The Post-Silicon Era

Masamitsu “Matt” Aoki has updated his detailed charts of “Build-Up Types of Printed Wiring Boards and Their Applications in Japan” (Version 14.1) and “Thin Types of Printed Wiring Boards and Their Applications in Japan” (Version 24.1). They are both now current through June 2014. Write to us at gene@weiner-intl.com if you wish a copy.

 Who will share in IBM’s vision of the future? During the next 5 years IBM will invest $3 billion in R&D for “the post-silicon era.” Which equipment and material suppliers will partner with it? Who else has such a forward looking budget? According to CIO Bernie Meyerson, the investments include programs in areas such as III-V materials expected to be used around the 5nm node, which some say could be the last generation of silicon-based chip technology. They also include a broad set of programs ranging from 3D chip packaging to computer architectures such as quantum and neural processing and post-silicon chip materials such as carbon nanotubes and graphene. “This is not about semiconductors per se but a broad statement about reinventing computing,” he said. Today’s silicon CMOS processes will hit atomic limits (a brick wall) somewhere around the 5nm node in about 2020. Many of the IBM programs are about finding new techniques that will drive hardware performance beyond that point. “The real issue is silicon goes quantum mechanical at these dimensions. It no longer works. At this time, there is no consensus on what’s next.” However, “we still have a 5-10 year horizon” to find solutions.

 Someone forgot to tell them…

…about the economic recovery. Microsoft will chop 18,000 jobs in the next year as it lays off 14% of its workforce. 2/3 of the cut will come from the phone and tablet work force in order to eliminate the post Nokia acquisition bulge. I guess CEO Satya Nadella won’t be running for US president in the near future.0

It was not too long ago when “everyone” just wanted a very small cellphone. Smartphones with screens larger than 5.5″ seem to be cutting into the tablet market, especially those with 7 to 7.9″screens which accounted for 58% of the market in 2013. Tablet shipments the first quarter of 2014 declined about 5% from the same period last year. This is the first time such a drop has been noted in tablet sales since their introduction.

Good move, Ray! Have you noticed the shortage of RF substrates? Isola announced increased production of and a 24-hr response service to provide designers with a turnkey solution for all the calculations, testing, characterization and material recommendations to fill the gap with its “low loss materials.” Target applications include 23GHz, and 76-79Hz frequencies used in advanced driver frequencies.

It is not too early …

… to start planning your participation and attendance at the early key Fall events. Have you wondered if the lost board business has all gone overseas or if something else is occurring? Have advances in packaging and system technology supplanted portions? Are segments morphing into newer technologies? Do you know what these opportunities (threats to your conventional business) are?

You will have an opportunity to view, discuss, and evaluate, these at the rebranded 2nd annual Electronic Systems Technologies Conference and Exhibition to be held at the IPC TechSummit in Raleigh, North Carolina October 28-30. Some of the topics presented and discussed at the original held in Las Vegas have already begun to move into the mainstream. Chaired once again by Intel’s Dr. Senol Pekin, this year’s event has already attracted key interconnect industry figures who will discuss trends, what matters to them, and new technologies.

It is also worth noting that Dr. Michael Osterman, director of CALCE at the University of Maryland will chair the 8th Annual Tin Whiskers Conference during TechSummit.

It’s a cut-and-paste world. One of my Korean business associates, a retired research engineer, says that Korea is a “Copy and Paste Technology” country. Korean companies buy the minimum order for state of the art equipment from Japanese companies and conduct a detailed tear down analysis. From this reverse “R&D,” they build their own equipment with minor modifications. There is no innovative idea in the new machines — the only difference is a much lower cost. The executive teams from Samsung Electronics recognize the lack of innovation from their engineering staff, and are encourage its R&D departments to generate new ideas. Unfortunately, nothing new has come from them over the last several years. One R&D director told me that he has more than 50 engineers with PhDs from universities in Japan and the US, but none of them can come up with any creative ideas. From the engineers view, one R&D manager grumbled that his department forwards many proposals to the executive managing teams, but none of them are ever accepted. The executive teams ask for accurate forecasts from potential products or ideas, but the R&D teams cannot accurately forecast the potential for a product that is not in the market. — Dominique N.

 

Summer Doldrums

Is it cyclicality, or … ?

Many reports, anecdotal and evidentiary, point to a general slowing in PCB production and sales over the past quarter.

