NTI-100
5G Build-Out Will Speed PCB Fabricators’ Gains
After years of taking a backseat to mobile device fabs, multilayer manufacturers stand to reap the rewards. by Dr. Hayao Nakahara

There is an ongoing changing of the guard when it comes to drivers of the PCB industry. Mobile and PC-related end-products are slowly giving way to the emerging 5G infrastructure. This swing is just beginning to impact the NTI-100 list of the world’s largest fabricators, but it’s only one of the new trends seen as we collected and analyzed this year’s data. Another interesting development: A pair of fabricators from the US and Europe have come to dominate their respective “home” regions.

This year’s NTI-100 report is the 22nd in the “top fabricator” series since the author started in 1998. (The “100” refers not to the number of companies ranked but rather the entities with $100 million or more in PCB revenue in the last calendar year.) As more Chinese PCB fabricators achieve sales revenues of $100 million or more, many privately owned, it is becoming extremely difficult to get accurate data. Without the help of CPCA, this work would have been impossible. The author would like to express his gratitude to Angela Chen of CPCA, who collected valuable data. Although the data have some flaws, they are no fault of CPCA.

Some fabricators may have been missed, and others should not be on the list. There are more than 2,400 PCB fabricators in the world, half in China, and many Chinese fabricators are elusive and hard to get data from. Nevertheless, as usual, any errors are strictly the responsibility of the author. His confidence level in the data’s accuracy continues to decline every year, and if we were to put a number on it, it may now be 95%. He asks readers to be open-minded and tolerant of any errors.

Exchangerate.com shows 268 days of exchange rates for each currency (excluding Saturdays and Sundays). The author added exchange rates of 268 days and divided by 268 to obtain the above average currency exchange rates (TABLE 1).

Table 1. Average Exchange Rates Used to Convert Local Currencies to USD
Currency
2014
2015
2016
2017
2018
China yuan (RMB)
6.158
6.284
6.634
6.758
6.616
Japan yen
105.86
121.06
107.84
112.93
110.44
Taiwan NTD
31.855
31.777
32.25
30.44
30.16
S. Korea won
1,053.58
1,132.33
1,160.80
1,130.59
1100.8
Thailand baht
32.482
34.253
35.290
33.92
32.32
Singapore dollar
1.276
1.375
1.440
1.334
1.349
Malaysia ringgit
3.270
4.120
4.100
4.32
4.035
Vietnam dong
21,137.07
21,920.68
22,763.00
22,721.03
23,001.08
Philippines peso
44.399
44.520
47.300
50.44
52.7
Indonesia rupiah
12,671.31
13,749.27
13,320.00
13,440.00
14,236.00
Canada dollar
1.104
1.279
0.997
1.297
1.296
India rupee
61.007
64.235
67.800
64.87
68.43
Mexico peso
13.306
15.792
19.05
18.95
19.00
Russia ruble
38.512
61.195
57.4
58.31
62.78
Swiss franc
0.915
0.962
0.997
0.98
1.022
UK pound
0.606
0.655
0.74031
0.81
0.75
Euro
0.754
0.902
0.904
0.886
0.844
North American rigid and flexible PCB shipments and orders.
FIGURE 1. North American rigid and flexible PCB shipments and orders. (Source: Custer Consulting)
Assumptions
  1. It is very difficult to prorate portions of revenues of acquired fabricators and incorporate those portions into the revenues of the acquirer. So, regardless of the purchase or merger date, all transactions are assumed to have taken place Jan. 1. A good example is the case of MFlex, owned by DongShan Precision of China, which bought Multek on Dec. 1, 2018. The full-year revenue of Multek is added to MFlex’s totals, despite the acquisition late in the year.
  2. The PCB business of some fabricators belonging to larger, diversified companies is not reported separately; for example, Sanmina. Publicly held Japanese fabricators report PCB revenues separately, with two exceptions: Kyocera and Murata. The author could not get separate PCB revenues from Kyocera or Murata. Thus, the calculated estimates of the PCB revenues of these fabricators are based on the data he could obtain.
  3. Many PCB fabricators are now engaged in assembly as well. Separating the bare-board portion from the total will inevitably introduce errors. As in the past few NTI-100 reports, the author chose not to separate assembly values (components and labor costs), although estimates could be made. All flexible printed circuits (FPCs) delivered to Apple are assembled by the respective fabricators prior to delivery. The bare board value of “assembled FPCs” is said to be about 40 to 60% of the total. However, more than 20 FPCs and rigid-flex boards are used in the iPhone X, and the bare board values depend on which models FPC fabricators supply to Apple (ZDT, Flexium, Career, Nippon Mektron, Fujikura, Sumitomo Denko, SEMCO, BH Flex, etc.). The bare board values of these fabricators’ revenues may be only 50% of the total shown.
  4. Some PCB fabricators’ revenues include subcontracted or brokered board sales (i.e., purchases for resale). Here again, it is impossible to know the accurate resale values for all the PCB fabricators on the list. Therefore, it is assumed the list includes an undisclosed percentage of resale revenues.

