Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in April 2017 at www.weiner-intl.com and is being reprinted here with special permission from the author.

China’s economy accelerated for a second straight quarter as investment picked up, retail sales rebounded, and factory output accelerated in March. Gross domestic product increased 6.9% in the first quarter from a year earlier, compared with a 6.8% median estimate in a Bloomberg survey.

More than 25,000 attended NEPCON China in Shanghai the last week of the month. There was a lot of activity with supply chain members reporting a good first quarter and a high level of current quote activity. Yamaha was reported to be pushing the production and delivery of orders for more than 100 new pieces of SMT equipment. Both WKK and Transtec reported good activity for the Yamaha systems.

Optomec was one of the attention-gathering exhibits in the WKK booth, showing its 3D additive manufacturing capabilities for printed electronics and laser metal deposition used for 3D IC, printed solar sells, flexible electronics, organic electronics, antennae and touch screens. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University was reported to have purchased two new Optomec systems.

Even though a number of Taiwan-based companies reported slipping sales and profits for the first quarter of the year (e.g., Flexium), Wus Printed Circuitsaw its revenues grow 18+% on month and 31+% on year to a 20-month high of $17.168 million in March. Flexible PCB and chassis maker Ichia Technologiesreported a net loss of $2.9 million for the period, stating that currency exchange losses contributed to the loss.

Results for the quarter ending December 31, 2016 from Shengyi Technology, the world’s larget CCL producer, showed that gross margins widened from 20.53% to 21.50% compared to the same period last year, operating (EBITDA) margins now 16.49% from 14.97%. Revenues for the period were $347.3 million with net earnings of $35.8 million. Gross margins increased from 20.53% to 21.50% compared to the same period last year.

Will this be enough to save Toshiba?

Sources state that Foxconn Technology of Taiwan has told Toshiba that it is ready to pay as much as $27 billion for Toshiba’s computer-chip business. The Taiwanese company, the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer and an assembler of Apple‘s products, used a similar strategy last year to win control of Sharp, beating out a Japanese government-backed investment fund.

You should have attended Brad Bourne’s presentation at the IPC’s Executive Forum for fabricators at IPC APEX EXPO a few months ago to get some insight as to how the following was done:

Firan Technology Group Corporation announced financial results for the first quarter 2017.

  • Achieved record first quarter sales of $27.2M in Q 1 2017, an increase of more than 60% over Q1 2016
  • Grew Aerospace segment by 168% over Q1 last year
  • Grew Circuits segment sales by 23% over Q1 last year
  • Gross margins increased by $3 .1 M or 83 % over Q1 last year
  • Net Income increase by 78% in Q1 2017 versus Q1 2016
  • Cash flow from operations was $1.0M in Q1 2017 compared to cash usage of $0.6M in Q1 last year
  • Completed the integration of PhotoEtch
  • Continued the transition of Teledyne PCT; expect transition to continue through Q2 2017

“The first quarter of 2017 saw the continued benefit on the top line from the two acquisitions last year,” stated Brad Bourne, president and CEO. He added, “With the closure of PhotoEtch complete and the planned closure of Teledyne PCT in Q2, the benefits of these acquisitions will translate to improved bottom line results as well.”

No surprise here

In response to mounting concern about the shortage of U.S. workers with skills needed by electronics manufacturers, IPC – Association Connecting Electronics Industries® conducted a “fast-facts” study to learn more about the skills gap as it affects U.S. electronics assembly manufacturers. The results indicate that most companies are having a hard time recruiting qualified production workers, and an even harder time finding qualified engineers and other technical professionals.

A suggestion from Bernie K

PCB employee shortages—let’s start dipping into the retired ranks and adjust the mindset of companies so that they can use part time—ad hoc—assistance on projects from elder employees with flexible schedules. The IPC once published a capability matrix for consultants. Maybe a similar presentation would be good for retirees wanting to work on a reduced schedule.

From a colleague touring facilities in China

“I am having good time in Chongqing. I visited the AT&S substrate plant,Founder’s high layer plant, GBM’s mother board plant, and Compeq’s HDI plant. These are all first class plants. Beautiful equipment and very well thought-out layouts. I am heading to Wuhan next to see Meiko, Tripod,Unimicron, Dynamic, Wus and Star Circuit. Then more in Wuxi and Kunshan.

