Weiner’s World—December 2017

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Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in December 2017 at www.weiner-intl.com and is being reprinted here with special permission from the author. 

We wish all our readers and supporters a Happy New Year!

Hold on to your seats! 2018 will be a year full of rapid changes, surprises, and growth. M&A activities will flourish. The supply chain will suffer shortages and changes as demand increases, copycats will rush to market, and new markets and potential suppliers will vanish before they are established. Reliability and testing will increase in importance in the rush to cobots, robots, IoT and the electric and autonomous vehicles. Pressure will increase for speedy new material approvals.

The International Printed Circuit & APEX South China Fair held in Shenzhen China was a sell-out with every booth in Halls 1,2 and 4 occupied. The HKPCA proudly stated that its event was now the biggest in the world for the PCB industry. The mood was positive with the crowds in the aisles on day one reminiscent of those at the Tokyo subways at rush hour! The IPC in China has just signed its 1,000th member. Just five years ago it had only about 300 members.

The elevator in the Sheraton Shenzhen Futian Hotel turned out to be a virtual office for me as I kept encountering colleagues from around the world in it – some of whom I had not seen in years.

Business was up with a forecast of a solid 2018 increase in China, and elsewhere, predicted Dr. H. Nakahara in his presentation just prior to his 80th birthday and the holidays. Printed circuit (substrate) production is forecasted to have double-digit growth in China during 2018.

The world’s PCB production is up about 7%. Vietnam’s and Thailand’s PCB production levels are also surging at double digit levels. WKK stated that it was having its best year in five years.

In response to comments about PCBs being replaced by ICs and new packages, Dr. Nakahara provided the interesting and valid view presented on our Comments & Discussion page[1]. He also noted that the IPhone X has a double-deck main board structure (30 micron L/S) that is "soldered" together. It has 16 flexible boards, five liquid crystal polymer boards, four rigid-flex boards and one tab used to interconnect components. 

More than 10 years ago someone said that mobile phone would be made with one IC. Nakahara asks, “Where is it? Dreaming is one thing but reality is another. A single IC mobile phone may appear some day in the future, but you still need a display for the phone to be useful. How will the IC, which contains all the necessary functions, be connected to the display device?"

Shortages in the supply chain have driven the prices of some Mainland China supplies of components and materials up to reported levels greater than those in Taiwan. Shortages as well as heavy demand (and possible double ordering) are affecting deliveries of some specialty laminates (Rogers) and equipment (e.g., linear drive motors and ball screws used in SMTA equipment). Yamaha is pressed to meet equipment deliveries due to these shortages. Yamaha Motor sold over 1,100 machines in greater China during 2017.

Mobile DRAM prices have risen by about 40% since the third quarter of 2016, according to TrendForce. The market research firm expects DRAM prices will remain high in 2018 due to limited production capacity expansion by suppliers. For NAND flash, demand has exceeded supply since the second half of 2016, resulting in price increases of up to 35% in 2017. Tight supply for NAND flash started to ease in the fourth quarter with some price stabilization, according to TrendForce[2].

Some of the major PCB fabricators (e.g., Nan Ya), are changing some of their manufacturing profiles to move away from red ink and into more profitable market spaces.

The quality of Chinese-built PCB and SMT equipment is up substantially. An example is the line of cut sheet laminators and auxiliary equipment for dry film photoresist built in Dongguan by Sowotech Co. Ltd (subsidiary of Sowotech Precision Industries, a Taiwan company).

“Western” 6-spindle mechanical drilling machines can no longer compete against Chinese-built competition, however they still sell their single spindle driller/router and X-ray drills well in China (Schmoll, Pluritech, etc.). More than 2,500 drilling systems are expected to be sold in China during 2018. Ta Liang, a major Taiwan-based router and mechanical drilling machine maker, posted 79% revenue growth this year.

In 2018, Chinese companies will produce more than 50% of the world’s mobile phones. All of them will need some form or level of environmental/humidity/water protection.

Shanghai PhiChem Material was reported to have recently had is fluoropolymer conformal coating approved by HuaWei for its cellphones. Applied by spray, it is said to provide 30 minutes of protection while submerged in water.

Bosch’s Mobility Solutions’ James Tan (Automotive Electronics) presented a paper at the HKPCA event pointing out the reliability needs and challenges for printed circuits. These include higher voltages, untested circuits/components, hotter operating temperatures, increases in copper for bus bar, needs for conformal coatings for batteries as well as circuits and other components.

There is concern about “hot spots” of 160-175oC in automotive electronics. Most current specs and materials are set for 150oC. Ventec is one of the leaders in providing special thermally conductive laminates for these applications.

50% of the value of a car in 2030 will be in electronics. The leading suppliers of printed and flexible circuits for cars are currently include TTM, ChinPoon, CMK, Meiko Electonics and KCE.

Fan Out Wafer Level Processing was valued at over $1 billion for 2017. MSAP (modified semi-additive) processing continues to be the process for iPhones and other advanced smartphone circuitry in Taiwan and China.

Demand for 25 μm lines and spaces will increase in 2018.



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