In defense of the work and inherent uncertainty, the author advises readers to be content with this work and view the list only as a reference.

Japan monthly PCB production value.
FIGURE 2. Japan monthly PCB production value. (Source: CPCA summary based on JPCA data)
Analysis

The number of entries (fabricators with revenue ≥$100 million) increased to 117 in 2018 from 115 in 2017 (TABLE 2). However, several fabricators “disappeared” last year because they were purchased and are included here with their new owners. Multek is under MFlex. Elna is under HannStar Board. (The actual owner is GBM, a sister company of HannStar Board, both belonging to PSA/Passive Systems Alliance.) Eastern is now part of South Korean fabricator Simmtech. NBC should not have been included last year; its entire revenue was counted as PCB-related, when in fact PCB makes up just 60% of overall sales.

TABLE 2. NTI-100 World Top PCB Fabricators by Revenue, 2018
Rank
Company
Nationality
2017
2018
Growth
1
ZD Tech*
Taiwan
3,608
3,929
8.9%
2
TTM Technologies
US
2,659
2,847
7.1%
3
Nippon Mektron*
Japan
3,283
2,704
-17.6%
4
Unimicron
Taiwan
2,155
2,513
16.6%
5
Tripod
Taiwan
1,519
1,728
13.8%
6
Mflex (DSBJ)*
China
966
1,725
78.6%
7
Compeq
Taiwan
1,789
1,685
-5.8%
8
HannStar
Taiwan
1,314
1,435
9.2%
9
Samsung E-M
S. Korea
1,279
1,348
5.4%
10
KB Chem. PCB Group
China
1,040
1,237
18.9%
11
AT&S
Austria
1,175
1,218
3.6%
12
Young Poong Group*
S. Korea
1,746
1,217
-30.3%
13
Fujikura*
Japan
1,138
1,155
1.5%
14
Shennan Circuit
China
860
1,152
40%
15
Meiko
Japan
986
1,081
9.6%
16
Ibiden
Japan
1,051
1,054
0.3%
17
Wus Group
Taiwan
880
1,016
15.4%
18
Nanya PCB
Taiwan
883
956
8.3%
19
Simmtech
S. Korea
738
916
24.1%
20
Flexium*
Taiwan
857
888
3.6%
21
Daeduck Group
S. Korea
858
885
3.1%
22
Sumitomo Denko*
Japan
908
820
-9.7%
23
CMK
Japan
789
820
3.9%
24
LG Innotek
S. Korea
789
807
2.3%
25
Kinsus
Taiwan
740
787
6.3%
26
T.P.T.
Taiwan
746
765
2.5%
27
Kinwong
China
665
755
13.5%
28
BH Flex*
S. Korea
628
698
11.1%
29
Gold Circuit
Taiwan
637
683
6.8%
30
Shinko Denki
Japan
708
683
-3.5%
31
Chin Poon
Taiwan
788
670
15%
32
Unitech
Taiwan
602
648
7.6%
33
Murata*
Japan
450
600
33.3%
34
Shenzhen Suntak
China
467
553
18.4%
35
Kyocera PCB
Japan
540
545
9%
36
Shenzhen Fast Print
China
497
525
5.6%
37
Career*
Taiwan
429
515
20%
38
Victory Giant
China
369
501
35.8%
39
SI Flex*
S. Korea
528
500
-5.3%
40
Isu-Petasys
S. Korea
483
497
2.9%
41
Ellington
China
496
489
-1.4%
42
Dynamic
Taiwan
385
432
12.2%
43
KCE Electronics
Thailand
426
418
-1.9%
44
Kyoden
Japan
398
401
0.7%
45
Wuzhou
China
336
386
14.9%
46
Founder Tech.
China
389