“The total output by those makers amounts to roughly $2.2 billion per year, close to the entire U.S. output ($2.6 billion). Poor U.S. PCB guys, most of them have no knowledge what goes on here in China.”

Last month…

We asked where a number of the PCB supply chain rising stars of a few years ago had gone. They were no longer evident at major industry meetings and exhibits. We got a response from one of them, the former Maskless Lithography (MLI).

The company was acquired a few years ago by Chime Ball (CBT), a Taiwan-based manufacturer of exposure systems with thousands of “conventional” printers sold in the Far East. CBT has since lowered the costs and prices of the systems, updated the software to expand capabilities, and offers various models that provide economic offerings for fine line and/or volume applications of dry film photoresists (DFRs) as well as solder masks. CBT’s systems can now image 50-micron lines and spaces according to a company spokesman. The systems are sold and serviced in the U.S. by California basedTechnica which also sells photoimageable solder masks as well as dry film photoresists (DFRs). Twenty-three of CBT’s direct imaging systems have been sold in the U.S. to date.

…and a reminder

Thailand PCB EXPO 2017 will be held May 11-13 at Impact Exhibition and Convention Center along with Thailand LED EXPO 2017 and Thailand Energy Saving Expo 2017. The PCB show will include assembly.

The trend towards direct representation in the U.S. by China’s PCB fabricators is continuing. We also continue to be inundated with promotions and sales solicitations from dozens of Chinese PWB fabricators whose names are unfamiliar to us. We thought that you would enjoy the following one:

“We are NOT a big PCB supplier,

Without fancy facility.

But with all organs needs, clean and tiny, flexible and quick-response.

We are NOT a big PCB supplier,

Without long clients list.

But everyone here with us enjoy as VIP, satisfied and happy.

We are NOT a big PCB supplier,

Without glorious history.

But with modern and open management, researching and developing.

R&D team works,

More possibilities.

Contact us to go up with:–”

At the same time as Chinese fabricators are seeking new direct routes to America’s markets, experienced American PCB sales managers are seeking ways to link up with Chinese companies seeking to establish a direct delivery supply chain to by-pass the “broker system.”

It was also interesting to see a large NCAB booth in the midst of a number of Chinese board-builders at productronica (co-located with SEMICON) in Shanghai last month.

SelectConnect Technologies has published the white paper, “Trace Width and Space Limitations for Laser Direct Structuring.” The white paper details a study that was conducted to determine how close laser direct structuring (LDS) traces can be created and metallized without inducing over-plating or bridging on PET/PBT material.

Still growing

UP Media Group announced that a record number of abstracts have been received for PCB West 2017, to be held September 12–14, 2017, in Santa Clara, CA. The event includes a three-day technical conference and one-day exhibition to be held at the Santa Clara (CA) Convention Center. More than 90 abstracts in total were received for the three-day conference, the most in the 26 years of the event. Potential speakers from North America, Asia and Europe submitted abstracts to the event, which has grown every year since 2008.

SEMI announced that the global semiconductor materials market increased 2.4% in 2016 compared to 2015 while worldwide semiconductor revenues increased 1.1%.

According to the SEMI Material Market Data Subscription

[1], total wafer fabrication materials and packaging materials were $24.7 billion and $19.6 billion, respectively. Comparable revenues for these segments in 2015 were $24.0 billion for wafer fabrication materials and $19.3 billion for packaging materials. The wafer fabrication materials segment increased 3.1% year-over-year, while the packaging materials segment increased 1.4%.

For the seventh consecutive year, Taiwan was the largest consumer of semiconductor materials, due to its large foundry and advanced packaging base totaling $9.8 billion. Korea and Japan maintained the second and third places, respectively, while China rose in the rankings to claim the fourth spot during the same time. Annual revenue growth was the strongest in the China, Taiwan, and Japan markets. The materials market in Europe, Rest of World (ROW) and South Korea experienced nominal growth, while the materials market in North America contracted.