From a nearly non-existent industry in 2010 to an estimated annual spend of around $13 billion in 2015, wearable electronics have come to the forefront in popularity and functionality.
This collection of input nodes (sensors), mainstream output (watches and fitness trackers) and high-end output (Microsoft HaloLens, VR Headsets) appeal to people for reasons ranging from security/safety and wellness to communication and glamour, but can next generation technology help wearable electronics keep up with consumer demand and reliability expectations?
Next Generation Technology
Materials or designs currently being used but not widely adopted are at the core of next generation technology. This progressive, up-and-coming field serves the wearables market well by offering cheaper, faster, stronger and more environmentally friendly:
- Embedded and ultra-small components
- New substrate materials (polyethersulfone, polyethylene terephthalate, polyethylene napthalate)
- Printed connections including silver and copper inks, nanosolders and conductive polymers
- Organic displays
- Super-capacitor power supplies
These technological advancements are exciting, and studies conducted in mobile phone markets and similar industries suggest continued development. While true, these results also skew expectations for product reliability in wearable devices because:
- Next generation technology is sometimes prematurely or inappropriately adopted for wearables, making the path to reliability unclear
- Reliability information is not readily available, largely because next generation technology is developed to wearables’ opportunity and segmentation, not actual risk
- Inconsistent reliability practices and reporting confusion calls existing data into question, making application impractical
Wearables and Reliability
The potential issues arising from next generation technology are complicated by the nature of wearable electronics themselves and the reliability challenges they present:
- Size: Wearable devices are typically small, so their thermal envelopes are sized accordingly which causes problems in heat dissipation
- Environment: Wearables are exposed to a variety of human and global environments, for varying amounts of time
- Mobility: Wearable electronics are in nearly constant motion, subjecting them to related risks like drops and other impacts or quickly fluctuating temperatures
Common device failures that result include:
- Short circuiting due to perspiration, water or other moisture exposure
- Power cord failure due to excessive strain placed on it from restrictive clothing or placement on the body
- Device malfunction or breakage due to non-optimized plasticizers
- Component wearout or failure due to solder joint fatigue and cyclic failure
Should these challenges not be worked out at the design level and failures occur, consumer expectations will not be met – and they will be vocal on social media and, at times, through Internet news cycles. Recouping lost brand equity, your reputation and public trust after such an event is expensive and time consuming.
Designing for reliability is imperative, especially as next generation technology continues to be leveraged for wearable electronics. Sherlock Automated Design Analysis™ software can simulate nearly all of the variables that affect wearables, allowing designers and engineers to identify and correct failure risks early on for optimal product reliability and substantial time and cost savings.
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