PCB | July 29, 2008

Innovations demand from various end-users boosts Flexible PCB market

Innovative demands from various end-user verticals including telecommunications, automotive, aerospace and defense, medical, and industrial packaging expect to fuel robust growth in the flexible printed circuit board (PCB) market.
The compliant nature of flexible printed circuits (FPCs) makes it useful in dynamic motion products, and its development dramatically alter the landscape of the PCB market. Flex has also become the technology of choice for advance packaging, which includes both multichip and 3-D.

New analysis from Frost & Sullivan, World Flexible Printed Circuit Board Markets, finds that the markets earned revenues of over $7.3 billion in 2007 and estimates this to reach $16.4 billion in 2014.

The physical characteristics of flexible boards will accelerate the growth of this market. Flexible circuits are thin, weigh less than rigid boards, and can bend in order to fit into tight spaces that would not be conducive to printed, rigid boards of the same dimensions.

"The physical advantages of flexible circuits are projected to be the primary factors that increase demand in the years to come, as FCP becomes the enabling technology to achieve desired size, shape, weight, or functionality in an electronic device," says Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Ashwin T Ananthakrishnan. "With high density interconnection (HDI) becoming more mainstream, it is anticipated that the growth of flexible circuits would also be hastened."

The developments across end-user verticals have driven the growth of flexible PCBs. For instance, the ability of FCPs to reduce package size, package weight, assembly time, and assembly cost, while increasing system reliability, has found great favor in the rapid growth in the handheld wireless electronics segment.

The increased demand for laptops, notebooks, personal computers, cell phones, and personal digital assistants (PDAs), coupled with the growing adoption of hard disk drives (HDD) in digital music players, set top boxes, and gaming consoles are some factors driving flexible circuits' revenues from the electronic applications. In parallel, the introduction of 3.5G and long-term evolution (LTE), mobile WiMAX and ultra mobile broadband (UMB) has led to an increasing demand not only for telecommunication products, but also for flexible circuits, on a larger scale.

Over 35 different companies vie for the global market space, which makes for high competition in the flexible PCB market. Most of the Asian manufacturers play a dominant role in the market. Japan, South Korea, and North America have all established a global presence and lay claim to a wide variety of products. Smaller participants operate either regionally or locally with a limited product portfolio, restricting the competition to foreign-owned manufacturers for high-end FPCs.

"Japan is the largest contributor to the FPC board market, but confines high-technology PCBs in-house, while outsourcing only known technologies to low-cost regions," notes Mr. Ananthakrishnan. "The lack of experience of FPC manufacturing outside Japan impedes the development of FPCs in other geographic regions."

As manufacturers in North America and Europe achieve a greater breadth of expertise over the technology, they will prevail over the challenges posed by Japan and other Asian manufacturers. Ongoing consolidation of Tier 1 PCB companies acquiring Tier 2 and Tier 3 companies also supports and benefits the market, as the capacity to offer both rigid and flexible PCs becomes a key differentiator for success. These mergers and acquisitions will enable companies to increase access to new technologies, enhance product portfolios, and expand the customer base.

"Factors like the convergence between rigid and flexible PCs and the reduction in the organic growth across end-user verticals are likely to hamper the growth of flexible PCBs in the later half of 2014, while at present the flexible PCB market has a lot of growth potential across verticals," says Mr. Ananthakrishnan. "In addition to this, developments and innovations across various verticals accelerate the growth of this market immensely."


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