December News

Nelson Mandela passed away

The world paid tribute to Nelson Mandela, who passed away in December after a long illness. Present and past residents of South Africa will sadly miss this great man. May his legacy continue to inspire.


The end of 2013

2013 was not our best or worst year, but we sure hope next year will ring in a few changes for the tech industry.

Many of the renovations are nearing completion, so we hope to get back into some design soon.

The renovations were completed in wood (PNG Rose wood), as a TIG welder remains on the wish list.

We worked on several ARM boards — Energy Micro, Atmel, Freescale and NXP. Complex processors drop in price, but low-tech push buttons and connectors stubbonly remain high. Touch sensors and serial wiring will solve much of that.


Manufacturing


GM to exit Australian manufacture

For South Australia, General Motor's announcement to terminate manufacture in Australia by 2017 is bad news. We don't know what they pay for terminal blocks, but if it was anywhere close to what local markup agents want, then this was no surprise. According to General Motors, it is simply not cost competitive to manufacture in Australia.

Is this due to labour costs? Perhaps occupation-health and safety compliance where a typical officer competes with a medical doctor for salary? The high dollar? None of the above? Workers who only know the motor industry are going to find conditions challenging.

We saw the effect of Ford closing down some of their engine plant in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, many years ago; the stakes here are higher due to a much larger plant investment in Adelaide.

It certainly will not be good for automation and component supplers. Although we do not supply any automotive vendors, the knock-on effect will trickly down. The silly price of petrol will hasten the extinction of large vehicles for day-to-day travelling.

HP Job Losses

HP is still making the news — this time for sending emails to staff over the Christmas break about pending retrenchments or taking a voluntary package. Will 3D printers from HP change their fortunes? We hope so and look forward to 3D printing getting another big player. Hopefully the world gets a low-cost XYZ table where you throw out the extruder nozzle and put in a carbide cutter. The 3D printer market might follow the inkjet model where the value is in the consumables.

Another 5,000 employees were laid off, adding to the 29,000 already gone for 2013 according to HP Lays Off 5,000 More Employees announced by EE Times on 31 Dec. The article also mentions the XGene server from Applied Micro, but this 64-bit ARM market is going to become so competitive from alternative silicon and board vendors, that it is unlikely HP can gouge their customers as in the past for pricing.

Calxeda closes

Calxeda shut shop and sent most of the 130 employees home — ARM server pioneer Calxeda shuts its office after running out of cash They had hoped to enter the 64-bit ARM server space. Since 2008, they had raised $100 million, but with industry sentiment not too flash, they simply disappeared.

In the May 2012 edition of IEEE Spectrum Magazine, The High Stakes of Low Power (pp 9 — 10), described how HP planned to cram 288 of the devices in a rack unit which would typically house eight Intel chips. It was part of HP's Moonshot System. As of Nov 2013, it appeared that the only shipping cartridges for Moonshot were AMD or Intel based.


Tales from the Woods


64-bit ARM Silicon

Apple A7

Much promised, but only Apple shipped 64-bit ARM silicon in any volume in 2013. The iPhone 5 and iPad with the A7 represents Apple's entry into the 64-bit ARM arena. Will they move them into laptops later? Time will tell, but the phones and tablets are so popular that there may be little incentive to make too many changes on the desktop. Apple have changed from 68000 to PowerPC to x86 over the years, so it would be possible to adopt 64-bit ARM. They certainly have the money to do it and the manpower after acquiring PA Semi and Intrinsity some time back.

Applied Micro

64-bit silicon was mentioned in AppliedMicro's X-Gene: 2013 Year in Review, dated 20 December. The delivery is a little later than initially announced, but the development kit can be pre-ordered on their website.

Tech Industry for 2013

The biggest loosers

Microsoft reportedly wrote off a billion dollars on their Surface RT. In July, Microsoft's $900 million Surface RT write-down: How did this happen? was posted by ZDNET, who gave them top honours in “The worst tech of 2013”. BlackBerry was a close second, however, their losses were a lot higher — $3 billion in three months blamed on the Z10.

The usual suspects

The 4th December saw another bank fine — EU Commission fines banks 1.7 billion euros for benchmark rigging.

The fines paid by the banks show how small the electronics industry is in comparison. The LIBOR and other scandals are going to take years and many fines to unravel.