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The Decline of Hobby Electronics?

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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?

If you enjoyed this series so far, please consider subscribing. It greatly helps us to continue. Please also "Like" and spread the word by "Sharing" each episode via social media or just simply let others know about it. Until next week. Enjoy!

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Tags :

State of Electronics David L Jones Dick Smith Gary Johnston Andy Gelme Colin Mitchell Leo Simpson Grant Petty Andrew Grithiffs Mike Osborne Jon Oxer karl von moller Angelo von Moller decline globalisation Electronics (Field Of Study) electronics industry australia John Boxall Matthew Pryor Blackmagic Design (Business Operation) Rockby Electronics Hobby Electronics Arduino Microcontrollers FPGA's Component demand

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50 Comments

    Popular Comments:

Jeremy Mettler . 2019-05-18
So that new world order where the everything at . Unbelievable
121 2 . Reply
Patrick star . 2019-05-16
How do i start
121 2 . Reply
Desmond Bagley . 2019-05-12
.........I remember when components were expensive. . transistors were $2 each or more , resistors were 10¢ each which was big money in the sixties, then all those little items such as switches etc all bumped up the cost for projects. Labour was cheap but technology was very expensive , today the reverse is the case thus nothing gets repaired and stuff is even manufactured to be disposed when faulty.
121 2 . Reply
ChienPing Yu . 2019-05-02
Those SMD electronic modules help hobbyists concentrating on Implementing their idea or imagination more instinctively, not on the fundamental electronics.
Guess how much time a newbie has to spend from scratch?
Think about the difficulty of soldering a BGA IC even by experienced engineer.
121 2 . Reply
Radio Engineering . 2019-04-06
As evidenced in this video, when you want to build something now you just get a couple of modules (arduino etc), clip them together, plug in some code and it works. No soldering, no assembly, no drawing out a circuit. It's pretty much all done for you. It has removed the enjoyment and challenge of first sourcing the parts, constructing a PCB and playing around with the unit to make it work exactly as you wanted it to. I think another thing that has seen the decline with hobby electronics is that kids are far more interested in video games and computers than they are in learning to build a crystal radio or novelty LED project like we did in the 70s and 80s. A small PCB that does one not-so-amazing thing just doesn't compare to a large screen with dazzling graphics, sound effects and games which enthrall kids for hours on end.
121 2 . Reply
Robert Cromwell . 2019-03-29
Electronics has declined as a hobby. Radio Shack gone...
Actually the interest in all hobbys has declined.
Humans have lost the ability to entertain themselves and must be entertained by Media, etc.
121 2 . Reply
Peter Lamont . 2019-03-28
LOL. I could picture this video being made in the 1960s. "The average person used to be able to change their own vacuum tubes...but now everything is soldered in place and you have to use a soldering iron just to get the transistors out. Those transistors are very expensive and hard to come by was well."