383
-1.5%
47
Hitachi Chemical
Japan
381
375
-1.6%
48
CCTC
China
349
372
6.6%
49
APEX
Taiwan
345
370
7.2%
50
Nitto Denko*
Japan
382
362
-5.2%
51
Xiamen Hongxin
China
224
341
40%
52
Aoshikan
China
263
338
28.5%
53
Gul Technologies
Singapore
260
338
30%
54
Olympic
China
285
330
15.8%
55
DG Shengyi Electronics
China
285
320
12.3%
56
Guangdong Xinda
China
306
300
-2%
57
Sanmina
US
330
300
-9.1%
58
APCB
Taiwan
290
296
2.1%
59
Bomin
China
266
295
10.9%
60
Redboard
China
283
293
3.5%
61
DAP
S. Korea
269
290
7.8%
62
CEE PCB
China
163
263
61.3%
63
ASE
Taiwan
280
260
-7.1%
64
Shirai Denshi
Japan
259
260
0%
65
Sun & Lynn
China
244
260
6.6%
66
Boardtek
Taiwan
227
252
11%
67
AbonMax (Palwonn)
Taiwan
230
250
8.7%
68
BYD
China
167
250
49.7%
69
Ichia*
Taiwan
238
240
0.8%
70
MFS*
Singapore
186
238
28%
71
Fujitsu
Japan
226
230
1.3%
72
Guangdong Chaohua
China
218
210
-3.7%
73
Kunshan Huaxing
China
202
204
1%
74
SDG Precision Tech.
China
117
201
71.8%
75
SEMCO
S. Korea
199
200
0%
76
Kyosha
Japan
193
191
-1%
77
Somacis
Italy
181
187
3.3%
78
Delton
China
155
185
19.3%
79
AKM*
China
170
185
8.8%
80
Onpress
China
177
182
2.8%
81
KSG
Germany
154
182
5.2%
82
Lead-Tech
China
146
181
27%
83
Liang Dar
Taiwan
175
180
2.8%
84
Circuitronix
China
175
180
2.8%
85
Ji’An Mankun
China
154
180
3.9%
86
Zhuhai Kingsun PCB
China
124
173
39.4%
87
Shenzhen Sunshine
China
160
171
6.9%
88
Guangzhou Kingshine
China
171
171
0%
89
GZ Junya (Champion Asia)
China
149
169
13.4%
90
Guangzhou GCI
China
148
168
13.5%
91
Daisho Denshi
Japan
164
166
1.2%
92
Würth Elektronik
Germany
158
166
5.1%
93
OKI PCB Group
Japan
150
164
9.3%
94
New Flex*
S. Korea
137
164
19.7%
95
3Win Group
China
150
160
6.7%
96
Huading Group
China
149
154
3.3%
97
Schweizer
Germany
138
148
7.2%
98
Changzhou Haihong
China
144
145
0%
99
SZ Jove Enterprise
China
138
144
4.3%
100
Hyunwoo
S. Korea
125
141
12.8%
101
Jiangsu Suhan
China
131
141
7.6%
102
Amphenol PCB Div
US
130
140
7.7%
103
Mutual Tech
Taiwan
104
139
33.6%
104
Kunshan Wanzhen PCB
China
135
137
1.5%
105
Plotech
Taiwan
128
133
3.9%
106
Yamamoto Mfg.
Japan
143
125
-12.8%
107
Netron Soft Tech*
China
123
122
0%
108
Kunshan Hua Zhu
China
119
119
0%
109
Zhuhai Topsun Elec.
China
116
116
0%
110
Suzhou Forein FPC*
China
94
111
18.1%
111
HT Circuits
China
112
110
-1.8%
112
CHPT (中華精測)
China
103
109
5.8%
113
Benlinda PCB
China
94
104
8.5%
114
Dongguang Honyuen
China
91
103
13.2%
115
HT (HeTon) Electronics
China
105
103
-1.9%
116
QDOS*
Malaysia
90
103
14.4%
117
Brain Power
Taiwan
112
101
-9.8%
Top 117 Total
58,266
62,061
6.5%
In US$ millions.
Source: N.T. Information Ltd.
*Major products are FPC

