JPCA Show: More Questions than Answers

The show must go on! But what show? There were more than 60 small booths representing universities and local institutes at the JPCA filling spots formerly inhabited by PCB makers and their suppliers. Few Westerners (other than exhibitors or employees of Japanese- or Asia-owned companies) could be seen.  There were displays of 2.5D and 3D packages but no affordable solutions. Embedded components were still on many minds, especially with the knowledge that they are used in camera sensors. Embedded actives still await the implementation of “known good die” at the wafer level. Now let’s see, on boards of about an 1/8 of a square inch each, 100 million cameras would need about 12.5 million square feet of PCBs, less than the output of one of the larger HDI fabricator plants in China. One has to wonder if these will be replaced by organic CMOS sensors some day soon.

Printed electronic circuits are still seeking their niche markets. Many of the vaunted bare board equipment displayed were slight retreads of systems already shown elsewhere in the world. Ushio appeared to be one of the exceptions with its new direct imaging system with a 5 micron line and space capability.  A display of the “intestines” of smart phones showed that they have migrated away from their predecessors. Flexible circuits seemed to be limited to use for connecting the touch screen. Main boards sported 10 layers of FR-4 and ALIVH type of construction. AT&S’ booth promoted 2.5D packaging on the heels of its stated intent of producing IC substrates while Unimicron budgeted $325 million to develop thinner high-density chip-scale substrates.

In general, shop owners and equipment suppliers to the bare board industry that attended the JPCA event were rather morose in their outlooks. Increased “rationalization” is expected. The merger of Sony’s and Juki’s SMT equipment businesses sparked further speculation. Conflict with China over the small  uninhabited Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands have put a damper on Japan’s current trade and agreements as well as future possibilities for future growth in electronic (and other) manufacturing. Optimists that hoped for a 2nd half pick-up had their spirits dampened a bit with news of continued slowing growth in China. — I still have a problem understanding why economists are complaining about growth of GNP that is “only” about 7%.

The relative lack of innovation on display, the decline of the PCB industry in Japan and future opportunities were the dinner topics for the “old timers” June 6. Shifting from mass production to short run niche market demands will not fill the gap left by behemoth automated operations designed for very large runs. Moving into printed electronics must await standards development and growth in market demand.

But, there was a glimmer of hope when the rapid rise of display panels was brought up. Demand is multiplying for handhelds, large tabletop systems, automotive systems, and other displays. Shipments of touch screen* panels are forecast to increase to 2.8 billion units in 2016. Some of the technology is related or similar (but different) to board substrate fabrication: coating of ITO onto glass, processing of glass, depositing of films and conductors, imaging, applying protective coatings,

The topic of graphene was introduced by dessert, but time ran out. It should be interesting to hear what one of the IPC’s September keynoters has to say about this one at the TMRC gathering of senior managers and executives.

There surely must be some opportunities for those with vision and creative talents.

*The 11th China (Shenzhen) International Touch Screen Exhibition 2013 will be held November 25-27.


Printing Money

Per a new report from IDTechEx, printed electronics are expected to really take off … some day.

The latest data from the research firm targets an attractive 15.3% CAGR over the next decade, mostly driven by OLEDs. That will push the overall market from just north of $16 billion today to $76.8 billion in 2023, IDTechEx says.

But what I found interesting was the market for conductive inks (see the table below). This is an area that is, in my opinion, the Holy Grail for electronics. Get it right, and we will solve all sorts of design, weight, cost and manufacturability issues.PE-Forecasts-Table1

Drawing ‘Boards’

Now’s as good a time as ever to be in school, it seems.

At the University of Illinois, scientists have created a roller ball pen that can be used to draw functioning circuit boards. The silver-inked pen can write on paper, wood and other substrates, and “allows one to construct electronic devices ‘on-the-fly,’ ” said the lead researcher, Dr. Jennifer Lewis. “This is an important step toward enabling desktop manufacturing (or personal fabrication) using very low cost, ubiquitous printing tools.”

Also, because robots apparently need to be more sensitive, Technical University Munich researchers have produced small hexagonal plates composed of circuit boards that, when joined together, form a responsive robot skin. Cool stuff. Just don’t tell the movie producers who brought you “The Terminator.”