Yet there are some reasons for optimism:

I am of the mindset that what we are seeing is a return to cyclicality after roughly two years of recession followed by a year-plus of bottled-up demand. Clearly there’s some market turbulence ahead, especially when we take the macro vectors into account. Some of the end-markets need a boost: Now that Windows 7 has taken over, PCs are stagnant, with new tablet demand offset by rather humdrum desktop/laptop interest coupled with some migration to smartphones. Nokia and RIM are skidding, and Apple can’t make up for everyone’s lack of flair. Autos are a big-ticket item and many consumers today need stronger feelings of job security before taking on new debt.

A forecast slowdown in US defense spending (the nation’s fiscal year starts in October) could be partially offset by new deliveries of jumbo passenger jets (Boeing last month announced a record single order and will ship its first Dreamliner next month).

The tea leaves are murky. We hope for the best.

Nokia Goes Out

Good news for Top Tier contract assemblers came today in the form of Nokia’s announcement it would begin outsourcing again, a year after pulling everything in house.

Just another sign that the market is recovering.

Nokia announced last July it would bring all its electronics assembly production in house as falling demand led to excess capacities at its factories.

Foxconn, BYD, Jabil and Elcoteq were Nokia’s primary EMS suppliers in 2008, when it outsourced a reported 17% of its manufacturing.

Elcoteq-Nokia Speculation Off Hook

Here’s something that will never happen: Elcoteq buying Nokia’s handset manufacturing operations.

Regardless of whether Nokia would sell its production facilities — and it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if it did — Elcoteq won’t be the buyer. The EMS firm has neither the capital nor the inclination. Not only has Nokia pulled in most of its assembly from Elcoteq, but the latter made clear to this reporter earlier this month that it plans to focus on building its industrial electronics business. Moreover, the EMS firm has been scrounging up investments for much-needed operations funding. With the price tag for Nokia’s handset plants (and its ongoing assembly business, no doubt) likely in the hundreds of millions, if not $1 billion or more, Elcoteq simply lacks the funds — and capacity to raise them — to pull this off.

EMS, On the Move

InForum analyst Eric Miscoll today asks, Is the migration of electronics manufacturing to Asia slowing?

An excellent question.

And Eric points out some compelling data for why manufacturers might be reconsidering their choice of geography, including substantial hikes over the past 30-plus months in the average, non-weighted cost of fully burdened labor in China: over 50% for board assemblies and over 100% for box-build. Eric also correctly points out that OEMs have taken a certain amount of builds back in-house. (Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia are two widely noted examples.)

But it’s his next comment – almost a throwaway line – that caught my attention: “[T]he pursuit of the next low-cost region continues, with countries like India, Vietnam, Ukraine, Tunisia, and Macedonia garnering the attention of the industry.”

That’s frightful. The Ukraine has a host of roadblocks, not the least of which its much-publicized battles with Russia and general political instability. Vietnam has been oversold; after nearly a decade of temptation, it has simply failed to take hold as an EMS hub. And while the CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY EMS Directory finds that two major EMS companies – Zollner, the world’s 12th largest EMS company (and largest privately held one), and LaCroix have factories in Tunisia – the nation’s population is just 10.3 million, not enough to accommodate a wave of production. Macedonia is even smaller: 2.1 million. Moreover, it is surrounded by mountains that make it difficult to move product to other locales.

Thailand, on the other hand, doesn’t garner much ink, but in my opinion stands as a far more attractive area, with a population of 63 million, relative political stability, the experience of major EMS companies (Cal-Comp and Fabrinet, among others), a cadre of local English speakers, and the attraction of Bangkok.

And, it says here, the food’s darn good too. For some reason, that’s always ignored.


Word Play

Here’ s a little trivia for your Thursday morning. Do you know what Nintendo means? Or how Nokia got its name?

Of course you do. (Not.)

As the Wall Street Journal today explains, “Nintendo” in English translates as “leave luck to heaven,” while Nokia is named for the nearby Nokianvirta River, which in turn is an ancient Finnish word for sable.

It’s part of a fun and anecdotal look at how those and some 14 other electronics companies — including Motorola, Coleco, Magnavox, Samsung and a host of others — came to be known as they are today.

I won’t rob the Journal of its work by listing them all here. Click on the link, though: it’s worth the two minutes.