NTI-100
‘Big Gets Bigger and Faster’
The largest circuit board fabricators are pulling away from the rest of the market. by Dr. Hayao Nakahara
This is the 25th NTI-100 report. The author cannot believe he has done NTI-100 such a long time. As years go by, it becomes more difficult to accurately record revenue data of privately owned PCB fabricators, and there are many. As a result, the data of about one-fifth of the top PCB companies are questionable. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see the revenue trend.

As usual, data compiled by trade organizations and with the assistance of many of the author’s friends around the globe were vital to completing this report. He expresses his gratitude to all who helped. Any errors are strictly his responsibility.

The 2020 average exchange rate conversion of revenue from local currencies to the US dollar was made using the exchange rates listed in Table 1. Since various organizations and individuals seem to use slightly different rates, the results may differ but only slightly.

It is impossible for one person (the author) to get an accurate number of PCB fabricators and factories worldwide. Table 2 is the best he could come up with. European figures are based on his old industry friend, Michael Gasch.

China is home to approximately 55% of the world’s PCB makers. That figure includes about 150 foreign transplants, however. For example, there are about 100 Taiwan-owned fabricators, some of which do not have plants in Taiwan. Japan has about 20 fabricators in China. The US has three; Europe has several; and Southeast Asian countries have several.

Table 1. Average Exchange Rates vs. US$1, 2014-20
table displaying Average Exchange Rates vs. US$1, 2014-20
Table 2. Global Number of PCB Fabricators and Factories (Estimated in March 2020)
table displaying Global Number of PCB Fabricators and Factories (Estimated in March 2020)
In mid-1980, Europe had over 1,400 fabricators, according to Gasch. The US had 780 and Japan about 250 in 2000. The numbers in the US and Japan decreased through closures and M&As. Assuming 150 foreign fabs operating in China, it is necessary to subtract 150 from the world total of 2,247. That brings the total number of fabricators in the world to about 2,100. Chinese “nationals” make up 1,100 (1,250 minus 150). Since many large fabricators have multiple factories, the total number of factories worldwide is estimated to be about 2,700.

These figures may provide interesting insight later.

The capital investment payoff. In compiling the annual NTI-100, the author found 128 fabricators had revenue of $100 million or more in 2020. In 2019, there were 122 such companies, with a total output of $62.3 billion. In 2020, the total revenue of that cohort was $68.8 billion, an increase of 10.3%, although the number of fabricators in these two years is different.

One trend of note is big gets bigger and faster. Like semiconductor production, PCBs are a capital-intensive industry. As a fabricator grows, its ability to invest more makes it bigger and faster. You may see this trend from the upper echelon of these firms.

Table 3. NTI-100 2020 Summary by Country
table displaying NTI-100 2020 Summary by Country
Table 4. 2020 Top Fabricator Analysis
table displaying 2020 Top Fabricator Analysis
By region, China’s revenue grew 14.5% year-over-year, while its number of entries in the NTI-100 increased by four companies to 56 in 2020 (TABLE 3). The output of Chinese nationals is rapidly approaching that of Taiwan. South Korea’s strong growth came from IC substrates and flex printed circuits (FPCs), largely in Vietnam. Japan grew but only by a small amount compared to the Chinese and Koreans. Starting in 2021, Japan’s output is expected to grow rapidly on the back of several billion dollars ($4+ billion) in investment over the next few years to expand IC substrate production there.

The US saw negative growth because TTM Technologies sold its mobility business to AMK Meadville in 2020 (for $550 million). Europe’s gains come mainly from the growth of AT&S. Southeast Asian fabricators grew on the strength of KCE, MFS and Gul Technology. Taiwan fabs were mixed. IC substrate makers did well, but those engaged mainly in automotive PCB did poorly in general. Motherboard makers for PCs, tablets, wearables and smartphones did well.

