2020 EIPC Winter Conference, Day 1


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In mid-February, there were two major attractions in the Blijdorp area of Rotterdam, the main port city in the Dutch province of South Holland—the Rotterdam Zoo and the EIPC Winter Conference. The Rotterdam Zoo is open every day of the year, but the premier event of the season was the 2020 EIPC Winter Conference on February 13–14, which attracted around 90 delegates from a dozen European countries—as well as a few from North America—to an outstanding learning and networking experience for members of the PCB community. The programme of more than 20 presentations and panel discussions, together with a table-top and poster exhibition, covered the theme “The Needs for Next-Generation Electronic Devices and Changes in Fabrication Solutions for PCBs, PCBAs, Materials, and Technologies.”

EIPC president Alun Morgan welcomed all to the conference and gratefully acknowledged the support of the sponsors. He invited members to adopt the revised statutes of the association, and these were received very positively. Morgan also took the opportunity to remind everyone that the ECWC15 World Convention would be held at the end of November 2020 in Hong Kong and Shenzhen and that there was scope for additional papers to be submitted.

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“It’s 2020. What shall I talk about?” he continued. He reviewed predictions that had been made 10 years previously and some of the scientific discoveries and medical advances made during the last decade. It had been said that there would be no need for futurists to predict the future because progress in AI would make them redundant.

Time-honoured as the opening presentation was Walt Custer’s eagerly-awaited Business Outlook on the global electronics industry, with emphasis on Europe. Unfortunately, Walt was unable to travel to the conference, but he sent his best regards and delegated the delivery to Alun Morgan, who did a fine job as his deputy.

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Although this edition of Custer’s business outlook had been compiled before coronavirus had distorted the 2020 situation, the fact remained that global manufacturing growth had reached bottom based on data from purchasing managers’ indices (PMIs). Tariffs, trade disputes, and the U.K.’s withdrawal from the European Union were key issues, and geopolitical concerns remained very significant. However, Custer’s observation that most sectors of the world electronic supply chain were now expanding slowly had to be qualified in the context of quarantine restrictions in China.

Custer considered the PMIs to be “useful but sobering leading indicators,” and figures for Europe had shown a continuing contraction toward the end of 2019—the only notable area of growth being in medical electronics. Production in the European automotive industry was down because of uncertainty about the future of diesel power, and mil-aero revenues were flat, as were volume consumer-electronics markets. However, there were substantial growth forecasts for 5G handsets and infrastructure.

World PCB production had been almost static for the last three years. Based on 2018 figures, the $74.5 billion total split by geographical area was China 54% and Taiwan and South Korea 10% each. Europe only represented 3.1% against North America’s 4.2%. The number of PCB manufacturers in Europe had declined to 202, with the majority of the revenue being generated in the German-speaking countries. Michael Gasch had predicted that Europe would close 2019 with a loss of 10% against 2018. “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”

Hans_Friedrichkeit.jpgHans Friedrichkeit believed that there was a glimmer of hope in the German industry because the downturn in incoming orders had slowed, and the automotive industry was likely to stabilise. “It looks as if the bottom of the economic valley of tears has been passed.”

Custer’s opinion was that the world market had reached the bottom and was beginning to improve, although the first quarter of 2020 could be significantly influenced by the consequences of coronavirus. Trade disputes had impacted long-standing regional alliances and U.S.-driven impulsive market actions remained as problems. He believed that electronic assembly might shift globally to countries less affected by tariffs and that many good new electronic products were on the horizon. In particular, 5G offered exciting opportunities for the next decade.

Tarja_Rapala200.jpgThe following presentation was Dr. Hayao Nakahara’s outlook on PCBs in automotive electronics. Dr. Nakahara apologised that he was unable to attend in person and asked EIPC Technical Director Tarja Rapala-Virtanen to deliver the presentation on his behalf.

There was a continuing steady 5–6% annual increase in PCB usage as a consequence of the increasing functionality of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). The growth in electric-motor-driven cars was slower than had been predicted, and despite the hype about autonomous vehicles, it was unlikely that completely driverless cars (Level 5) would be generally available before 2030. “How can Level-5 cars make decisions in the streets of Saigon, Hanoi, and Jakarta where millions of motorbikes cut in front of you all the time?”

Sales of electric vehicles were still constrained by the price and life expectancy of lithium batteries. The typical cost in 2018 was $200 per kilowatt-hour. It was forecast that this could be reduced to less than $100 by 2023, which would certainly stimulate the market. The world sales of new light vehicles were 90.3 million units, but the world’s largest market, China, continued to shrink as a consequence of reduced tax rebates, a general economic downturn, and increasing sales of used cars.

Reliability of automotive electronics was a fundamental consideration, with 200–300 sensors per car, and security remained an important issue, particularly in the context of connected vehicle technologies Dr. Nakahara estimated the automotive share of world PCB output to be 11% in 2109. The value of PCBs per car ranged from $30–40 at the low end to $100–150 at the high end, averaging $50–70 per car, and it had been estimated that the electronics content of a car might rise to 50% of its total value. “To replace bumpers and headlamps will not be cheap anymore in the future.”

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