Robust demand for high-performing, low-power consumer electronics products drives inductor growth despite climbing costs.
Chip inductors are gaining steam in China as more makers increase emphasis on this type in anticipation of mounting demand from portable electronics. Buyers will find 0201, 0402, 0603, 1005, 1608, 2012, 2520, 3216, 3225 and 4532 configurations. The sector is piggybacking on widening adoption in many terminal devices, in particular mobile phones, set-top boxes, PCs and LCD TVs. These were the major applications in 2010, with shipments to these segments growing 12, 10, 16 and 8 percent, respectively, for a total of 70.9 billion chip inductors.
Power variants will, nevertheless, remain a key growth driver in China’s inductor manufacturing segment for their choked flow, filtering action and oscillator circuit advantages.
The type also leverages a high Q value and current tolerance, and low resistance and magnetic leakage. Most units are SMD packages with a flat layer suitable for surface-mount soldering. There are round, square and elliptical shells with optional magnetic shielding.
Some enterprises have developed composite forming inductors that can meet elevated current requirements in limited sizes. The production process constitutes reduced loss magnetic iron powder with core die-cast forming, avoiding ultralow buzz noise. This variety can endure up to 50 to 60A currents with a compact profile and DCR design. The type’s stuffed solid-state characteristics make it durable with less magnetic flux leakage compared with other configurations.
Meanwhile, low-loss inductors are gaining traction together with rising demand from high-frequency applications. Options supporting 900MHz to 6GHz are widely used in mobile phones, RF and power amplifier modules, radars, antennas, PCs and Bluetooth equipment.
As for low-temperature co-fired ceramic variants, companies have varying outlook for the category. Some manufacturers think LTCCs have limited use at present, which renders them a high-risk investment. Others, including Shenzhen Sunlord Electronics Co. Ltd, consider it a growing line. The supplier has readjusted strategies to communicate and cooperate closely with clients such as chip providers, design houses and ODM/OEM partners to develop customized products. Their LTCC portfolio constitutes chip filters and antennas, and RF front-end modules applicable to mobile phones, Bluetooth terminals, WLAN equipment, portable TVs and personal navigation devices.
LTCC inductors can be highly integrated but face the challenge of increasing material costs. Fewer than 10 companies pursue the category currently because of insufficient components and unstable rates.
Selections from China enterprises vary in terms of profiles, requirements, technologies, and manufacturing processes and facilities. This diversity provides suppliers a wide range of segments to specialize in. Shenzhen Codaca, for example, focuses on nonchip types, while morethan 90 percent of Shenzhen Sunlord’s output goes to chip configurations. Core Ray Electronics Co. Ltd provides both wirewound DIP and SMD units.
Adoption in the computer, communications and consumer electronics sectors continues to buoy China’s inductor line. Total sales in 2010 reached $1.1 billion, representing a two-digit growth rate for the second straight year. Products targeted at telecom and consumer electronics dominated output with an aggregate share of 80 percent.
Continued technological advancements have enabled local makers to penetrate the high-end market, which has been the territory of large players from Japan, the US and Europe. In fact, Shenzhen Sunlord is now the third-biggest manufacturer worldwide with a sales growth rate of 40 percent. It capitalized on years of cooperating with tier 1 players such as Sony and Panasonic, assimilating technologies, picking up production skills and earning the trust of these clients. Its other customers include Samsung, Hitachi and Sanyo.
A growing number of local enterprises are currently part of the supply chain of the world’s top terminal makers. They work with Dell, HP, Motorola, Microsoft, Samsung, LG, Sharp, Sanyo, Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic, Yamaha, NEC, Alps, Foxconn, Flextronics, Wintech, BYD, Haier, ZTE and TCL.
Overall, China accounts for more than one third of global output.
To take advantage of rising demand and bolster profit margins, suppliers are looking to expand capacity. Shenzhen Sunlord set up new production lines for passive components in 2010 and will start operations in another factory by the end of the year. It expects to become the world’s second-largest chip inductor manufacturer once this 45,000sqm facility goes online.
A few will broaden selections by buying out other companies or acquiring production lines from another player. The equipment includes machines for build-up, dry method tape cutting and tape screen printing, tape casting, tunnel furnace, and millers and terminations. Those used for quality assessment are 3D microscopes, network, XRF RoHS and deposit analyzers, high/low temperature, thermal shock and humidity chambers, and life testers.
Some businesses are investing in manufacturing and QC equipment from Japan and Taiwan while hiring additional manpower.
Unlike other types of passive components, inductors require a huge labor resource not only to operate machines but also to conduct inspections. Although there are instruments for testing, manual checks are performed to ensure quality. While makers have been dealing with the impact of an increase in personnel costs, this has been offset by rising orders for the line.
There are currently more than 500 manufacturers in mainland China, including foreign companies and joint-venture enterprises. More than half of production is carried out in Guangdong province. Other players can be found in Shaanxi, Jiangsu and other provinces in the east.
