Editor's comment: Coronavirus – will anything ever be the same again?...
02 April 2020
Working on this column for EPDT's April issue in early March, there seemed little alternative but to write about coronavirus. Even a few short weeks ago, COVID-19 was increasingly dominating the news cycle & media, with the scale, scope & span of the global crisis growing rapidly.
A version of this editorial was originally featured in the April 2020 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.
Developments have only accelerated since, with the impact reverberating throughout the electronics industry, just as its pervasive reach is now being felt across every facet of life. Indeed, I had to update sections of this column multiple times in an effort to keep up with unfolding events...
As I sent the April issue to print, the World Health Authority had declared a global pandemic, the Prime Minister just called coronavirus the worst public health crisis for a generation, Ireland looks to be following Italy into virtual lockdown, after closing schools and banning large public gatherings, Trump has slammed shut US borders to Europe, stock markets have seen their steepest daily falls since 1987, and the Premier League is holding an emergency meeting which may result in the football season being suspended, after a manager and a player tested positive, resulting in self-isolation for two entire first team squads. [editor's note: and since then, the UK has also gone into lockdown, all competitive sport has been suspended and events from Glastonbury, Euro 2020, the Olympics, Wimbledon and the Edinburgh Fringe to all GCSE & A Level exams have been cancelled or postponed]
Closer to home, in our electronics world, a few weeks ago I attended the embedded world trade show in Nuremberg, Germany. The show normally features over 1,100 exhibitors and attracts over 30,000 visitors. But escalating fears over coronavirus resulted in a succession of exhibitor cancellations in the run-up to the show, eventually numbering more than 200 and including virtually all the big distributors and semiconductor firms – which obviously had a knock-on effect on both the conference (with speakers also pulling out) and visitor numbers. In the end, the show went ahead, with plenty of exhibitors and visitors still meeting and having good discussions there (albeit with a wave, fist-bump or elbow touch, rather than a handshake!) – but a couple of the halls did look like they’d had the guts ripped out of them.
Meanwhile, Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest mobile telecoms show, which typically attracts over 100,000 visitors and 2,000 exhibitors to Barcelona, Spain during the same week, was eventually cancelled, after an avalanche of exhibitors pulled out. And since then, the postponement of key industrial trade show, Hannover Messe, and cancellation of The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair have signalled the trajectory of things to come. It’s entirely possible that, after the crisis around COVID-19 subsides, the industry may reconsider the role, impact and importance of such large events and shows.
Beyond events, the nature of the global electronics market and supply chain has also come sharply into focus. China, which as the source of the epidemic is currently suffering its worst effects, including reductions and shutdowns in its manufacturing capacity, is deeply embedded into both the global economy and the supply chain (for both components and finished goods). It’s a vast market in its own right, accounting for almost a quarter of global consumer electronics revenues for instance. Suppliers and analysts are lining up to warn of shortages and delays of all kinds of essential parts sourced from China (potentially impacting 2020’s expected 5G ramp-up and rollout) – as well as reduced demand, as consumer spending is hit by the effects of the virus. Again, post-COVID-19, this may lead to some companies actively reviewing risks in their global supply chains – with a reliance on China, or indeed any single region, suddenly brought into sharp focus and question.
History will show, but it’s entirely possible that the shape of electronics industry – and the world – may end up looking very different in the aftermath of COVID-19. Stay safe – and wash your hands!
EPDT April’s issue also contains features on Power technologies & Automotive applications. Read more on what's inside EPDT this month...
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