The statement that technology is moving at a rapid pace is an understatement at best. In fact, it appears that technological advancements are actually outpacing a practical use for them. At Sensors Expo 2016 next week, you will be seeing demos and hearing presentations based on a wide range of established and emerging sensors and related technologies. That makes this a perfect time to catch up with a major player in the tech arena, particularly in sensors, to get some insights as to what's hot, what will be hot, and what's really going on.
We caught up with John Mitchell, Senior Vice President and General Manager of TE Connectivity's (TE's) Sensor Solutions business unit. Since joining the company in 1994, John has served in a variety of positions including operations, finance, and business unit controller for the Telecommunications and Power Systems business units. In April, 2015, John moved into the Sensor Solutions role. Based on his array of experiences, Mr. Mitchell definitely has a very accurate view of the sensors market. Therefore, we decided to put him in the spotlight for some insight via a short series of questions.
Mat Dirjish (MD): Would you agree that the Internet of Things has pretty much taken the spotlight as the hottest topic in the tech industry and, as a near-all-encompassing concept, has the potential to offer the most opportunities for innovation in all categories and not just sensors?
John Mitchell (JM): Yes, IoT has become a major market trend that continues to shape our thinking as well as influence other technology providers. The way we view the opportunity is from the standpoint that both sensors and connections enable IoT – areas TE is uniquely qualified to address. For our customers engineer's to tackle the IoT opportunity they need a partner who can help them solve system challenges, who have expertise across a variety of applications and who are driving innovation that will make their IoT projects successful. The advance of IoT provides TE Sensor Solutions with many opportunities to showcase the breadth and depth of our sensor capabilities whether it is in connected factories, connected homes or healthy living, medical applications and/or harsh environments.
MD: If you agree, what do you think are the top three sensor (or other) areas that might offer the greatest opportunities for innovation? (i.e., pressure sensors, environmental monitoring, medical, wearables, etc.)
JM: There is opportunity for innovation across almost every category of sensor technology. With IoT exploding – whether consumer or industrial – there is no shortage of opportunities to drive innovation. We see that in several forms. For example, innovation comes from the opportunity to take a proven technology and applying it in a novel way to new IOT applications. You need deep experience across both technologies and applications to do that. On the consumer side we see the drive for miniaturization across a number of technologies and with a strong push on power efficiency, and we also think multi-function sensors will play a bigger role. Again, the opportunity for innovation is looking at a problem from a variety of angles – at TE, we're always working closely with our customers engineers, to solve the most demanding challenges. And often we do that by delivering innovative ways of addressing engineering needs like miniaturization, multi-function sensors, and packaging solutions that can withstand harsh environments.
MD: Sensor makers have the enviable position of creating components with an extremely long shelf and working life. By that is meant, for example, a 10-year-old temperature sensor that is functional is still viable for use in current applications assuming it offers the desired range and physically fits the application. And this is fairly true more the majority of sensor categories. Does that make it easier for sensor makers to develop new products? Can they pretty much see what the end-product designers need first, and then supply the necessary sensors?
JM: Yes, we have engineers who have deep and broad experience in the sensor industry. This means they've seen sensors technology used to solve multiple challenges in a variety of applications. In many cases the solution can be tackled a few different ways. Our engineers will recommend the best solution to address the situation. What sets us apart is that having one of the broadest portfolios in the industry allows us to find the optimal solution for our customer's needs.
MD: The IoT has created opportunities for interfacing sensors to a variety sources, particularly the embedded systems that will get all these sensors on the Internet. To what degree do you see sensor engineers having to get involved with and/or expand their skill sets with a deeper knowledge of digital systems, programming code, apps development, etc.?
JM: Having engineers who can look at the whole system – sensors, connectors, software and packaging makes a huge difference. This is particularly true with more complex applications in extremely limited space or exposed to harsh environments. We feel the need for this expertise is coming from everywhere – you never know where the next Nest or Tesla will come from. So at TE we develop the engineering talent and teamwork that can bring this value to our customers. The knowledge explosion we are seeing through the internet demands that we continually recruit engineers who see one of their most important skill sets as a desire to continue to learn – and use all of the information technologies to better meet/solve customer's application needs.
MD: What do you foresee as the next significant development in the sensor market? Some offshoot of the IoT, something else, and/or something highly unique?
JM: The speed at which the industry is moving makes that difficult to determine – particularly because we see more players in the market – both traditional and non-traditional. But there are trends driving the industry like increased safety, environmental concerns and an increasingly connected world. Whether you're talking consumer or industrial, these trends will push development in materials, miniaturization, improved power efficiency, communication and multi-function sensors. In all cases, the need for precise measurement that is reliable in all environments for an extended period of time will push the next development in the market. What we're seeing is that even "small" developments can have a big effect on the market and industry.
MD: What do you hope to see and accomplish at Sensors Expo 2016?
JM: TE Connectivity is excited to be a part of the Sensors Expo as it provides us with an opportunity to showcase who we are. With one of the broadest and deepest portfolios of sensor technology we're a leader in the industry. What you'll get a sense of at our booth and through our presenters is that we're committed to serve as the engineer's engineer when it comes to solving the toughest sensing challenges. Also, we are showcasing our recently released Sensor brand campaign – reinforcing that our sensors help engineers develop solutions in almost every industry and in the harshest environments. We've made it a focus to bring sensors into new applications and will be showcasing some of these applications in our booth during the show.
That should be just enough to whet your appetite, which means if you want see the big picture, you should be attending Sensors Expo next week. And be sure to visit TE Connectivity at booth #1510 and get even more of the big picture.
About the Author
John Mitchell is the Sr. Vice President and General Manager of TE Connectivity's (TE's) Sensor Solutions business unit. Since joining the company in 1994, Mr. Mitchell has served in a variety of assignments including operations, finance, and business unit controller roles for the Telecommunications and Power Systems business units. John left TE in 2005 for a position with JohnsonDiversey (SCJ/Unilever JV) where he held the title of VP Finance EMEA and was based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He returned to TE in 2007 in the role of VP FP&A. John moved to the VP Finance Automotive role in November 2007 and was based in Bensheim, Germany. He most recently served as Sr. Vice President and General Manager of TE's SubCom business Unit. In April, 2015, John moved to Sensor Solutions role and is currently based in Middletown, PA.
Prior to Tyco Electronics, Mr. Mitchell held a number of EMEA regional finance roles at Landis + Gyr, and Stratus Computer.