ challenges into semiconductor solutions. And not only that – we can also bring customers and selected partners from our network together to commercialize the solution. That not only goes for established companies, but start-ups as well.
A.F.: We work with a range of accredited designers and contract manufacturers throughout Europe. We also collaborate with Avnet Design Services, SoftWeb Solutions and Witekio to assist customers without electronics experience in rolling out the latest technologies – with hardware, software, turn-key designs and a supply of ready-to-use electronics boards.
You also develop your own modules and kits. Why does EBV act as a distributor here? What can you do that others can’t?
F.R.: More and more often, our customers are faced with the challenge of adopting and implementing topics at short notice. Our EBVchips approach enables us to offer a range of tailor-made solutions in this case. One example is Heracles – a GSM module with GNSS, complete with a data package. The GSM modules available on the market until now have one thing in common: customers need to go to great lengths to find a network provider before concluding a separate contract with them. Would it not be better if this were already included in the module? Simply buy the product and rest easy – that is our approach, and it works well for many applications. These include bike tracking, agricultural sensors, status displays for construction machinery, street lighting or service units for vending machines, to name just a few examples.
How high is the demand for EBV’s modules and kits?
A.F.: Semiconductors are becoming more complex, while the demand and availability of turn-key modules are both growing. As a result, customers today can choose to make modules themselves or buy them ready-made. If they choose the former, we are the distributor with probably the best technical resources to support complex designs. And for the growing number of customers who want to buy ready-to-use modules, we offer varied solutions straight from our portfolio. Alternatively, we can point customers towards dependable module manufacturers with whom we collaborate.
The eco-system of our franchise partners has also improved dramatically as far as development kits are concerned: there are now reference designs, development tools and demo boards for practically anything. Sometimes, if we also see a benefit in combining specific new technologies from multiple manufacturers in a demonstration system, then that’s what we do. At present, we are investing heavily in the IoT cloud-service capability of important platforms.
What kinds of new modules can we expect from EBV?
F.R.: We will keep adding to our range of solutions for connectivity and IoT. The next step is to expand the Heracles range to create a third generation with an “on-board secure element”. This will be followed by other solutions.
A.F.: These will include turn-key modular solutions to do with power electronics, embedded processors, AI and edge computing.
Where do you think new technologies will bring about the greatest transformation? Where will they have the biggest impact on our lives?
F.R.: The bounds of human imagination are the only limit. Still, I would say that the automation of mobility and machinery is the biggest topic. In these cases, an established industry will have to reinvent itself. From a user’s perspective, mobility as a service will enable us to be mobile right into old age. The “lab-on-a-chip” will also bring about a major transformation in healthcare services: it is likely that this will become as established in our lives as a simple thermometer is today.
A.F.: I could mention quite a few points here: Energy-saving and higher resistance will help bring about greater sustainability. Higher computing power will make things possible that we still think of as unattainable. We will see improved diagnosis and treatment options in healthcare. Improved safety when interacting with machines and the environment. Thanks to more convenient operation, we can learn to use and implement technology more quickly. Higher productivity will fund a better quality of life for us… Without a doubt, technology will be behind the biggest changes in the future – and hopefully improve our lives by doing so.