Sun Chemical Expands Range and Market Share in China
At CPCA in Shanghai recently, I had the opportunity to sit down for a one-on-one with Tony Searle, business manager for Sun Chemical. The focus of our discussion was Sun Chemical’s recent expansion of its range of offerings and manufacturing capabilities in China, and what the future of the PCB market is in China, from his point of view.
Pete Starkey: Tony, what a pleasure it is to see you here in China. Tell me what's going on at Sun Chemical in China, and how the show is going for you?
Tony Searle: Thanks, Pete. The CPCA show is very busy, which is good. It's always nice to see. There's a quite a bit of activity here from a lot of customers. We continue to support the CPCA. We do this event every year and plan to continue that in the future.
A little bit about Sun Chemical: We have formed a new division within Sun Chemical, called Advanced Materials. Our PCB business currently falls under Electronic Materials, which is under Advanced Materials. So we are part of a bigger division now. In Advanced Materials, we look after several different markets beside PCB. We operate in the printed electronics arena and also in the photovoltaic (PV) area.
The CPCA show is good for us because it's expanding within these markets as well. It's a great opportunity to demonstrate our complete portfolio of products that we have for electronic materials for the market.
Starkey: You mentioned printed electronics, what's your involvement in that?
Searle: We look at things like in-mold electronics, with things like nano silvers and inkjet nano silver, especially for antennas. There is a lot of activity around those areas. That's really what that's about. Obviously in the PV side, the majority of PV sales, as most people know, are made in China now so this is the place to be if you want to be involved in the photovoltaic market.
Starkey: If we turn back to PCB, what is the PCB market looking for? What developments have you got towards the future of the industry?
Searle: In PCB, we still stay very active around the automotive side, working with OEMs, looking at new approvals that are required and processes that make sure our products meet today’s market needs. This can be a challenge, especially when people don't necessarily want changes in technology. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to make changes to your products to meet these specifications.
Starkey: What sort different requirements has automotive been asking for?
Searle: Mainly around higher thermal cycling now—increasing temperatures, more cycles. It's looking at whether existing products can fit into those specifications or whether we need to make improvements in technology. There is a lot going on around that all the time, to make sure that we stay up-to-date with everything. The other thing is that everybody mentions “white.”
Starkey: The link to LED?
Searle: Yes, there's still a lot of demand on white. And that also moves into automotive, because obviously a lot of the lighting arrays now are LED light. You have LED specifications in automotive, as well as in your box-family lighting LED, or whether it be the LED in your mobile phone because that all comes under the same industry.
Starkey: If we look at the PCB industry in China what is your view of the present and the future?
Searle: I think this year there certainly is a little bit of a slow-down. It's not quite as buoyant as it was in previous years. We're seeing good volume still in China, and that's moving forward. For us it's always about looking for more market share, not just defending what we've got but actually growing our market share. We still see a lot of opportunity in China and we're making expansion within our manufacturing facilities here, in order to be able to be here much more in the future. That's really what we're looking to do. We are expanding our teams and we are expanding our manufacturing facilities.
Starkey: From your point of view, what is the level of confidence in the Chinese PCB industry, not necessarily the very short term, but for the longer term future?
Searle: My personal feeling is it's in China to stay. I personally don't see a huge migration to other markets. I may be proved wrong; I don't know. Really, I see the investment is still here in China. It's still being made heavily by a lot of the companies that manufacture here. I still see the main manufacturing base being in China in the future.
Starkey: So you manufacture in China?
Searle: Yes we do; we manufacture in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Starkey: Any other significant areas of technology development that you're in touch with at the present time?
Searle: Obviously, because of the length and breadth we have as an ink company, we're heavily involved in inkjet for other markets. Within PCB we keep a watchful eye of what's happening in the inkjet side of the market, because we have the R&D facilities already set to do that. In fact, the main R&D center for inkjet shares the same facility as the R&D for PCB. They’re actually in the same center and they work for the same team.
We have a lot more going on in terms of inkjet for printing electronics and PV, and we are keeping a watchful eye on the PCB to understand what we can do and how that market can open for us. We are looking into that for sure.
Starkey: What is the principal application technology at the moment?
Searle: It's still screen printing. I think we could see some migration to spray or even curtain-coat again because customers are looking for better automation, even here in China, and they're looking at ways to better control the process. So we could see expansion in those areas, but we'll have to wait and see on that.
Starkey: Tony, I'm very grateful for your time. Thank you very much.
Searle: You're most welcome. Thanks, Pete.