The Decline of Hobby Electronics?

Last weeks episode is here: https://youtu.be/hT0aG3SRpRY

In this weeks episode, we ask the question, has there been a decline in hobby electronics since the 1970’s & 80’s? For the participants, it was hard to differentiate between hobby & industrial electronics and the definition between the two practices is blurred. Keep in mind that most of these interviews took place from 2011 onwards so many opinions I’m sure will have changed over time. At the time, when asked why there was a decline many stated that it wasn’t really a decline but rather a shift or change within the industry. Manufacturing of consumer goods in Australia has stopped, putting many suppliers of components out of business. Those that remain feel it’s shrinking state, even today. They mention globalisation, the shift overseas for manufacturing, a change in technology that creates a divergence between the kinds of parts hobbyists use and that used by industry. Hobbyists still use the same kinds of parts used in TV’s and other consumer goods of the 1970’s while current industry has seen a massive shift towards miniaturisation and now use surface mounted parts almost exclusively. These “SMD’s” are placed on boards by robots and are tough for human hands to use, let alone a complete beginner. Some participants say it is very important for hobbyists to learn how to solder SMD’s and that in fact, with the right knowledge, it is very achievable. Many components today are only made in SMD form and either require the hobbyist to learn how to deal with them or rely on retailers to make “modules” which convert them into a standard through hole form, more easily used by hobbyists on breadboards.

However the perceived decline in electronics isn’t just blamed on miniaturisation but also because of the advent of microcontrollers, field programmable gate arrays (FPGA’s), programmable logic devices (PLD’s), large scale integrated chips (LSI’s). These single chip devices do away with the need for many other components typically used in the 1970’s since they combine many of the traditional external components within the same die. Serial interfaces like UART, I2C and SPI as well as special functions like Memory, PWM and ADC’s are now often supplied in the one chip, making it possible to make a product with a huge amount of configurability and ability, with very few external parts. With limited “discrete” components required, component suppliers have felt the downturn in component demand. If the components were to “dry up” in Australia, the question is, would new people overcome all the hardship, slow delivery, high cost to even take up the practice of electronics as a hobby in the future? This is probably not unique to Australia and many people around the globe probably are in a very similar position. Please feel free to join the conversation and leave your comments below.

In next weeks episode, we pose a new question. Is Complexity and Integration a major barrier to entry into the art and science of electronics?

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