EPTE Newsletter: The Digital Camera Industry is Disappearing

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Digital camera manufacturers continue to decrease their manufacturing space due to the steady decline in camera sales. Olympus, one of the major camera manufacturers in Japan, closed their compact camera manufacturing plant in China. Olympus plans to focus on more profitable segments in their portfolio. They currently have a comprehensive offering of endoscopes, devices and accessories to meet every GI procedural need.

Casio, one of the major consumer electronics companies in Japan, quit the compact digital camera market after 20 years of operation. Sales continue to drop as smartphone cameras keep evolving. Nikon, once the leading camera manufacturer in the world, closed its factory in China and will focus on high-end cameras.

Japanese manufacturers shipped about 13.3 million units of compact cameras during 2017. They shipped over 100 million units in 2007 at their peak. Over the last decade, the market has shrunk to an eighth of itself since 2007.

The idea of photography was created in the mid-19th century. The camera continued to make technological advances for nearly one-and-half centuries. Japanese manufacturers shipped over 20 million units of cameras per year at the end of 1980s (anything that is not a digital camera is simply called a camera). Microelectronics technologies helped make advances to the camera using flexible circuits, but the camera still required the use of film (prior to the digital camera). The photos imaged on films had to be developed and printed on paper using photochemical processes.

The digital camera was born during the 1990s. The introduction of semiconductor optical imaging devices such as CCD and CMOS eliminated photo films and mechanical shutters. Consumers no longer had to wait a few days to develop and print their snapshots at photo shops. Consumers could view their images immediately.

Digital camera size became much smaller and less expensive and grew in popularity in no time. The market grew very quickly and enjoyed year-over-year profitability gains until 2007, when cell phones added their own digital camera. The smartphone camera did not have an immediate impact on the digital camera market.   

A significant change in cellphones posed a threat with the introduction of Apple’s iPhone in 2008. The camera functions of the iPhone were much better than compact cameras, and consumers did not need both a cellular phone and a digital camera. You had the ability to edit a photo immediately and send to friends quickly. Sales for compact digital cameras declined from this point and never recovered.

I started in the flex circuit business at the end of 1970s. In that era, more than one-third of sales of flex circuits came from the traditional film cameras. The customer base for flex circuits has shifted over the years as technology has advanced. There were more applications created by office alliances such as printers and facsimiles during the 1980s and 1990s. Cellular phones that used small cameras generated more demand for flexible circuits. After 2008, the market for compact digital cameras has all but disappeared; however, the flexible circuit industry continues to expand its customer base with smartphones that use tiny camera modules. I believe the next amazing technology that changes the world will have a dependence on flexible circuits.

Headlines of the week

1. Tokyo Electron (Major semiconductor equipment manufacturer) 5/1

Will invest 26 billion yens to build two new plant in Yamanashi and Iwate to catch up the growing demands.

2. Screen Holdings (Major equipment manufacturer in Japan) 5/8

Will build a new manufacturing plant in Hikone, Shiga Prefecture to expand the manufacturing capacity of the equipment of displays and relating materials.

3. Furukawa Electric (Major cable manufacturer in Japan) 5/10

Has built a new manufacturing plant of optical fiber cables in Morocco. It will cover the growing demand in EU and African market.

4. NSG (Major glass product manufacturer in Japan) 5/11

Will invest 38 billion yen to expand the production capacity of TCO (transparent conductive oxide) glass in the U.S. for the growing demands of solar panels.

5. Osaka City University (Japan) 5/10

Has developed a new type of fuel cell based on biochemical process of waterweed.

It generates electricity from water and carbon dioxide by photosynthesis.

6. Taiyo Yuden (Major component supplier in Japan) 5/11

Has decided to invest over 150 billion yen over the next three years. Strong demand for capacitors will expand the business.

7. Murata (Major component manufacturer in Japan) 5/14

Has released a WiFi smart speaker solution. It reduces the current consumption during the waiting to one-tenth.

8. Fuji Electric (Major electric equipment manufacturer in Japan. 5/15

Has developed new SOFC (solid oxidized fuel cell) with a high efficiency (55%) for business. Fuji will commercialize it by the end of the year.

9. Fujitsu (Major electronics company in Japan) 5/16

Has unveiled the smart glass solution “OTON GLASS” for blind people. A small camera recognizes characters and speaks.

10. NIMS (Public R&D organization in Japan) 5/16

Has developed a new amorphous silicon membrane with porous structure as the anode of all solid lithium ion batteries. It makes the capacity of the batteries more than ten times larger.

11. YRI (Market research company in Japan) 5/17

Forecasted market size of foldable smartphones at 300k units in 2019 and 900k units in 2020. Samsung Electronics will commercialize in 2018.


Please contact haverhill@dknreseach.com for further information and news.



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