I think what is needed is a revolutionized hobby geared station that does all the business in one apparatus. Bake, machine etch, solder, hot air etc. all computer controlled via USB. for example a stenciling machine that also bakes. All the user has to do is place the components on the board. Hell, if it is micro controlled or computer controlled...all the logic needed for pick and place are already there too. So why not create a universal electronics hobbyist assembly apparatus? you could call it a UEHAA. Go from Kicad to NiCAD in one step.
121 2 . Reply
Mario Pleian . 2019-03-09
This was a nice and sad video .
121 2 . Reply
Lynn Miller . 2019-03-03
The hobby hasn't declined, the business world has. I used to go to Radio Shack to get parts for projects. In later years if you went to the Shack, forget it. All they were interested in, was selling cell phones and other items no one wanted. Now I have to mail order everything I want or need. Just like Sears, the people in charge have not used available resources to further their sales. CEO's end up with obscene separation packages, which is all they care about. Public beware! (Sorta reminds you of politics)
121 2 . Reply
Swinde . 2019-02-21
Surface mount components are not all that difficult to work with. I worked several years repairing surface mount PCBs. It requires a steady hand and sometimes a microscope to do, but it is really not that hard. I have been in electronics for over 50 years, so that helps.
121 2 . Reply
Zeek M . 2019-02-16
I believe western hobby electronics is on the up-tic
We have never before been able to make things this easily.
3D printers have made everything MORE possible.
There's a certain pride and nostalgia associated with building things yourself with older components, showing simplicity.
121 2 . Reply
Django . 2019-02-14
Yes.
121 2 . Reply
William Li . 2019-02-11
I still solder, last 2 years with smd caps and R, and like it more then thru holes now. I solder with 2 small usb irons, each in one hand, to remove or install smd.
The only things is, I try to open the windows to hv air flowing, to avoid toxic smoke from soldering lead..
121 2 . Reply
californiakayaker N6GRG . 2019-02-07
I believe I have heard many things that I feel aren't completely true. Now, it is not really possible to build a modern circuit with some simple clips and other things, but someone who does not want to use a soldering iron or hot air station can do a lot with "shields" and "solderless proto boards". Its still electronics. Those who want to do surface mount, you can. Buy a $50 hot air station. Comes with a very good iron and a hot air device. Get some better than usual "SOLDER PASTE" . Mine is "Mechanic" solder paste from china, product XG-50 (ebay) . And look at as many youtube vides as possible about it. Some only use the hot air to remove the microprocessor and use an iron to put it back.

