The year started of strongly with high hopes, optimism, orders and the promise of new facilities in the U.S. and China. Paced by a number of breakthroughs, ranging from new chips for AI, to packaging materials and processes, to megamergers, sales of semiconductor and printed circuit equipment were strong around the world with the IC segment rising faster than the board/substrate segments. The need for new and modified standards to meet tougher reliability needs has become evident. The demand for skilled and semiskilled labor seems to be surging beyond supply even as the use of robots and cobots rapidly increases.
Consumer Electronics Show 2018 (CES) in Las Vegas set multiple new records and showed that there is no lack of innovation in our industry. More than 900 "start-up" companies joined another 3,000 exhibitors that occupied over 2.75 million square feet. Every conceivable electronic device seemed to be in evidence ranging from automotive electronics, miniature drones, AR, VR to robots and cobots.
NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang revealed during his CES 2018 press event that the first samples of the Xavier processors, initially announced a little more than a year ago, are being delivered to customers this quarter. Xavier will power the NVIDIA DRIVE software stack, now expanded to a trio of AI platforms covering every aspect of the experience inside next-generation automobiles. With more than 9 billion transistors, Xavier is the most complex system on a chip ever created, representing the work of more than 2,000 NVIDIA engineers over a four-year period, and an investment of $2 billion in research and development.
It’s built around a custom 8-core CPU, a new 512-core Volta GPU, a new deep learning accelerator, new computer vision accelerators and new 8K HDR video processors. While the technical details are complex, the story is simple: DRIVE Xavier puts more processing power to work using less energy, delivering 30 trillion operations per second while consuming just 30 watts.
Huang announced that the company is now working with over 320 partners on autonomous vehicles, including new agreements with key global players. At the focal point of these collaborations is the new Xavier autonomous machine processor. This is the most complex and powerful SoC ever created. Xavier will be available to select partners over the next few months, about a year after it was first announced.
"Building a computer for autonomous vehicles is of a level of complexity the world has never known. This computer is on all the time, monitoring all of the sensors that are coming at it—it can never fail, it can never fail, because lives are at stake,” Huang said. “And it has to make the right decision, running software the world has never known how to write.”
More than a third of the exhibitors at CES were from China, including 482 exhibitors from Shenzhen alone. Americans only outnumbered China’s 1,551 exhibitors by about 50 companies. Chinese startups, especially makers of autonomous and electric vehicles, were in great evidence.
Nanjing-based Byton, unveiled a $45,000 electric concept SUV at the event. Termed a Smart Intuitive Vehicle, it featured facial recognition to unlock doors, gesture control and a 49-inch dashboard screen designed to increase productivity while commuting.
Dominique Numakura of DKN Research reported that more than 2,480 companies exhibited at NEPCON Japan 2018 this month. Automotive related technologies and electronics accounted for almost half the show. A large number of companies in the categories of Robotics, Smart Manufacturing, and Wearable Electronics made their debut this year. Participation was at an all-time high. Those that did not reserve space in time had to settle for the overflow space in lobbies and aisles that lead to the convention center. Numakura said that the show was so packed that it was difficult to navigate from one booth to the next.
Like CES, it was impossible to visit every booth during the show. Booths that featured printed circuits and electronic packaging were spread out and not grouped together in the PWB or packaging zones. Some were found in the Robotics Zone, others in the Automobile Electronics Zone.
There were more than 100 printed circuit manufacturers and related products exhibitors. The major Japanese manufacturers included CMK, Meiko, and Denso. Mid-sized fabricator included Taiyo Industrial, Oki Cable, Oki PCB, P-ban.com, Raytech, and K2. Major printed circuit manufacturers from Korea, Taiwan and Mainland China did not participate in the show. AT&S, the largest circuit manufacturer in Europe and KCE, the largest local circuit shop in Thailand reserved large sized booths.
Common theme topics with the PWB manufacturers included low cost multi-layer rigid/flex substrates for mobile equipment as well as elastic (expandable) circuits for wearable electronics. New products are projected to have a spike in sales as new items begin to roll out in the medical device category and enhancements are made in scientific devices (finger print sensors).
Denso developed a series of MLB and flexible circuit manufacturing processes with LCP (liquid crystal polymer) resin for its trademarked PALAP boards. LCP resin was developed during the late 1990s, and after 20 years of promoting this, it has now reached volume levels. LCPs are low loss, low moisture resistant resins.