Table 3. NTI-100 2020 Summary by Country
table displaying NTI-100 2020 Summary by Country
Table 4. 2020 Top Fabricator Analysis
table displaying 2020 Top Fabricator Analysis
By region, China’s revenue grew 14.5% year-over-year, while its number of entries in the NTI-100 increased by four companies to 56 in 2020 (TABLE 3). The output of Chinese nationals is rapidly approaching that of Taiwan. South Korea’s strong growth came from IC substrates and flex printed circuits (FPCs), largely in Vietnam. Japan grew but only by a small amount compared to the Chinese and Koreans. Starting in 2021, Japan’s output is expected to grow rapidly on the back of several billion dollars ($4+ billion) in investment over the next few years to expand IC substrate production there.

The US saw negative growth because TTM Technologies sold its mobility business to AMK Meadville in 2020 (for $550 million). Europe’s gains come mainly from the growth of AT&S. Southeast Asian fabricators grew on the strength of KCE, MFS and Gul Technology. Taiwan fabs were mixed. IC substrate makers did well, but those engaged mainly in automotive PCB did poorly in general. Motherboard makers for PCs, tablets, wearables and smartphones did well.

The $1B club. If we break the 128 fabricators in the NTI-100 into segments, the top 25 saw the largest aggregate percentage growth, and have an almost 60% share of NTI-100 (TABLE 4). Remember the previous observation: Big gets bigger and faster.

In 2019, 17 fabricators had revenue of $1 billion or more, and their total output was $29.8 billion (TABLE 5). Despite the poor outlook a year ago as the Covid-19 pandemic kicked into high gear, six more topped the $1 billion mark in 2020, and the cumulative revenue was $38.9 billion. Need we say it again? Big gets bigger and faster.

The Taiwanese fabricators in Table 5 accounted for 30 to 31% of the world output. Of 23 companies, eight are Taiwan nationals, or 35% of the total. They are investing heavily, and the author will not be surprised if the Taiwanese remain in the top position for some years to come. The two top Taiwanese fabricators, Zhen Ding Tech and Unimicron, produced more than the total 2020 output in North America.

The rankings. NTI-100-listed fabricators with an asterisk (*) are engaged heavily in FPC: ZD Tech, DSBJ, Nippon Mektron, Young Poong Group (Young Poong Electronics and Interflex), Fujikura and Flexium. All are major suppliers of FPC to Apple.

graph depicting China IC Production, 2009-24 (estimated)
Figure 1. China IC Production, 2009-24 (estimated). Source: IC Insights.
Table 5. Fabricators in 2020 with Revenue of $1B+
table displaying Fabricators in 2020 with Revenue of $1B+
As noted, the big gainers were the IC package substrate makers (“PKG substrate”): Unimicron, Ibiden, Samsung Electro-Mechanics, AT&S, Shinko Denki, LG Innotek, Simmtech, and Kinsus. In fact, the overall best performers in 2020 were PKG makers. Their investment in capacity increases through enlarging existing facilities and building new plants is phenomenal. Ibiden spent $1.2 billion from 2019 to 2021 and announced another $1.6 billion to scrap an old plant and build a new one for high-end PKG substrates. AT&S is spending €1.1 billion for Plant III in its Chongqing plant and an additional €1.7 billion to build a new PKG plant in Kedah, Malaysia, probably in financial partnership with Intel. Unimicron built three new PKG plants in China, which cost the company $800 million, and is building a $1 billion plant for PKG substrates in Yangmei, Taiwan. Rumor is Intel is supporting Unimicron. Shinko is spending about $800 million for PKG. Kyocera (#37) is the world’s largest PKG substrate maker if ceramic substrates are included, with about $2.5 billion PKG substrate revenue. Kyocera is filling up its Ayabe (Kyoto) Plant 3, which was empty the past few years.

Shennan Circuit finished construction of two new PKG plants in Wuxi. Kinsus is converting one of its plants in Taiwan to PKG substrate manufacturing. Daeduck is concentrating on PKG substrates. Kinwong, Victory Giant, Suntak Technology and CEE made deals with the government to invest in PKG substrate manufacture. They may be getting government subsidies.