I REALLY look forward to the little inexpensive electronic devices I find in China. That said, I would buy them in USA or AUSSIE if they were even close to competitive and not two stepping Chinese goods. I'm willing to wait as I am not a businessman and only a modern experimenter at this time. I have been in business most of my life and things have definitely changed , BUT THEY ARE ALWAYS CHANGING and I believe some of these changes are for the better if you can EVOLVE ! ITS A FUN PROCESS !
121 2 . Reply
Bradley Herron . 2019-02-03
fuckin china
121 2 . Reply
Kevin Burress . 2019-02-02
no hope
121 2 . Reply
david mundy . 2019-01-31
I am a retired electronics technician and hobbyist. I work part time as a substitute teacher in public schools, and just wanted to say that ONE school I work at has a GIANT set of snap-circuits for the grade-school kids to build things with in their school library. SO.... it's not dead yet. Kids are still being enticed into the hobby. More schools should do that.
121 2 . Reply
CuriouslyCory . 2019-01-19
I know this video is a few years old now, but with the advent of the arduino ecosystem, and especially ESP8266 micro-controllers home hobbyists are able to quickly and relatively easily create complex projects that don't exist outside of their imaginations. There might have been a downswing in the hobby, but I see a lot of evidence that it's taking off and moving to new heights.
121 2 . Reply
installtekz . 2019-01-11
When I was little I wanted a PIC microcontroller but the starter kit was way too expensive! Now I can get an arduino compatable for like £2. Jaycar kits rocked :)
121 2 . Reply
John Casey . 2018-12-30
Back in the 80's kids would mess around with transistors and quad logic gate chips. These days, that knowledge is too... low... for lack of a better term. Today kids start out with Audrino or Raspberry PIs, program and add interface modules. To start with transistors would be too... primary. It would take too long to get to the desired functionality. Now if you know Audrinos, transistors and logic gates, you are miles ahead, but it is not necessary.
121 2 . Reply
Heinz Linge . 2018-12-29
Home electronics and all science will eventually be curbed in the name of "counterterrorism"
121 2 . Reply
Heinz Linge . 2018-12-29
It is declining. And it's good for me, gotten crazy cheap used instruments
121 2 . Reply
californiakayaker N6GRG . 2018-12-27
The Chinese are experimenting like crazy. They have electronics classes in schools so young people get involved.. The WEST including the US is failing miserably in that area. Education is KEY. They might be watched closely with digital HF unfortunately. They copy the best testers and sell them cheap. I was in the industry when Japan made such an imprint. I've learned that you just need to talk to these people, although it is hard to do. They are always surprised when I use google translate, and when my playlists talk about how to auto translate. Everyone in the world is doing something, but manufacturing surplus comes from small entrepreneurs from China, and soon, Malaysia, and now, India. Keep your eyes open. We may not be on the top, but we can definitely play hard. I just had bought a great microscope for surface mount parts (smd) for 22 and what makes this one great is the stand. Huge difference. My air soldering will now get a workout. Also, use Wikipedia. Lots of info.
121 2 . Reply
Curtis Newton . 2018-12-15
the amount of stupid bullshit in this video from so called professionals, is just baffling
121 2 . Reply
Curtis Newton . 2018-12-15
retarded, we now do smd at home
one can design smd boards and have them build off shore even as a hobby...you can even build your own reflow even
the only thing that would decline hobby electronic is this kind of videos and that dumb kid with durty nails
121 2 . Reply
James Goodrum . 2018-12-07
Are there companies like Heathkit still around?
121 2 . Reply
jp . 2018-11-21
50 years ago I was into valve amplifiers. I built two Mullard 20W amp and pre amps. You don't get 410V across your nose these days. Two years ago aged 70 I decided to go back to my old hobby. There is nowhere I can buy components locally now. I can't afford the prices of the main UK sellers. If it wasn't for China I could not have the fun I have. I am now on my seventh bench power supply. I have a 40V 80A transformer just waiting - there's a challenge. TIP35C, 2N3055 are still available. I have spent about £900 over 2 years. A cheap scope down to resistors all made in China. I have 9 D-Class amps to play with and a couple of tranny ones to build. Forget making the modern stuff there is still plenty of fun to be had old stile. Yes, Iv'e had 245V across the chest and picked up the soldering ('soddering' if your American) iron by the wrong end. I have nobody to turn to for help, that's sad. Yesterday I had my first magic smoke for 50 years - about bl**dy time.
121 2 . Reply
PetrosRZ . 2018-11-19
When you are 16 and you love learning and blowing up electronics ( reverse polarity capacitor anyone?) while there are documents and internet info but people just aren’t into electronics anymore. Now everything is made so hard to copy. I mean smd ain’t that hard but it’s still not easy. And most ic arduinos that arduinos use are usually quite old to be easy to work with .
121 2 . Reply
Butter Bean . 2018-11-13
there has been a huge decline in home repair, electronics, radio/TV repair. when I grew up in USA in the 60s 70s we had a electronics course in Jr high/middle school. not today I cant find a electronics course in Jr high or High school anywhere.
121 2 . Reply
Elizabeth Thompson . 2018-10-23
THEY don't want you doing anything yourself.
It's all throw-away today.
People are getting dumber.
Hence Dick Smith & Radio Shack are gone.
But today we have things like Arduino & Raspberry Pi.
So we still have something to play with, if we can get it delivered via mail-order...
UPS has issues finding me & stuff gets stolen...
121 2 . Reply
Rooster HAX . 2018-10-13
