Flexible PCB makers increase output for high-frequency types

Releases in the flexible PCB line meet the requirements of more complex circuits used in smartphones, tablet PCs, storage servers, and automotive and medical electronics.

April 25, 2017

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Releases in the flexible PCB line meet the requirements of more complex circuits used in smartphones, tablet PCs, storage servers, and automotive and medical electronics.

Suppliers of flexible PCBs in China are boosting the high-frequency category to meet the challenges of greater circuit density and thermal management. This is as miniaturization and technology advancements continue especially in hot applications such as smartphones, tablet PCs, storage servers, and vehicle and medical electronics.

Only a few manufacturers have the capability to offer the type at present due to technological and cost factors. Although already part of their regular selections, the boards still have a minority share of production but this will change as companies keep up the release of such units.

China makers adopt materials better suited to complex circuits. For the substrates, liquid-crystal polymer and PTFE are the choices instead of polyimide common across PCB categories, while rolled annealed copper foil is the default option over its electrodeposited kind. To achieve improved thermal conductivity, companies employ aluminum foil as heat spreader, while there have yet to be local ventures into hybrid silicon PCBs. The latter units are designed to double as heat sinks.

For the overall line, many manufacturers are raising their production targets. Wonderful PCB (HK) Co. Ltd will maintain the 10 percent increase in recent years through 2017. It expects shipments to be 20 percent or higher in the next 12 months.

Encouraging domestic makers to strengthen the flexible PCB segment is sustained demand rise. Globally, the market is projected to post nearly 4 percent CAGR between 2014 and 2019, reaching $13.9 billion by the end of the period, according to Prismark. The main drivers are smartphones, tablet PCs and automotive applications, shipments of which products will remain in an upturn.

Wearable electronics, including VR and sports products, medical implants and those for fashion, are anticipated to become the next hot application. Based on local statistics alone, deliveries of such devices will increase to 83 million in 2020 or at almost 29 percent CAGR from 2016, according to the Qianzhan Research Institute. In 2015, the total was 23.7 million units.

In addition, local PCB makers are looking to take advantage of the popularity of rigid-flex types, which are broadly used in mobile and wearable electronics as well. The variety will have approximately 6 percent CAGR, outstripping its flexible counterpart in 2014-19, according to Prismark.

Mainland China is one of the largest production hubs for flexible PCBs, accounting for more than 30 percent of shipments worldwide. It sends over half of turnout overseas, including North and South America, Europe and Asia.

More than 400 suppliers make up the sector, all of which also offer other PCB types such as rigid and rigid-flex units. Half of the companies are homegrown and the rest with investment mostly from Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The key players in the former group include Zhuhai Topsun, Shenzhen Jingchengda and AKM.

The coastal provinces of Guangdong and Fujian play host to over half of the pool. There is also a large concentration of manufacturers in Jiangsu province. These three areas will continue to attract entrants to the line.

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