Hardware and software advances at the Southern Manufacturing and Electronics show

February 18, 2015 OpenSystems Media

Featuring 750 leading manufacturers spanning design, manufacturing, and electronics industries, the Southern Manufacturing and Electronics show in the UK didn’t disappoint. A past criticism of mine was the absence of technology physically being demonstrated, which to many is the key difference of a trade show vs browsing exhibitors’ websites from the comfort of their office chairs. Thankfully this year that criticism of mine had been addressed – visual demonstrators were in abundance.

The demonstration that particularly intrigued me the most was Laser Direct Structuring (LDS) from Tracks Laser – which facilitates producing complex circuit layouts within three dimensional carriers. To the layman, particularly combined with 3D printing technology, this means no longer must your enclosure house a PC; the inside can become a PCB!

The technology itself is not brand new, past examples can be found on almost all smart phone antenna integrated into the external plastic housing, or in Shark Fin radio antennae typically found on German automobiles. However, these both only utilized copper tracks, the ability to transfer an entire circuit containing multiple components, has endless possibilities.

The process simplistically involves doping the enclosure with a special addictive, lasers etching the PCB layout, where a physical-chemical reaction forms metallic nuclei, and a final metallization process anchors the copper to the track.

Elsewhere, I shared a historically familiar frustration with Harwin, manufacturers of high reliability and high voltage power connectors, that one desperately wants to discuss the world famous applications one’s products are used within, but due to NDA are restricted to predominantly pushing purely the product – though actually their recent success with NASA surprisingly were permitted to be public domain.

Harwin boasted two significant announcements at the show, the release of the new M300 range of durable power connectors, handling current up to 10 A and temperatures between -65 °C and an unprecedented +175 °C, pricking the ears of developers in the military and chemical markets alike.

Secondly, the EZ-Shield Cans for EMC protection are rapidly growing in popularity, though Harwin recognized the difficulty in prototyping a typical designer faces. Addressing this, they premiered a rapid prototyping EZ-Shield in kit form. Enabling designers to rapidly construct PCB cans, via a pre-scribed 5 mm grid able to be shaped to suit ones requirement instantly, packaged with EZ-Shield clips, the combination to those uninitiated forming a Faraday cage around sensitive electronic circuitry.

The claims of MacGregor Welding Systems to be successfully utilizing Windows CE as an RTOS pricked my attention, after hearing many horror stories. What I found was not only its successful implementation, but implementation of a panel PC as the front end to a high-end micro-welding product – one employed worldwide to a long list of familiar manufacturing behemoths.

I undoubtedly had a perception heading toward this exhibition that the traditional single board computer (SBC) was rapidly in decline, particularly those of x86 heritage due to the massive popularity of ARM alternatives, with the launch of the Raspberry Pi 2 potentially being the final nail in its coffin. BVM Limited convinced me the opposite – they’ve seen a continual rise in the implementation of the SBC format. Perhaps my now historic warning of the Raspberry Pi and its cousins’ unsuitability for industrial applications has been heeded after all!

Rory Dear, European Editor/Technical Contributor
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