The portability trend permeating the global A/V equipment, computer and telecom industries is shaping China's electronic components sector. Makers there are developing products that can support multiple functions and features, and yet fit into smaller and lightweight form factors to match today's handheld devices.
In the passive components sector, the trend is evident in the rising supply of chip-based models. Such units now account for 70 percent of China's capacitors sales, and makers expect this to hit 90 percent in the next few years. They also dominate the resistors market with about 85 percent share of total output.
Many project chip variants will continue to drive production, spurred by demand from mobile communication devices, computers and peripherals, and digital consumer and automotive electronics. Among inductor manufacturers, such solutions represent only 30 to 40 percent of overall yield but the allocation will likely climb as more players switch to this type.
The miniaturization trend is also penetrating the LED segment, as reflected by the rising popularity of SMD variants. While the latter takes up only 20 percent of mainland China's total LED output, steady expansion will boost this ratio in coming years.
With the ubiquity of portable electronics, suppliers agree component miniaturization is the way forward. Anticipating technical and cost challenges, a growing number are boosting investment in R&D, and manufacturing techniques and equipment.
For many, particularly HDI PCB vendors, the biggest concern is the exorbitant capital requirement. Laser drilling machines are mostly from Mitsubishi and Panasonic of Japan, and cost about $1 million each. A company targeting an annual capacity of 100,000sqm needs at least five sets, the total outlay for which remains prohibitive for small and midsize enterprises. Those able to secure the equipment are finding it difficult to source technically skilled manpower for operation and repair. Production delays and missed deliveries resulting from equipment malfunction translate to huge losses for suppliers.
In the rigid-flex PCB sector, mainland manufacturers are forced to procure apparatus from Germany, Taiwan and Japan. Being a relatively new line, the domestic machinery industry for this segment has yet to mature, and most available equipment is for single- and double-sided flexible variants. Exacerbating the situation is the dearth in local materials. The majority therefore uses PI from Taiwan and Japan, which raises costs further.
Many enterprises have to make adjustments in their processes and techniques to reduce the size or form factor without compromising performance. Suppliers of rigid-flex PCBs, for example, need to study various insulation and coil materials as they yield different thermal expansion coefficients. Some are experimenting with liquid crystal polymer to lower deformation when temperature and moisture levels fluctuate. To increase precision in drawing transfer during manufacture, others employ tolerance compensation and parameter modifications.
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