World Wide PCB on the “Purification” of the China Market, Industry Changes and More

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Francis Tsoi of World Wide PCB Equipment tells Barry Matties that although growth in the China PCB market may be slowing, the government has used this time to transition the industry towards automation, better environmental regulations and the ability to make high-end PCBs in large volumes.

Barry Matties: Francis, please start with a little background on World Wide.

Francis Tsoi: World Wide was set up by three partners and myself and we have successfully been in this market for more than two decades. In fact, we celebrate our 25-year anniversary this year.

Matties: Fantastic! A lot has changed in the China PCB industry in that time. During that 25 years, what has changed, and what has been the most surprising?

Tsoi: We’ve seen big changes because we started with single-sided and double-sided boards and machines for throughholes, and then we went to surface mount and HDI and now we’re talking about flexible and rigid-flex and the substrate industry. So yes, there is a lot of change in China. We are lucky to be in this industry; we’ve learned so much from this market to pick up the new technology in China.

Matties: The market is down and we keeping hearing the economy is bad in China. What do you think about that?

Tsoi: I don’t think we can say the market is bad in China. We started with more than double-digit GDP growth, and now it's becoming steadier. I think it’s because the China industry has changed from following others to now being ahead in innovation, and it is the biggest high-speed development PCB market in the world. So I don't agree that the PCB market in China is going down—we are representative of innovation and new development, and the China market is very competitive.

Of course, in a different area, while in Munich, I saw at productronica that Europe is not going to mass production. They are going to high-mix, low-volume, a different product structure, and more towards high-end PCBs. But China is also going towards the high-end market, but in high volume as well. So, we can say that China is a very energetic market that still has much opportunity for us.

Matties: In terms of the types of equipment that you sell, what sort of trends are you seeing in the way that Chinese fabricators are purchasing equipment?

Tsoi: Now we are concentrating on bringing more sophisticated machines every year to the China market, sourced from different countries. I can say that, for example, Mitsubishi laser tools, in the past, still had some things coming in from Japan, but not any more, and Mitsubishi is 85–90% of the market share. On the other hand, people are talking about automation, exposure machines, direct imaging, and the dry film soldermask process for very fine lines, not just in HDI but also in the substrate market as well as in MCMs.   

People are not fighting about volume in low-end product but also volume in high-end product, and that is much, much different. In the past this kind of product was produced in Japan, Korea, even in Taiwan. But now people are talking about it in China and the China government is supporting this. Our suppliers shared this information with us and that is why we went into this market—to try to be the leader in bringing this sophisticated technology to our existing customers so that they can be more competitive in the market.

Matties: I understand that there's a number of PCB facilities that are closing in China, which is reducing the number of shops, but you would expect that over time the bad ones would have to go away.

Tsoi: World Wide is not just a supplier to the PCB market but also to the touch panel and display market. If we compare these two markets, I can say that the PCB market is healthier. There are a few PCB shops not in the middle or high ranking—maybe their management is not good enough, or their strategy is not in the right direction—and they cause a problem, but it’s not a disaster. I can say that these shops going out of business are just purifying the market rather than a market collapse. In the touch panel market there is maybe a little bit more risk, but I don't see the same phenomenon in PCBs.  



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