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Flexible printed circuit (FPC) products make their way into consumer electronics like smartphones and tablet PC, in the form of modules for display, touch control, fingerprint recognition, etc. The volatility of the consumer electronics market in recent years leads to low growth in the FPC market. In 2018, the global FPC market was worth $11.4 billion, an annualized increase of 3.1%.
FPC finds broad application in consumer goods from smartphones to tablet PCs. In 2018, smartphone, tablet PC and ordinary computers accounted for around 39.8%, 15.8% and 9.1% of FPC market, separately, while communications and automotive electronics took a combined 14.6% or so. New energy vehicles will be a new hotspot on the FPC industry chain, and the demand from emerging markets like automotive electronics will be conducive to the growth of the FPC industry. It is predicted that automobile will command 17.8% of FPC market in 2025.
Global FPC industry features production transfer from the rich world with rising costs to countries or regions where production technology is mature enough and cost remains low, especially to Mainland China. FPC giants rush to invest and build factories in China. That's why China still leads the world in FPC output value in spite of the small scale of its FPC vendors.
By and large, Nippon Mektron as the largest flexible board vendor in the world performed poorly in 2016 due to the downturn in the smartphone market before vigorously developing technologies and flexible substrates for manufacturing automotive FPC in 2017. With 70%-80% of its FPCs produced for smartphone use and only 10% for automobiles and digital cameras, Fujikura Electronics has increased its R&D budget over the years for the development of new FPC products for smartphones, automobiles and communication equipment.
Inter Flex that supplies the most FPCs for iPhone, produced flexible copper-clad laminates (FCCL) using the technology of Cu sputtering deposition on PI films, and FPCs with I-Soft substrates manufactured by semi-additive process (SAP) over the past few years. Inter Flex's substrates and process enable not only a 15m fine pitch between wires but integrated production of FPC and chip on film (COF).