China’s consumption of semiconductor devices is about 40% of the world total, yet its domestic production of the total consumption was only 16% in 2020 (FIGURE 1). Pressure from the US government is accelerating China’s huge investment into semiconductor technology in an attempt to be self-reliant. In view of this future development, many Chinese PCB fabricators are taking aim at the PKG substrate market, although it will take time to catch their peers in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. According to IC Insights, the Chinese semiconductor “deficiency” in 2024 is expected to be 80%.

As noted, the big gainers were the IC package substrate makers (“PKG substrate”): Unimicron, Ibiden, Samsung Electro-Mechanics, AT&S, Shinko Denki, LG Innotek, Simmtech, and Kinsus. In fact, the overall best performers in 2020 were PKG makers. Their investment in capacity increases through enlarging existing facilities and building new plants is phenomenal. Ibiden spent $1.2 billion from 2019 to 2021 and announced another $1.6 billion to scrap an old plant and build a new one for high-end PKG substrates. AT&S is spending €1.1 billion for Plant III in its Chongqing plant and an additional €1.7 billion to build a new PKG plant in Kedah, Malaysia, probably in financial partnership with Intel. Unimicron built three new PKG plants in China, which cost the company $800 million, and is building a $1 billion plant for PKG substrates in Yangmei, Taiwan. Rumor is Intel is supporting Unimicron. Shinko is spending about $800 million for PKG. Kyocera (#37) is the world’s largest PKG substrate maker if ceramic substrates are included, with about $2.5 billion PKG substrate revenue. Kyocera is filling up its Ayabe (Kyoto) Plant 3, which was empty the past few years.

Shennan Circuit finished construction of two new PKG plants in Wuxi. Kinsus is converting one of its plants in Taiwan to PKG substrate manufacturing. Daeduck is concentrating on PKG substrates. Kinwong, Victory Giant, Suntak Technology and CEE made deals with the government to invest in PKG substrate manufacture. They may be getting government subsidies.

graph depicting China IC Production, 2009-24 (estimated)
Figure 1. China IC Production, 2009-24 (estimated). Source: IC Insights.
China’s consumption of semiconductor devices is about 40% of the world total, yet its domestic production of the total consumption was only 16% in 2020 (FIGURE 1). Pressure from the US government is accelerating China’s huge investment into semiconductor technology in an attempt to be self-reliant. In view of this future development, many Chinese PCB fabricators are taking aim at the PKG substrate market, although it will take time to catch their peers in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. According to IC Insights, the Chinese semiconductor “deficiency” in 2024 is expected to be 80%.
Table 5. Fabricators in 2020 with Revenue of $1B+
table displaying Fabricators in 2020 with Revenue of $1B+
Thanks to remote work and study brought on by the pandemic, demand for PCs, particularly laptops, tablets and game consoles, has skyrocketed since April 2020. Motherboard makers for these products benefited from this demand. Compeq, HannStar, Gold Circuit, Tripod, etc., mainly Taiwanese fabricators, did well.

Although recovering quickly, automotive PCB makers performed poorly in 2020. Meiko (not so bad because of other products), CMK, Chin Poon, Dynamic, Ellington, Kyoden, Shirai Denshi, etc., each had poor showings last year. Moving forward, however, the automotive PCB business is expected to grow steadily despite the chip shortage. Electrification of automobiles creates a market – with substantial demand – for new types of PCBs. KCE did exceptionally well, although its major revenue comes from automotive PCBs. TTM’s automotive business was not strong in 2020.

High-layer-count multilayer board fabricators for 5G infrastructure did well: TTM Technologies, Shennan Circuit, Wus Electronics, Shengyi Electronics, Gold Circuit, etc.

