This Month in PCB007 Magazine: The Copper Foil Market Is Anything But Flat

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I interviewed Mike Coll, COO of Denkai America, about the copper foil and substrate market, the recent acquisition of the company by Nippon, and what they’re doing to respond to very small feature sizes.

Nolan Johnson: Mike, give us a quick introduction to your role.

Michael Coll: I’m the COO of Denkai America. We’re the United States’ only electrodeposit and copper foil manufacturer. We were recently acquired by Nippon Denkai (ND) from Japan. Nippon Denkai translates to “Japan Electroplating.” When they acquired us, we became Denkai America or “Electroplating America.”

Johnson: Where are your facilities located?

Coll: We are about 30 miles northeast of Columbia, South Carolina, and our parent, ND, is located about 50 miles northeast of Tokyo.

Johnson: Manufacturing copper foil in the U.S.: What are some of the particular challenges that you face?

Coll: We’ve been making copper foil in North America since 1976, and it was under the prior ownership of Mitsui Mining and Smelting, also known as Mitsui Kinzoku. In April this year, we were sold to ND. We’ve been operating under new ownership, without their presence, as this transition occurred just at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Needless to say, this is not ideal for our integration. As for ongoing manufacturing, when our facility was built in the early 2000s, our factory was set up to be a high-volume copper manufacturer for a limited set of products; at that time, our focus was the high-volume PCB industry in North America.

In the past 20 years, there have been significant changes in the PCB industry in North America. Consolidation and changing from high volume manufacturing to a quick turn, prototyping type of environment. Trying to continually retool an aging factory to meet the demands of the U.S. market is an extremely difficult proposition.

Johnson: That’s a particular challenge. One of the other dynamics that may play a part is the fact that there are so many more materials out there now. The materials and substrates market is booming with multiple simultaneous areas of growth, to respond, for example, to very small feature sizes, RF frequency requirements, speed issues, and extreme environment issues. Some of these requirements complement each other, but others conflict. You’re delivering foil to that market, and it has to be quite a diverse set of targets to try to hit.

Coll: It is, especially with all the changes in resin systems and material requirements. At one time, as long as your copper stuck to FR-4, that’s all that mattered. But with the wide variety of resin systems, copper foil needs to be more and more tailored to the specific user and specific application. Our initial manufacturing setup was for high-volume, “vanilla” copper foil. Now, with the vast number of resin systems and requirements from our customers, we need to adapt, change, and produce multiple different varieties of copper to meet those new and emerging applications.

To read this entire interview, which appeared in the November 2020 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.


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