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Structural electronics (SE) is one of the most important technological developments of this century. It forms a key part of the dream, first formulated 30 years ago, of computing disappearing into the fabric of society. It also addresses, in a particularly elegant manner, the dream of Edison in 1880 that electricity should be made where it is needed. SE is often biomimetic: It usefully imitates nature in ways not previously feasible. An example of this is providing an aircraft or a car something resembling a human nervous system. The new IDTechEx report, Structural Electronics 2015–2025, sees this market climbing strongly to nearly $90 billion by 2025, with the aerospace and automotive sectors particularly important adopters.
Structural electronics effectively takes no space because it is integrated into something already there, achieving this by adding little if any weight increase to the integrated structure. However, the design rules change as we move from component selection and circuit design to functional design.
Structural electronics involves electronic and/or electrical components and circuits that act as load-bearing, protective structures, replacing dumb structures such as vehicle bodies or conformally placed upon them. The common factor is that both load-bearing and smart skin formats occupy only unwanted space. The electronics and electrics effectively have no volume. Initially, SE is seen as vital in tackling certain global problems in certain applicational sectors.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of SMT Magazine.