Laminate Consolidations Continue to Stack Up

AGC continued its consolidation of the laminates market this week, reeling in Taconic for an undisclosed amount. The Japanese company also acquired Nelco last winter, giving it two of the remaining US-based PCB materials manufacturers.

That leaves Isola and Rogers as the last two major players of a once formidable domestic laminate industry to call the US home. And neither company produces the majority of its product in onshore. (Sound familiar?)

With Rogers’ capacity consumed by the 5G rollout, some OEMs and fabricators have been turning more to Taconic as a source for high-rel end-products that required a Made in USA stamp.

The largest vendors — KingBoard, Shengyi, Nanya, ITEQ, and so on — are all based in Southeast Asia. The volume and variety of materials that can be sourced in the US continues to erode, and its hard to see that reversing course. To wit, in its announcement, AGC allowed that “Over time, materials made in Taconic’s Petersburgh, NY, location will be moved to another facility.”

Isola makes FR-4 in Ridgeway, SC, and AGC Nelco makes the same in Tempe, AZ. They join Rogers, Taconic and Arlon as manufacturers of electronics materials in the US.

Will trade tensions peaking, and 5G creating supply issues around the globe, is that enough?

Laminate Libraries?

I was chatting today with Manny Marcano, the relentless force behind EMA Design Automation. He mentioned the company’s webinar tomorrow on library creation and management has several hundred designers registered.

“It is amazing to me that library creation and management is still a big challenge for CAD guys,” he noted. Given the advancements in software, he should be right, but the new parts keep coming even faster.

It did get me thinking, however: when will we see CAD tools begin to incorporate laminate data in the way they currently have the parts libraries? There are so many flavors of laminate these days, it’s nearly impossible to keep up. Yet the material choice plays a huge role in the manufacturability and performance of the finished product.


Isola’s IPO

Isola is going public.

No big surprise there, except for 1) it is about six years later than I would have first thought and 2) November 2011 is not exactly the peak of the IPO craze.

Although I have known Ray Sharpe, Isola’s CEO, since his days at Alpha Metals (almost two decades ago), I haven’t yet spoken to him about the decision. That said, I would guess that Isola feels the next 12 months could be rocky. The company has blown the doors off so far in 2011, and perhaps they think they should strike while that iron is hot.

Moreover, if 2012 sinks, then they might need the cash from the IPO to help cover the downturn. I can’t see TPG wanting to put more of its own capital in.

Isola was the largest laminate maker to be privately held. This is a big story.

New Rigid Design Spec Shows Flexibility

Lots of changes in the first revision of the industry rigid board design spec since it was introduced as a separate module in 1998.

IPC-2222A, Sectional Design Standard for Rigid Organic Printed Boards, is characterized by the addition of several tables intended to simplify design decisions, particularly when it comes to materials. New tables offer at-a-glance differences in dimensional stability, CTE, and material consistency, by laminate type.

PCB thickness tolerances, key in assessing potential bow and twist, have been clarified, as the measurement method has been standardized to include just laminate to laminate, with no coatings or platings included.

Another table aids the understanding of relative costs, but keep in mind that laminate pricing is subject to change. 

Are Soy PCBs Good for Your Health?

File under surreal.

A pair of University of Delaware researchers have developed a way to fabricate a low-Dk substrate made from soy.

Yes, soy.

Mingjiang Zhan and Richard P. Wool, who are part of the chemical engineering department of the University of Delaware, started with biobased resin acrylated epoxidized soybean oil (AESO), which they crosslinked with divinylbenzene (DVB) or chemically modified by phthalic anhydride. The DVB-crosslinked resins had a 14° to 24°C increase in their glass-transition temperatures (Tg), which was dependent on the crosslink densities. Tg increased linearly as the crosslink density increased. Phthalated acrylated epoxidized soybean oil (PAESO) had an 18 to 30% improvement in the modulus. The dielectric constants and loss tangents of both DVB-crosslinked AESO and PAESO were lower than conventional dielectrics used for printed circuit boards (PCBs).

The results, the researchers say, suggest that the new biobased resins with lower carbon dioxide footprint are potential replacements for commercial petroleum-based dielectric materials for PCBs.

Their work will be published next month in the Journal of Applied Polymer Chemistry. (It was published online in July.)

By the way, this isn’t Wool’s only attempt to trick nature. As part of another project, he is trying to carbonized chicken feathers so they can store hydrogen for fuel-cell vehicles.