I need a good book about SMPS, someone can lead me to it?
121 2 . Reply
vithilesh delloe . 2018-10-11
I am still addicted to electronics man 😃😃
121 2 . Reply
Jose Ventura . 2018-10-11
My wife got mad all the time because I salvaged a lot of circuit boards,I knew this was coming!!.
When i need a component i just go to my boxes and bingo!!!
121 2 . Reply
bee17167 . 2018-10-06
Myself service my guitar amps most valve but at a hobby level . So if I am replacing caps id rather buy quality ones not china made as they are made to a price and will only need replacing in a few years there will always be a need for quality parts as valve amps are the choice amp for us guitarist building effects pedals from kits still going strong lets hope jcar last as I buy all my bits I can from them including watch batteries .
121 2 . Reply
Kelvin Kersey . 2018-10-05
I wanted a few useful things for house and garden and decided to teach myself electronics for the purpose. But it's not helpful out there. Every video on youtube is about 'how does it work'. I don't want to know how it works, I'm superficial, I want a lego brick approach, maybe I'll come back to how it works later. For the moment I want a What does it do approach. Trawling through published circuits it's stunning to see how they are all about flashing an led, never about anything uaeful. Well those are myi suggestions, start with the problem and show the electronics solution to it, show how the building blocks fit together and how to achieve a goal. And by the way, people in net groups just waste your time, I joined o e and asked How do I... amd the responses were Why would you want to... I was looking for practical electronics advice, not lifestyle advice
121 2 . Reply
Paul Hayden . 2018-10-04
I am stone age "old school". I still find it a thrill to make things. I still part out thrown a ways and get even a bigger thrills making something from trash.
I do not know of a single person who even comes close to understanding me. Really sad.
In years past I would find someone here or there, who would be fun, but its been many years since the last.
121 2 . Reply
Ese Callum . 2018-09-26
Hobbyist Electronics should be banned as terrorists could make bombs to blow up us all.
121 2 . Reply
leglessinoz . 2018-09-25
Yeah when I can buy something from China for $4, why would I buy EXACTLY the same item from Jaycar for 4 times the price or 20 times the price? Being on a limited income, I could not afford the hobby if I relied entirely on places like Jaycar.
121 2 . Reply
Rafael Bachmann . 2018-09-20
But you still can do many things with PTH components. And SMD is not even that hard.
121 2 . Reply
shiftew leite . 2018-09-16
That fucking kid is annoying,stop showing this kid every second.. he does nothing and holds circuits and looks into them
121 2 . Reply
Dark photon . 2018-09-07
China can make Robot with a nailcutter...
121 2 . Reply
Kim Sø Pedersen . 2018-09-04
On the contrary internet shopping gives you access to way more options than any local retail chain ever did. The last time I saw a shop where you could go straight in and buy standard components of the shelf here i Denmark was TWENTY YEARS ago. There might be a few specialist shops around still here, but I bet if you want anything more complicated than a standard resistor or capacitor, they will have to go online and order it themselves, and tell you it will be here in a week or two.
But the microcontroller, cheap kits from China, and just a basic understanding that electronics and computers aren't magic has in my oppinion made the way for the rise of hobby electronics from something just a few weird people did in their shed, to now every one to hack, jailbreak, and upgrade their devices, use them in ways that was never intended by the designer, and generally not accepting that a device can't do a thing, just because the manufacturer says it can't, when you know they hardware is in there. So maybe we aren't building things from the ground up as much anymore, but we sure as hell are tinkering like never before.
121 2 . Reply
Hare Krishna in the Movies . 2018-09-04
More and more, China is selling electronic kits. Try doing an Ebay search for "signal generator kit" (without the quotes).
121 2 . Reply
ash0787 . 2018-08-25
what do you do if your phone is broken ? put it in a bowl of rice
121 2 . Reply
Browarus Pierogus . 2018-08-16
Give China all technology because they work for nothing and watch how one day they show you finger and you will be left with lazy stupid society
121 2 . Reply
Hona Wikeepa . 2018-08-16
I'm 58 and just getting into it. I wish I had done this at a very early age.
121 2 . Reply
K. Chris Caldwell . 2018-08-12
When surface mount components are all that can be bought, hobby electronics will die. If one cannot quickly build it on a breadboard, discovery and wonderment with electronics will be highly diminished.
121 2 . Reply
Dazzy Z . 2018-08-10
It has transmuted into general application tinkering (For the lack of a better word). Now software and hardware meet on the stack, as raspberry pi's, arduinos and robotics.
121 2 . Reply
Mister Annonymus . 2018-08-04
For everyone who is into hobby electronics, you should watch this video. Its very good to sum up what has changed over all the time, eventhough im only 16. My dad for example started a long long time ago to make a mixing console, and he never finished it, because a year later they were really cheap to get and there wasnt a need to build one yourself. Also im not living nearby any electronic surplus stores like radioshack, but ive noticed that a lot of stores closed in the US. Nowerdays you just have to order things online, that not bad at all, but if you just need some more wire or a bunch of switches its very annoying. What also annoys me is that way more components are SMD, i hate to solder that. i just love THT components, its so easy to solder, but with smd... the industry changed a lot.
121 2 . Reply
ACAB\\ Mela BAKAta . 2018-08-03
How today's kids think computers work: magic
Why?
China
121 2 . Reply