Several specialty chemical suppliers such as JCU, Okuno, and Japan Electroplating Engineers promoted new semi-additive processes for use with high density flexible circuits. The benchmark was a circuit with finer than 2 micron lines and spaces.
YAMAHA Fine Tech’s sales engineering staff stated that the quality requirement for fine via holes in fine flexible circuits has increased dramatically. The traditional open/short test no longer meets customer requirements. The new demand from flexible circuit manufacturers is to measure the conductive resistance of the via holes and eliminate half opened via holes. The latest automatic inspection machines can test 100% with high accuracy with good productivity. The new resistance inspection machines have now become standard in flexible circuit facilities. They are employed at the end of the manufacturing process for fine flexible circuits. Nowadays, the quality assurance required by the customers is approaching that of semiconductor IC devices.
At the end of his tour in the IC packaging zone, Numakura discovered a unique European company. Headquartered in Berlin, Germany, AEMtec manufactures custom packaging designs for small-volume based customers. The company displayed special samples of packages based on COF (Chip-on-Flex). Bare semiconductor chips were mounted on high density flexible circuits employing different bonding technologies. It looked very reliable and appealing, even though they have a large number of connections with small pitches. It is completely different from the packaging technologies for consumer electronics of which most of us are familiar.
Panasonic has developed a series of halogen free circuit board laminates for automotive radar systems. Designated R-5515, the new material has an ultra-low transmission loss with millimeter-wave antennae. Panasonic has also commercialized a new series of aluminum hybrid capacitors for automobile applications that are reliable under severe vibration.
Researchers at Iowa State University, along with collaborators at Rice University, Ames Laboratory, and Lehigh University, have developed a new graphene printing technology to produce electronic circuits that are low-cost, flexible, highly conductive, and water repellent.
The researchers published a paper describing how the team used inkjet printing technology to create electric circuits on flexible materials. The ink is composed of flakes of graphene which must be processed after printing to remove non-conductive binders and “weld” the flakes together to boost conductivity and make them useful for electronics or sensors. The research group developed a rapid-pulse laser process that treats the graphene without damaging the printing surface – even if it’s paper. The process allows the fabrication of superhydrophobic graphene printed circuits.
Shengyi Technology, China's largest copper clad laminate producer, reported that preliminary figures show its 2017 net profit to be up 43.6% at $169 milliion.
Chinese-owned companies are forecasted to lead the world in global IC fab investments, surpassing non-Chinese companies in construction spending last year and this year. 310 fabs are expected to be equipped in 2018.
China imported $182.8 billion worth of integrated circuits in 2017, up 13.5% over the previous year according to the China Semiconductor I China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. At year-end the government announced a 3-year plan with the goal of being able to mass-produce neural-network processing chips by 2020.
Meanwhile, Tsinghua University’s Institute of Microelectronics announced the development of a new chip called Thinker designed to support neural networks. The new chip uses so little energy that just eight AAA batteries are enough to power it for a year.
Thinker can dynamically tailor its computing and memory requirements to meet the needs of the software being run. Many real-world AI applications, e.g., recognizing objects in images or understanding voice commands, require a combination of different kinds of neural networks with different numbers of layers. So far, Thinker has demonstrated its ability to do this.
IPC President of Asia, Dr. Philip Carmichael, said in a recent interview that what he sees coming next in China is having a high-reliability conference that's only focused on automotive or a high-reliability conference that's focused on aerospace and space technology.
LG Innotek, a materials and component making unit of the LG Group, said that it has developed an advanced flip-chip light emitting diode (LED) package with high lighting efficiency.
The advanced flip-chip LED package is an LED light source that is directly attached to a printed circuit board (PCB) substrate. It produces 220 lumens per watt (lm/W) stably even at temperatures between 250o and 300oC. It said the product is a result of nearly two years of research and 6,000 hours of intensive testing time.
The company states that the premium flip-chip LED package costs only half the price of products in the same category making it competitive to cheap Chinese rivals. LG has filed for 65 patents with related technology and plans to expand the flip-chip LED package technology to other lighting applications such as automotive lights and micro-LED displays.
