#1830 / Exotic Materials for Flexible Circuits

 The previous edition of DKN’s newsletter focused on the growth for the printed circuit board industry in Taiwan. I was optimistic that sales will continue to be robust as the electronics market gears up for the holidays, and shipments were on track to show double digit growth compared with the same month last year. I expected volume to grow by more than 15% for the whole year. However, the electronics market in Taiwan experienced a significant downturn during third quarter, so I have to step back from my optimistic outlook.
Shipments for the printed circuit board industry during the second quarter and the beginning of the third quarter came in at double digit growth, and revenue for August increased by more than 13% compared to the same month last year. Manufacturers throughout the mobile device supply chain predicted sales would increase even more during fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, September numbers cannot support this prediction; revenue growth of the printed circuit industry during September unexpectedly dropped to 4.3%. The rigid circuit board segment had a record month for shipments during August; however shipments during September declined by 3.3% compared with the previous month. This was the first month to post a decline since the Chinese New Year vacation. Flexible circuit manufacturers announced an increase in revenue; however, growth rates are slowing.
There are significant differences among printed circuit manufacturers relative to volume. Rigid board manufacturers Unimicron and Nanya PCB reported double digit growth during September, while Compeq, Chin-Poon and Flexium posted negative growth. The largest flex circuit manufacturer, ZD Technology, reported that growth was flat for September.
Apple is the largest business contributor for the electronics and circuit board industry in Taiwan. The manufacturers in the supply chain are anxious about sales for the new iPhone.
The retail price for the new iPhone X is much higher than market analysts expected. Manufacturers are leaning towards a pessimistic opinion for iPhone sales during Christmas due to the high retail price, and are considering decreasing their inventories.
It may be too early to predict buying behaviors of the consumer. Since the economy is firing on all cylinders and the unemployment rate is at record lows, I think sales will be robust for the electronics industry.

Wearable Technology is common in the electronics industry and Wearable Electronics are expected to be a profitable category for the next generation electronics. There are over 30,000 results on an Amazon search for Wearable Technology. Flexible circuits are the major packaging materials for wearable devices including medical and healthcare devices.
Research and Developing teams are considering “exotic materials” for flexible electronics. What are exotic materials? Currently, polyimide film is the major dielectric material and copper foil is the major conductor material for flexible circuits due to the heat resistance when soldering.
Du Pont’s Kapton film evolved into the de facto standard for the base film and coverlay film. New suppliers had to improve dimensional stabilities, higher flexing endurance, smaller gas & moisture permeability, stretch-ability and more to develop alternative substrate materials to enter the major flex circuit market.
R&D had to think outside of the box when developing the basic properties for substrate materials earmarked for Wearable Technology. Things that needed to be addressed included moisture absorption, gas permeability, transparent, elasticity and more. There are fundamental conflicts between these requirements; one material did not meet all of these requirements.
Fortunately, there were many traditional materials available to use as the exotic materials. Below is a small example:

Gas permeability: paper, cloth, gaze
Elasticity: cloth, urethane rubber, silicone rubber
Moisture absorption: paper, cloths
Transparency: Transparent polyimide, PEEK, fluoropolymer

Those exotic materials are not readily available without metallization as the flexible substrate for flexible circuits; appropriate metallization processes are required. DKN Research has introduced several sets of sputtering process, chemical treatment process, printing process for conductive inks, electroless plating and electrical plating process. Appropriate combinations of the processes can build preferred thickness of metallic layers on these thin exotic materials. Now, traditional flexible circuit manufacturers can build wearable devices to interact with the human body (worn on the body as an implant or accessory). DKN Research is available to help with the challenges with these new exotic materials.

Dominique K. Numakura, dnumakura@dknresearch.com
DKN Research, www.dknresearch.com

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Headlines of the week
(Please contact haverhill@dknreseach.com for further information and news.)

  1. Maxell (Major electronics material supplier in Japan) 11/12
    Has developed a new disposable flexible primary battery without toxic materials for the portable medical and healthcare devices.
  2. Murata (Major device supplier in Japan) 11/13
    Has decided to invest 14 billion yens for the new manufacturing plant of MCLL in China to cover the growing demands.
  3. Alps Electric (Major device manufacturer in Japan) 11/13
    Has completed the construction of the second manufacturing building in Osaki Plant with 1MW solar power generator module.
  4. Nippon Seiki (Major auto device manufacturer in Japan) 11/13
    Has developed a new reliable 3D sensor produced by MEMS process for high frequency up to 8kHz vibration.
  5. Hamamatsu Photonics (Major photo device supplier in Japan) 11/16
    Has developed a new 4-channel pulse laser diode for the LiDAR modules of the auto car drive systems.
  6. Panasonic (Major electronics company in Japan) 11/19
    Has unveiled the new platform of the 48V base power train system “ePowertrain” for compact size electric vehicles.
  7. Mitsubishi Electric (Major electric & electronics company in Japan) 11/19
    Has made a proto type model of wide band image sensor. It covers from visible ray to 1000 micrometer (tera Hz) band.
  8. Kyocera (Major electronic device supplier in Japan) 11/19
    Has developed a revolutionary small size antenna device “Amcenna” for 2.4 GHz band. It will be valuable for IoT devices and healthcare devices.
  9. NEC (Major electronics company in Japan) 11/20
    Has unveiled a new two dimensional flexible pressure sensor sheet produced by thick film printing process.
  10. Screen (Major manufacturing equipment supplier in Japan) 11/20
    Has built a new plant building CS-2 in Hikone, Shiga Prefecture for the next generation flat panel displays, especially for flexible displays.
  11. Yano Market Research (Market research company in Japan) 11/21
    Has forecasted market size of lithium ion batteries for automobile use 129.2GWh by 2020.

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