Sumitomo Denko sold its Shenzhen Songgang FPC plant last year to a Chinese fabricator, Guangdong Junya. Showa Denko is the former Hitachi Chemical. However, Showa Denko sold its PCB division to Polaris Capital Group, a Japanese private equity firm, after the table was made. IKT, with three plants in Japan and one in Singapore, used to be known as Hitachi Chemical Singapore, or HCS.

When it comes to PCB fabricators ranked below 50, the author’s knowledge gets fuzzy, unless they are publicly held. Many Chinese fabs, which are privately held, are problematic because they do not publish financial reports. The author depends on private communications to obtain their revenues.

Many mergers and acquisition activities are taking place in China, and it is difficult to keep up with ownership changes. One big problem is the acquired companies continue to be called by their original names. Although the author understands written Chinese fairly well, when it comes to the nitty-gritty of ownerships, he is hopelessly in trouble. Once in a while he gets a lucky break to learn complex ownerships after spending hours, and sometimes days, digging.

Table 6. Top PCB Fabricators, 2020
table displaying Top PCB Fabricators, 2020; ranks 1-25
Recently, the author did a study on new plant construction in China. He identified about 70 projects, some huge, some modest. He recognized at least one or two additional projects per week. To some eyes, this may lead to disastrous overcapacity in China. However, none of the fabricators seem to go belly up. The PCB industry is a strange business. PCB fabricators are often resilient. Even when they may be on the bankruptcy list, they continue to exist for some reason. One thing for sure is that with all this coming capacity, more Chinese fabricators will enter the NTI-100 list over the next several years. After 25 years compiling the NTI-100, it is about time for the author to quit. He gets tied up with this project for six months. He hopes someone will take over this tedious and not-so-rewarding work. Curiosity drove him the past 25 years.

Two South Korean makers should have been in the past NTI-100 lists. One is TLB (no. 94), a spinoff from Daeduck more than 10 years ago. TLB is engaged mainly in module circuits manufacture. Another is Haesung DS (no. 113). This fabricator is a spinoff from Samsung Techwin and came under Haesung Group. In 2020, 31% of its revenue of $386 million came from PKG substrates.

Table 6. Top PCB Fabricators (Continued), 2020
table displaying Top PCB Fabricators (Continued), 2020; ranks 26-50
Table 6. Top PCB Fabricators (Continued), 2020
table displaying Top PCB Fabricators (Continued), 2020; ranks 51-75
Table 6. Top PCB Fabricators (Continued), 2020
table displaying Top PCB Fabricators (Continued), 2020; ranks 76-100
Table 6. Top PCB Fabricators (Continued), 2020
table displaying Top PCB Fabricators (Continued), 2020; ranks 101-128
Table 6. Top PCB Fabricators (Continued), 2020
table displaying Top PCB Fabricators (Continued), 2020; ranks 26-50
Table 6. Top PCB Fabricators (Continued), 2020
table displaying Top PCB Fabricators (Continued), 2020; ranks 51-75
Table 6. Top PCB Fabricators (Continued), 2020
table displaying Top PCB Fabricators (Continued), 2020; ranks 76-100
Table 6. Top PCB Fabricators (Continued), 2020
table displaying Top PCB Fabricators (Continued), 2020; ranks 101-128
Aiko Kiki (no. 108) is providing core circuits to AT&S Chongqing and other Japanese PKG substrate makers. With strong demand for high-end flip-chip BGAs, Aiko Kiki doubled its core circuit capacity in Japan. Shin-Asahi Denshi (no. 122) made it. It purchased Panasonic’s PCB plant in central Japan, which specializes in buildup multilayer boards. Like most makers in North America and Europe, Japanese fabricators that do not have overseas plants survive and grow a bit by providing quickturn assembly and prototyping services, and with specialty PCBs including defense products.

The top 128 fabricators of the estimated 2,100 worldwide produced about $69 billion in revenue (output) in 2020. That represents 6.6% of the total companies. What was the output of the other nearly 2,000 firms?

Dr. Hayao Nakahara is president of N.T. Information; nakanti@yahoo.com.