top of page

Published: 2019
Author: D.Y.

Flexible Printed Circuit Part 4

The prospects and challenges of the soft board industry

Customer updates

Let’s review the current situation of customers again. In recent years, the application of FPC is mainly in mobile phones. Among mobile phones, Apple is the main customer. Although Apple does not ship the most mobile phones, Apple prefers FPC solutions and most The use of the latest technology, so the proportion of the use of soft boards is extremely important; Samsung is the number one manufacturer of mobile phone shipments and is also the first manufacturer to enter 5G communications. 5G mobile phones must use higher-performance soft boards, so it is also worth looking forward to; The sales of Chinese mobile phones headed by Huawei have been increasing. In recent years, competition among manufacturers (Huawei, Vivo, Oppo, Xiaomi, ZTE, etc.) has intensified, greatly improving product performance and increasing the number of layers and quality of soft boards. A big market that has been overlooked. Notebooks used to be the second largest application of FPC, accounting for about 20% of FPC, but sales have stagnated and the proportion is declining year by year, which is bound to impact FPC revenue. Automotive electronics is the third largest application field.

Future challenges

1. Sales of mobile phones and laptops slow down

In recent years, the sales of notebooks, the second largest application of soft boards, have slowed down or even entered a recession. According to Statista, notebooks have declined at a rate ranging from 3 to 10% per year, and notebook functions have not been significantly improved. With the gradual decrease in sales and the inability to increase the price of FPC, the overall output value has severely declined; in recent years, smartphones have begun to saturate and have stepped into the footsteps of laptops. IDC estimates that smartphones have continued to decline since last year (2018) Although major mobile phone manufacturers have successively launched 5G mobile phones from 2019, it will take some time to popularize. Therefore, in 2019, consumers expect that 5G mobile phones will be more mature and stable in the future, and they will be delayed until the next few years before they are replaced. In addition, the market is saturated , Leading to a slight decline this year. According to the past experience of 3G and 4G, it will take about three years for the popularization of mobile phones of various communication generations. The signal penetration time of small and medium-sized base stations will be longer than that of the past 4G. Therefore, the soft board with mobile phones as the largest application will be severely affected by the decline of mobile phones in the past two years. Fortunately, the number of layers and performance of the soft board will gradually increase and decrease. The impact of mobile phones on soft boards.

2. Environmental issues

In China, Taiwan and other places, the control of environmental pollution has been continuously improved, and environmental protection laws and regulations have become stricter. Industrial wastewater and waste treatment will be more time-consuming and costly. FPC is a highly polluting industry, and chemically harmful will be generated during the production process. Waste gas and waste water are therefore the government's goal of strict investigation and control. According to reports, Jialianyi and Yijia suspended construction in some Chinese factories in 2018 to improve equipment to comply with environmental protection regulations. Therefore, on the whole, the waste disposal costs of FPC manufacturers continue to increase, and will only continue to rise in the future. Only by improving the precise control of technology and reducing the waste of chemical agents can we have better competitiveness.

Future opportunity

There are mainly several ways to increase the output value of flexible boards. The first is to use in higher-end or more applications, and the second is to increase the number of layers, from single-layer boards to double-layer boards in the past to multi-layer boards, thereby improving transmission efficiency. Thirdly, improve the material to enhance the performance and reduce the loss. All these methods can increase the price and quantity of the soft board. The following will briefly explain the future applications of several soft boards.

1. Popularization of 5G


5G is undoubtedly the hottest subject of investment in 2019. As long as any company is involved in 5G, there can be a wave of stock price rises. Soft boards are extremely important in 5G. As mentioned in previous times, when the transmission frequency increases High, the requirements for the soft board are relatively higher, the transmission loss between LCP and MPI is also more obvious, and the transmission speed of the soft board must also be improved. In addition, compared to 4G, 5G needs to use more high-frequency antenna modules in the infrastructure. According to the manufacturer’s estimate, it will grow by about 30 times. In 5G, our most promising applications are not only mobile phones, but the vast Internet of Things. Business opportunities will be able to realize the Internet of Everything with the high-bandwidth characteristics of 5G. When the Internet of Everything happens, the FPC market will grow rapidly.

2. Internet of Things and Wearable Devices

In recent years, Bluetooth headsets, Apple watches, Xiaomi bracelets, wearable medical devices and other wearable devices are popular. Sensors and antennas are usually connected by soft boards. The reason is that these devices are thin and short. Because the advantages of soft boards are Thinner and thinner, high transmission efficiency, and flexibility, so that the substrate can use the smallest space in the equipment to achieve the maximum transmission effect. Wearable devices are usually equipped with a variety of sensors. In terms of wearable medical devices, they can detect blood pressure, heartbeat, blood sugar, and electrocardiogram. Even Apple Watch can also measure heartbeat and electrocardiogram. It can be worn comfortably on a device with a limited volume. The experience promotes the application of soft boards.

With the popularization of 5G, the Internet of Everything is just around the corner. Imagine that simple electrical appliances now need antennas to connect to the Internet, and more sensors and lenses need to be installed. Most of the time, they will rely on soft board connections. Street lights on the roadside can also be connected to the Internet. According to Gartner’s survey, there will be 20 billion IoT devices worldwide in 2020. Although the use of a single IoT device’s soft board is not as high as that of a smart phone, the overall demand is still considerable. The soft boards used in networking often have higher performance requirements.

3. Enhanced laptop performance and thinner

The improvement of laptop performance is related to the touch panel, gaming laptop and laptop thinner. The touch panel will use the soft board. Although it will not be able to drive the demand for the soft board, it is not without small supplements; High-performance laptops, such as design or gaming applications, are also a major focus on the improvement of soft board performance. They will also use higher-density and more layered substrates, or use better materials such as LCP. And thin and light notebooks, the soft board can just meet the needs of reducing the size.

4. Automotive electronics

The automotive industry will have the opportunity to create a great demand for soft boards. Now cars have more and more driver assistance systems. The driver assistance systems need to rely on a large number of sensors for detection, which is a big benefit for soft boards. Electric vehicles and self-driving cars will also create demand for soft boards. What is more difficult for major soft board manufacturers is that the automotive electronics certification takes a long time, so it is more difficult to enter, but it is relatively difficult to be replaced as long as it enters, and it can have a longer product life. cycle.

5. Panel

In the past few years, the panel industry has suffered a serious decline. Although the LCD has gradually changed to OLED, the panel industry has not seen any improvement and a huge replacement wave. However, when the massive transfer of Micro LED is overcome in the future, it may drive a new wave of panel demand. There may also be a certain demand for backlit FPCs, although no one is sure when it can overcome it or how many business opportunities it can drive.

The soft board series is over! I hope you can support and share more. You can subscribe for free at the bottom of the page. When new articles are launched, a letter will be notified, and more industries will be launched in the future.

bottom of page