Messe Muenchen India (MM India) and Indian Printed Circuits Association (IPCA) entered into an agreement to jointly organize IPCA Expo and co-locate the show with electronica India and productronica India, which are scheduled from September 26–28, 2018 at the Bangalore International Exhibition Centre (BIEC), Bengaluru. The initiative is intensely supported by the Electronics Industries Association of India (ELCINA). This alliance will bring together the state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies for manufacturing PCBs as well as the latest trends in PCBs from across the world.
Multek’s Global Business Services (GBS) team in Chennai, India received ISO/TS16949 Automotive quality accreditation. Multek is the only organization to have this certification across its entire GBS network worldwide. The ISO/TS16949 is a comprehensive Quality Management System that defines the foundation requirements of the Automotive industry for automotive parts manufacturers and suppliers for the design, development, production, installation and servicing of auto-related products.
Note the opinion of UP Media’s VP Mike Buetow on our Comments and Discussion page.
Westinghouse Electric, a faded industrial giant that once helped electrify the world but recently fell into bankruptcy because of bad bets building nuclear power plants, is being sold to Brookfield Business Partners, a Canadian conglomerate, in a deal valued at $4.6 billion. Brookfield is reported to be interested in expanding into servicing existing nuclear facilities and decommissioning aging plants. (Source; Wall Street Journal)
Westinghouse once had a major printed circuit facility at Friendship Airport (Baltimore) that became the first to use semi-aqueous dry film photoresist in volume production. It also marked a major first by industry notable and IPC Raymond E. Pritchard Hall of Fame member Dan Feinberg who says, "It was my first large account, one that I got from scratch."
Was this a result of Boeing's stated intention to bring many sub-contracted operations back in-house?
Rockwell Collins will be combined with UTC Aerospace Systems to create a new United Technologies business called Collins Aerospace Systems. The merger is expected to be completed by the third quarter of 2018.
January's column elicited a few unusual complaints. Several readers wrote us stating that we did not raise sufficient issues or questions to stimulate thinking or action in our industry. Let's start this month's column by stirring the pot a little with two quotations from a January 31 report in Semiconductor Engineering.
And, it "... will precipitate one of the biggest disruptions in the history of business."
The IPC APEX EXPO event in San Diego was a “sell-out” with over 490 exhibitors. Attendance was up more than 10% over the previous year. Traffic on the show floor was steady the first 2 days.
The mood was positive. Several companies, both domestic and foreign stated that they were having their best year ever! Others appeared to fear telling how good business was for fear of jinxing the current run up. These included virtually every category in the printed circuit and assembly supply chain. U.S. assembly equipment sales are up 30%. Platform's MacDermid Enthone unit saw an increase in metalization products of over 40% - primarily in greater China.
ATG was quoting August deliveries. Electra Polymers and Chemicals stated that their business continues to grow with 40% now in the semiconductor industry. Chemcut, with sales growing in all arenas from the U.S. to Asia, is quoting a 40 week delivery schedule. ASM’s backlog nearly doubled since the last quarter of 2017.
Shortages of skilled and semiskilled labor continue to grow. The IPC continued its focus on education and its outreach to students by bringing 70 STEM local high school students to the show to experience the excitement of Industry 4.0 manufacturing at the event.
The Taiwan Printed Circuit Association (TPCA) stated that worldwide PCB industry output value grew by 11.7% to $65 billion in 2017). Digitimes reported that the increase was the highest in nearly 10 years. The production value of PCBs produced by Taiwan-based makers in China and Taiwan was $21.1 billion in 2017, up 9.5% from 2016. Among the target markets, automotive and communications showed the strongest growth.
We believe that we will see sustained growth in the PCB industry for the next 4 or 5 years barring any major political change or war.
We are now working on the IPC's January 2019 Executive Forum on automotive electronics to be held at next year's event. An update was given at the Raymond E. Pritchard Hall of Fame member breakfast on February 27.
Key management areas to be explored will include reliability/liability, business challenges, supply chain transformation, and government roles. The program will have all stakeholders together for the morning sessions for a 10,000 foot view of the business followed by separate sessions in the afternoon for fabricators and EMS operations and their suppliers.
The IPC is developing two Reliability Forums for Automotive Electronics. The first will be held in Nuremberg on June 4-5. Speakers will include Volkswagen, Bosch, Continental, Infineon, and STMicroelectronics. These will technical conferences targeting reliability, supplier quality, design engineers and managers. A similar event will be held in the Fall in the U.S.
We can do better!
