Emech leads the component industry out of the downturn

27 July 2015

There is every sign that electronic component demand is rising again. The International Distribution of Electronics Association reports sales through distribution for Q1 2015 as the highest for over two years.

Electromechanical components, such as switches and relays, are benefitting particularly from these economic trends. In Q1 2015, for example, the UK supply chain organisation, ecsn, identified faster growth for emech than for any other class of components, and reported increased sales compared to Q1 2014 and strongly increased sales compared to Q4, 2014. 

So with continuing gloomy headlines about the eurozone economy and Greece in particular, where is this demand coming from? The well-documented trend for manufacturing to reshore to Europe has been accelerated by the weak Euro and a reduction in wages particularly in Southern Europe. A PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of 384 eurozone non-financial companies in late 2014 found almost 60 percent had reshored some operations, mainly production, over the past year, against 55 percent which had done the opposite. 

"Reshoring" is being led by electronics companies, partly because they are rediscovering the cachet of the "Made in Europe" label. But in Spain, for example, depressed wage levels since the eurozone crisis have also prompted foreign car firms to open production lines there. The longer term arguments for manufacturing in or close to the target market haven’t disappeared, though. A short supply chain gives more flexibility to respond quickly to changes in market demand or production issues, as well as a faster delivery. In an increasingly volatile world economy, there is also an increased value on reducing the currency risk. Companies that manufacture in dollars and invoice in Euros have lost out recently due to the weak Euro. These arguments apply equally to component and end product manufacturers. Omron’s automotive relay factory in Italy continues to do well, benefitting from a stable and effective workforce, no currency risk for eurozone customers, high quality and a short supply chain. 

Core products

These arguments apply to the whole electronic component market – so what is leading specifically to the good performance of the emech sector at the moment? I believe the reason is that we are benefitting from a ‘double peak’. Core products serving traditional applications such as automotive, communications, white goods and industrial markets continue to do well.  New classes of components are becoming integral to new markets driven by the need to reduce energy consumption through the installation of smart meters, the use of renewable sources and the introduction of hybrid vehicles.

So what are these core products that form the bedrock of emech demand at the moment? In the white goods market, there is a growing desire for increased energy efficiency which leads to the introduction of further switches and relays into designs. These components need to be of a high specification, given the presence of a lethal combination of heat, electricity and water, and need to comply with the relevant regulations. Switching drum motors and heaters within laundry appliances are typical of these applications, which are demanding on both safety and reliability. Electric oven time clock and thermostat control applications are now operated by relays. 

Omron developed the G5Q and G2RL PCB mount power relays for this market, offering high power switching capability and the ability to be used at high ambient temperatures with no de-rating. Where space is limited, the 15.7mm high G2RL offers 16A switching. 

For industrial applications, the G5NB is a highly compact solution for resistive loads and other applications where current levels are limited.  These include fans, water heaters and other small electric appliances. It carries key approvals such as VDE, UL and CSA, features a low power coil that draws just 200mW, to save power supply size and cost, and has tracking resistance that exceeds CTI250.

New markets

By comparison with these big traditional markets, new markets such as hybrid vehicles, renewable energy installations and even smart meters are still relatively small. However, forward thinking emech manufacturers are seeing the long term opportunity that is before them, and are responding with new designs to address the requirements of these applications. 

One of the most significant trends is the rapid evolution of DC power relays, which in the past were a limited niche.  For electric vehicles, key requirements are small weight and size, whereas for renewable energy applications, long life and exceptional efficiency are key. Relay manufacturers are responding with a stream of innovations in magnetic circuit design, contact driving systems and sealing technologies. 

The result is devices such as the G9EJ-1-E. Sized at just 31mm x 27mm x 44mm, the new relay weighs just 50g and offers a compact, efficient solution for switching in high voltage DC powered systems. Features include a high insulation of 1000 MegaOhms between contacts and a sealed housing. A wide contact gap gives a high dielectric strength of 2500 VAC. 

Reduction in energy use is high on the agenda of customers, who have to pay for wasted energy, utilities who need to keep pace with growing energy consumption, and of governments, who have to handle the macro-effects of global warning.  Switch and relay manufacturers are responding to these needs in many creative ways. New latching relays help designers save energy in lighting control systems. New switches can be remotely controlled, allowing a system to be fully isolated automatically if required. 

Conclusion

When assessing market demand, analysts normally try to see what the fundamentals are. For electromechanical components, I believe that the strength of demand rests on the fact that switches and relays will fully disconnect a system or sub-system from its power supply or from a signal source. For low voltage signal circuits, this eliminates the possibility of low electrical noise. In power system design, this makes the technology inherently energy efficient, and also inherently safe. As traditional markets like white goods change and focus more on energy consumption and new applications like smart meters and solar panels require full disconnection for safety and management reasons, electromechanical component demand will continue to rise. 


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