Elementary, Mr. Watson: The Positive Side of COVID-19


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Here we are—a far cry from where we were just several weeks ago. With the recent COVID-19 outbreak worldwide, most of us have been forced to reshuffle how we work, live, and play. It has compelled us to stay inside and make sacrifices, or you may be one of the many who are now on unemployment. Something like this has never happened before in our lifetimes, and it is scary and challenging, but difficult times develop resilient people.

Difficult times bring out the best of people; we have seen so many coming together and being united toward a common goal. I find myself asking my neighbors from over the back fence if they are okay and if they need anything. I have taken care of several elderly friends that I have begun to shop for and make sure they are safe. What comes out at the moment like this is our humanity and concern for others, including people who we may not even know. We're all in the same boat, struggling with the same fears and anxieties.

On the Positive Side

Sometimes, when we are in the thralls of a situation or problem, it is difficult to see the positive side of things. Let me assure you that even now, this is still the case, and there is a positive side to all of this. I like looking at the positive side of things and have determined that I am too young to die from an ulcer. The old saying goes, "An optimist will tell you the glass is half-full. A pessimist will tell you that it’s half-empty. And an engineer will tell you the glass is twice the size it needs to be." In this column, I’ll look at some of the positive things that I have noticed already that have come out of this situation.

The Quick Development of Contingency Plans

I have never seen such a situation develop so fast. Immediately, we had to create new methods of how we do many things, including how we work or communicate. Many are suddenly working from home and quickly setting up home offices to connect them remotely. The technology and our technical infrastructure were not ready for such a shift.

An excellent example of this was the increase in internet traffic. In some areas, there has been an increase of 60%. With video chats, online meetings, and various forms of electronic communications, it has caused internet providers to scramble to increase bandwidth quickly.

Also, cybersecurity was a primary concern, especially if you fell into one of those many companies that have a local secure server that had no access to the "outside world." The answer: a virtual private network (VPN). I have seen this described as a castle with a secure network behind the walls. The VPN is the draw bridge that you get inside. VPN use has jumped to 53% in just days. That is a lot of traffic and taxing for the servers to handle.

The bottom line is that these contingency plans came with their inherent problems, and they are faced by some of the most exceptional professionals the industry has to offer. The issues were identified and quickly handled head-on with an attitude that they had to find a solution. They are the hidden heroes—the ones behind the scenes that keep this all up and running.

Push for Innovation

Closely related to quickly developing contingency plans, this crisis has caused us to think outside of the box with innovations. Engineers had to come up with solutions by using new methods, ideas, or products to solve problems. Although this situation is a medical issue, I wholeheartedly believe that it will be electronic technologies and brand new innovations of our medical systems that will aide in the solution.

A great example of this was the development at MIT of a brand new and cheap version of a ventilator. The need for ventilators has skyrocketed across the nation and at the cost of nearly $30,000 apiece, and a considerable amount of time required to the manufacturer was a significant issue that had to be solved quickly. The team at MIT designed and built a prototype with a total of around $100 in materials. That team demonstrated the meaning of innovation introducing new methods, ideas, or products to an industry that drastically needs it right now.

MIT_E-Vent-002.jpg

Final Thoughts

Can I get a bit personal with you for a bit? I found this particular column challenging to write. The reason being is that many of us are sitting in our homes day in and day out, and we all are looking for answers. We all have concerns and issues of when this will end and when we can get things back to "normal." With that in mind, I didn't want this to be just another column; instead, I wanted to encourage you that this too shall pass. At some point, this will end, and we can turn back on this massive machine called the U.S. economy.

Also, know that you are a part of a community of PCB designers and engineers. I would encourage you to make a point of reaching out to others that you know any way you can. Although we are practicing social distancing, we are not disconnected; we are still a part of that community that has never been stronger.

Organizations like I-Connect007 are providing vital information that we need right now. The data and information they share is accurate and precise and connects us with the experts. I want to thank I-Connect007 for continuing to do what they do. Right now, they are a lifeline to many of us who need what they provide.

Our Next Steps

When this is all over (and it will end at some point), there will be discussions that we must have about shifting supply chains. This has been such a severe crisis that it impacted the Tier-1 suppliers, such as the component manufacturers, but it also drove even more in-depth with the Tier-2 suppliers of the raw material. I am sure that many companies will be looking at shifting them to protect them.

There will also be a discussion of adjusting the just-in-time manufacturing models and determining changes that would lessen a future disaster such as this. Manufacturing companies were running so lean that when something like this happened, the whole system collapsed.

But for now, hang in there. This too shall pass, and when it does, we will come back stronger and more determined. Until then, please stay safe and healthy.

John Watson, CID, is a senior PCB engineer at Legrand Corporation.

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