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One of the largest exhibitions for the printed circuit industry was held June 6–8 at Tokyo Big Sight in Japan. The three-day show is held in Tokyo every June and attracts a worldwide audience. This year, related events at the show included JIEP 2018, JISSO PROTEC 2018, Total Organic Expo 2018, WIRE Japan Show 2018 and Smart Sensing 2018.
More than 500 companies and organizations reserved booths. This year’s event was about 10% larger than last year’s, making it nearly impossible to visit and review the entire exhibition in three days. I decided to divide and conquer by focusing on flexible circuits and related technologies.
There were more flexible circuit manufacturers than rigid circuit board manufacturers; most of them were small- to mid-sized companies. A few that traveled from other countries and introduced some unique technologies. Oki Electric Cable had a very interesting look to their display booth. It was like a department store for specialty flex circuits. They displayed stretchable (elastic) circuits, transparent circuits, extremely long circuits (up to 100 meters), high heat-resistant circuits, and more. Yamashita Materials displayed many samples of low-loss flexible circuits for high-frequency telecommunications with LCP (liquid crystal polymer) films. A representative from Yamashita complained that a material supply shortage is causing disruptions in production.
Material suppliers showcased many new products. Toray DuPont introduced a polyimide based etchable coverlay film. This new film will reduce costs by reducing the labor-consuming coverlay process employed now for flex circuit manufacturing. Nippon Polytech, a printing ink manufacturer, introduced a new coverlay ink with high mechanical performances. Kaneka, another major polyimide film supplier, featured a new polyimide-based bonding sheet to build up multilayer flex circuits.
JCU, a specialty chemical supplier, featured a new chemical plating process to produce adhesiveless flexible laminates as an alternative process for sputtering. The basic idea was created more than 30 years ago, but the process did not have enough bond strength, and it was never commercialized. The new process that uses the special surface treatments has very reliable bond strength at a low cost. The process is available not only for polyimide films, but also the other plastic films such as COP, PEN and PEEK.
Several specialty chemical suppliers introduced a new semi-additive process to generate ultrafine traces on flexible substrates. Okuno Chemical featured microscopic photos of one-micron line/space traces. Competition to produce fine line circuits is heating up again, but it will take few more years for these technologies to be practical for flexible circuit manufacturers.
YAMAHA Fine Tech displayed a new four-contact resistance tester for high-density flexible circuits with microvia holes. A sales representative from Yamaha told me some of their larger customers (Apple is one) requested that circuit manufacturers begin testing 100% for conductor resistance instead of open/short tests.
UMCE, the largest EMS manufacturer in Japan, is undergoing changes in their automobile business. Consumers looking to purchase new vehicles are focusing on higher reliability at lower prices.
I did not come across anything surprising during the exhibition; however, there were a lot of small technological advances for flexible circuits. Mostly, the new technologies were developed by Japanese companies, but these small advancements will not have any significant impact over the next couple of years.
Things are chugging along for flex circuit manufacturers, and I believe the small- and mid-sized flex circuit manufacturers will remain the technological leaders in the global market.
1. Taiyo Yuden (Major component supplier in Japan) 5/17
Has commercialized the world thinnest ceramic capacitor, PMK063LBJ104MN Series. Chip size: 0.6 x 0.3 x 0.09 mm
2. Alps (Major module manufacturer in Japan) 5/24
Has acquired Greina Technologies Inc. in Salt Lake City to strengthen the technologies of sensor business.
3. RIKEN (Major R&D organization in Japan) 6/5
Has developed a new wearable, thin, flexible photovoltaic cell based on transparent polyimide varnish supplied by Mitsui Chemical.
4. Renesas (Major semiconductor manufacturer in Japan) 6/1
Has decided to close the manufacturing plant in Ube-shi, Yamaguchi prefecture. Kochi Plant was already closed in May 2018.
5. Nippon Kayaku (Specialty chemical supplier in Japan) 6/5
Has developed a new transparent liquid crystal display on shiny film substrate.
6. Panasonic (Major electronics company in Japan) 6/6
Has commercialized a new low-loss laminate series, R-5515, for the radar’s circuit boards at 80 GHz bands. The loss is 20% lower compared PTFE substrates.
7. Obayashi Co. (Major construction company in Japan) 6/7
Has decided to build the second 50 MW class biomass power generation plant in Ibaraki Prefecture. It consumes timber base fuels.
8. Flexceed (Major tape circuit manufacturer in Japan) 6/7
Has co-developed a next generation semiconductor package technology POL (Power Overlay) for power devises with Taiyo Yuden.
9. Nippon Densan (Major module manufacturer in Japan) 6/8
Has developed a new quick charging system for EV. It enables 15 minutes charging for 500 km driving.
10. Murata (Major component supplier in Japan) 6/8
Will invest 29 billion yen to build a new manufacturing plant (floor size 54,000 square meters) of MLCC to cover the growing demands.
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