The 25 year old Automotive Electronics Council’s 61 member companies is continuing to work on building relationships with other “outside entities (JEDEC, IEC, USCAR, ZVEI, SAE, JEITA)”, to enable the development of relevant standards for the automotive industry. It is increasing its partnership with Chinese companies involved with automotive electronics.
It is evaluating what it must do to revise its standards in order to better qualify the upcoming disruptive technologies of autonomous driving, the Internet of Things, cybersecurity, etc. It believes that the next 5-10 years could make or break it as a relevant standards organization as others (JEDEC Automotive Forum, SAE/Mil Aero, ZVEI) “begin to infringe on its playing field.”
Rumors of the resurrection of eSurface (now in bankruptcy court) as Additive Circuits Technologies under the guidance of a recent president floated through the convention center. Apparently the new company will emerge from the Chapter 7 proceedings with "assets" being purchased by the former president who will then set up operations in Europe where funds have been raised to bring the company back to life. Hopefully, this time, management will not make grossly exaggerated invalid statements and have data to substantiate its claims.
China is drawing big money from global automakers seeking to compete with local rivals for the growing electric-vehicle segment of the world’s largest auto market. A Nissan Motor joint venture with China’s Dongfeng Motor Group announced $9.54 billion in investments over five years. This rivals the more than $12.4 billion in spending planned by Volkswagen and local partners through 2025.
The venture plans to release more than 40 models by 2022, more than 20 of them either electrics or vehicles propelled by motors that run on engine-generated electricity. It aims to increase its annual sales by around 1 million units from 2017 levels to 2.6 million by 2022, with electrified vehicles accounting for 30% of the total that year. (Source: Nikkei)
Daniele Schillaci, executive vice-president of Nissan said that the prices of battery vehicles and traditional cars will become even in just 7 years, ending the need for government subsidies that currently support the majority of electric car sales. He told the Financial Times that 2025 will be the turning point where the cost of an EV (electric vehicle) car will be the same as one with an internal combustion engine.
Nissan, through its global alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi, is the world’s largest electric car producer, selling more than 500,000 since launching the first battery powered Leaf car in 2010.
Dr. Hayao Nakahara of N.T. Information estimates 2017 PCB purchases by the automotive industry was about $6 billion of which $1 billion was purchased by Continental AG. He further states that about 70% of all rigid PCB manufactured in Thailand last year was for automotive applications. Further, Dr. Nakahara states that Taiwan and Japanese PCB makers are stepping up their production for automotive usage.
Flexium Interconnect a major Taiwanese supplier of flexible printed circuit boards (FPCBs) for Apple’s products announced its strongest quarterly earnings since being listed on the nation’s main board in 2003, despite the New Taiwan dollar’s appreciation.
The Kaohsiung-based company reported that net income in the 4th grew 34.1% to $47.2 million.
Fourth-quarter gross margin fell from 23.6% to 19.9% and its operating margin dropped from 17% to 15.3% due to a greater number of wireless charger modules produced at lower margins.
Net profits at Taiwan's Winbond Electronics, a supplier of specialty DRAM and flash memory, hit a 17-year high of $189.3 million) in 2017. EPS for the year increased 33% from 2016.
Thick film chip resistors prices will continue in short supply this year. Price increases of up to 15%, and in some cases 30%, have been announced since January by Chilisin Electronics, Walsin Technology, Ralec Electronic, Viking Tech, Yaego, and China’s Fenghua Advanced Technology Holding Co. (Source: the Taipei Times)
Is this what they mean when they say "Buy American"?
Japan’s Fujifilm Holdings is set to take over Xerox Corporation in a $6.1 billion deal, combining the U.S. Company into their existing joint venture to gain scale and cut costs amid declining demand for office printing.
March 13-15, LOPEC, exhibition and conference for printed electronics in Munich.
March 14-16, SEMICON China in Shanghai (I'll be there).
China’s state-backed China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund Co. is in talks with government agencies and corporations to raise at least $23.6 billion for its second fund vehicle with a goal of $31.5 billion to build a world class chip industry. It will again invest in a wide range of IC sectors from processor design and manufacturing to chip testing and packaging. This will benefit industry leaders from telecoms equipment makers Huawei Technologies and ZTE to major players such as the Tsinghua Group. The first fund—about $22 billion went to more than 20 listed companies, including ZTE and contract chipmaker Semiconductor Manufacturing International.