50 years electronica – review on a success story

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Martin Luther King receives the Nobel Peach Prize, and IBM brings its first electric typewriter to market. But 1964 is also the year that electronica opens its gates in Munich for the first time. Time to look back.

The trade fair for electronic components and related measuring and manufacturing systems was originally founded by a group of American companies. They wanted to be part of Germany’s lucrative electronics market from the very beginning. Today, 50 years later, electronica is the world’s largest and most important trade fair for electronic components, systems and applications.

A half a century of trade-fair history is also an opportunity to look back on the milestones of the past 50 years and then to look ahead—to innovations at this year’s electronica in Munich from November 11–14. After all, the future would be unimaginable without the fair’s earlier developments. For example, the foundations for two of this year’s main themes—Automotive and Lighting—were laid at one of the first shows in the 1970s. Companies such as International Rectifier or Bourns introduced technologies then that have continued to develop and are considered a matter of course today. Examples include optimized torque sensors for power steering systems, or more efficient semiconductors in modern LEDs. So one can’t help but wonder what new developments at this year’s electronica will simplify our everyday lives in the year 2064.

A success from the beginning, despite the difficult Environment

electronica 1964
electronica 1964

electronica didn’t have it easy in the beginning: Among other things, it didn’t have the support of Germany’s trade associations. But during its early years, it still developed into a magnet for visitors and exhibitors from throughout Europe, the United States, Japan and what was then the Soviet Union. Exhibition space was booked to capacity, and companies that decided too late were issued display cases instead of exhibition stands. At first, major German corporations were skeptical about the fair and kept their distance. Some only sent monitors to gather information about their international competitors’ latest developments. But eventually, even they agreed that electronica was the right idea at the right time and that the concept of this progressive trade show worked. At the very latest, that became obvious the second time that the fair was held in 1966. The amount of exhibition space nearly doubled, as did the number of stands and the number of exhibiting companies.

Growing numbers of exhibitors and visitors

Even the wildest optimists did not expect the fair, which has been held every two years since it was founded, to be such an enormous success: From 1964 to 1974, the number of exhibitors increased by a factor of ten and the number of visitors increased in leaps and bounds—from 13,000 to more than 73,000. electronica quickly developed into a platform where an extremely dynamic industry had an opportunity to present its technical innovations to the public for the very first time. And it contributed significantly to the electronics industry’s most important inventions of the 60s and 70s such as the floppy disk in 1969, the first microprocessors in the early 1970s, and teletext in 1977.

Successful spin-offs LASER World and productronica

productronica 1975

The fair’s enormous growth resulted in portions of it emerging in new structures. Ultimately, electronica was divided to form two new industry highlights: LASER World of PHOTONICS, the international trade fair for the laser and photonics industry, in 1973, and productronica, the world’s largest trade fair for innovative electronics production that alternates with electronica every other year, two years later. This development did nothing to diminish electronica’s popularity. On the contrary: As the years passed, the trade-fair center on Theresienwiese got closer to its capacity limits. The time had come for a new trade-fair center. In 1987, the city and the State of Bavaria ultimately approved plans to build a new venue at the site of the former airport in Riem. After the move in 1998, it didn’t take long for the electronics industry’s global gathering to feel at home at its new location—and it kept on presenting exciting new developments such as the fiber-optic guides with integrated SMD-LED technology capable of fully automatic assembly that Mentor GmbH introduced in the year 2000.



The new millennium: Exploring new spheres

But for organizers, additional hall space was just the first step toward dealing with the fair’s growing importance. As the new millennium began, the entire company including electronica was becoming more international than ever. The fair was an export hit: the spin-off electronica India was founded in the year 2000, followed by electronica China two years later. That also demonstrates the success of the company’s long-term strategy, which is to always keep an eye on new markets despite positive developments in Germany. To keep its finger on the pulse of the times and respond to the latest trends on time, the fair has always had a technical advisory board comprising representatives of various companies in the industry. That is how electronica keeps up with market developments and is able to adapt its own structures accordingly.

Challenges due to the economic and financial crisis

Despite its unprecedented success story, electronica had difficult phases to overcome in its 50-year history. Certainly one of the largest challenges it had to face was the global economic and financial crisis that rocked markets at the end of the 1990s. Because it focused on the entire microelectronics sector and given the enormous range of international exhibitors, electronica also managed to get through these difficult times. Thanks to the economic recovery since 2010, the entire industry is positive about the future again. electronica has profited from that: 73,051 trade visitors from 79 countries attended the fair in 2012, and 2,669 exhibitors from 49 countries participated.

1964 Plakat electronica-1

The first edition of electronica took place in October 1964.