China suppliers offer low- to high-end models. Based on structure, there are wire- and nonwirewound types. The latter can be subdivided into multilayer and printing versions.
According to profiles, the classification covers vertical and horizontal leaded, and chip kinds. Buyers will also find fixed and variable inductors. The first comprises units with ferrite or iron core, and those without.
Variable models include ferrite and copper core versions, slip contact and continuously variable types. Some releases have a metal arm that moves across the coil, changing the position as needed and allowing an adjustment in inductance. This feature is particularly suitable for radio equipment.
The most popular are leaded and SMD power, wirewound ferrite and ceramic chip, multilayer high-frequency, and ceramic and ferrite chip kinds. Regular wirewound and traditional DIP versions also abound.
Core Ray focuses on wirewound inductors. Its SDRH series includes chip models for laptops, DC/DC converters, consumer electronics, power supplies, network equipment and PC peripherals. The company said demand for conventional DIP kinds is stronger than that for SMD because of the former’s lower price and larger current tolerance. They are used in household appliances, consumer electronics, vehicles and industrial equipment.
As one of the world’s top producers of chip inductors, Shenzhen Sunlord is optimistic about its growth potential. Adoption of wirewound varieties, which are more expensive than multilayer models, extends to LED displays, lighting, and LCD and LED backlight applications. These configurations will account for 50 percent of the company’s total inductor shipments in 2011. The maker’s newest SWPA series boasts a magnetic resin-shielded structure and full automatic process, providing lower resistance yet higher rated current than traditional shielded power units.
Chipsen Electronics Technology Co. Ltd has launched composite forming inductors. These have the advantage of a bigger current and smaller size, meeting the SMD trend and high-current application requirements. Such types support 0.1 to 3.3μH and -25 to 125 C. Chipsen also churns out all kinds of wirewound, bead and traditional DIP models with a plug-in structure.
Inductors from mainland China comply with RoHS, CE and UL. Suppliers offer ODM and OEM services. To provide more options to clients, many likewise carry related components such as high-frequency chokes, transformers, capacitors and resistors.
Local makers offer prices that are 5 to 10 percent lower than those of foreign brands. Quotes have been stable in recent months, and are forecast to remain steady.
To attract more orders, some manufacturers plan to reduce rates slightly by controlling production costs through optimized management and economies of scale. Several, however, will implement at least 10 percent upward adjustment if material outlay climbs significantly.
The inputs used vary depending on the type of inductor being made. For wirewound varieties, for instance, companies utilize copper, ferrite core and ceramic or plastic.
Spending on materials increased in 2010. Rates for silver rose 30 percent, while those for copper and iron powder climbed 20 and 10 percent, respectively. Some suppliers imported these to offset losses from an appreciating yuan. Others continue to procure requirement from the mainland and Taiwan, admitting facing additional pressure from mounting expenses and the strengthening local currency.
Makers in Taiwan offer bead, chip, wirewound, high-frequency, signal and power inductors in DIP and SMD types. These are widely applied in RF and audio components, I/O interfaces, LCDs, LED displays, and CCD and CMOS sensors in computers, communication devices and consumer electronics.
Power variants constitute the majority of shipments. These target LCD screens, CCD and CMOS sensors, DC/DC transformers, battery power apparatuses and high-current POL converters. Elevated-frequency versions for RF, Bluetooth, 3G and Wi-Fi likewise abound.
Recent releases are compact and lead-free. These boast low ripple and magnetic leakage flux, and high bending, current and power efficiency.
The smallest variant that makers have churned out is the 0603 at 0.6x0.3x0.3mm. It is only 0.3mm thick. Companies are working on mass-producing the 1x0.5x0.5mm 0201 and 1005 chip inductors for the communications industry, which requires low-profile components.
More suppliers are moving toward offering inductor modules instead of solo units to yield better profits as prices decrease. They have also entered the low-temperature co-fired ceramic sector to stay abreast of the integration trend and the sales opportunities that it represents. Car applications are seen as a promising segment in coming years.
Makers have factories in Taiwan and mainland China. To complement capability to reduce product size for miniature electronics, companies are cutting delivery time to enhance service. Many are switching to automation to address worker shortage. A number of them, particularly the ones catering to leading international brands that need to reduce carbon footprint, are implementing “green” processes.
The major inductor manufacturers are Walsin, Yageo, Advanced Ceramic X, Mag.Layers Scientific-Technics Co. Ltd, Chilisin, ABC Taiwan Electronics Corp., Sporton, King Core and Cyntec. Walsin and Yageo are two of the largest players offering total solutions that include capacitors and resistors.
Makers such as Mag.Layers can produce wirewound inductors at 3x3x1mm for Bluetooth headsets. The supplier is working on small power types with the 2x2x1mm footprint for compact personal electronics.
Erocore Enterprise Co. Ltd
Shenzhen Sunlord Electronics Co. Ltd
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