Taiwan is the king of PCBs. China continues growing, and Japan continues to slip, despite an increase in its total revenue. The growth of Taiwan and China, respectively, is faster than that of Japan (TABLE 3).

Taiwan gained one entry from 2017. China gained three. Japan lost three. (Mitsubishi Gas Chemical/Taihong Circuit Industry is now under Taiwan.) There were no changes to South Korea and the US. Europe gained one, and the S.E.A. also gained one. QDOS finally made it!

TABLE 3. Summary of NTI-100 2018 by Region
Region
Number of
Entries
Top Maker
Output
2018/2017
2018
Share
 
2017
2018
2017
2018
Growth
 
Taiwan
25
26
19,564
20,980
7.23%
33.8%
China
46
49
12,907
15,418
19.33%
24.8%
Japan
21
18
12,149
11,736
-3.4%
18.9%
S. Korea
12
12
7,779
7,663
-1.5%
12.3%
US
4
4
3,119
3,287
3.1%
5.3%
Europe
4
5
1,806
1,901
5.3%
3.1%
S.E.A.
3
4
962
1,097
14%
1.8%
Total
115
118
58,286
62,082
6.5%
100%
In US$ million. Source: N.T. Information Ltd.

Revenues of top Japanese and South Korean fabricators lost a few percentage points, but all other regions gained (TABLE 4). The top 117 fabricators grew 6.5% from 2017 to 2018, in line with the world PCB output in 2018. (Worldwide growth was 5.6%.) Larger fabricators’ growth was larger by about 1%.

Japan’s decline is due mainly to weaker sales to Apple by Nippon Mektron and Sumitomo Denko, offset in part by strong gains by CMK and Meiko in automotive PCBs. South Korea’s drop is due to Interflex’s loss of Apple business (under Young Poong Group). Apple is problematic for PCB fabricators, despite its huge PCB purchases. Taiwan’s Career Tech had problems with Apple as well.

TABLE 4. World PCB Production by Region*
Region
2017
2018
YOY
2019f
YOY
America
3,037
3,158
4.0%
3,174
0.5%
Germany
960
994
3.5%
939
-6%
Other Europe
1,385
1,257
1.2%
1,270
1%
Africa & Middle East
142
143
0.0%
145
1.4%
West total
5,524
5,552
3.1%
5,528
0.4%
China
37,200
40,510
8.9%
39,880
-1.5%
Taiwan
7,685
7,780
1.2%
7,690
-1.2%
S. Korea
7,215
7,515
4.1%
7,214
-4%
Japan
5,625
5,654
0.5%
5,796
-1.2%
Thailand
2,980
3,132
5.1%
3,160
0.9%
Vietnam
2,620
2,704
3.2%
2,905
3.7%
Other Asia
1,738
1,668
-4.0%
1,700
1.9%
Asia total
65,063
68,963
6.0%
68,345
-0.9%
World total
70,587
74,515
5.6%
73,873
-0.9%
In US$ million. Source: N.T. Information Ltd.
* Production includes assembly operations, particuarly FPC.
An interesting observation can be made about North America (read: US and Canada) and Europe. The total North American output in 2018 is estimated at about $5.2 billion, a figure that includes the overseas output of roughly $2 billion by TTM Technologies, Sanmina and Amphenol, with no more contributions from MFlex Multek. Thus, TTM’s revenue accounts for 55% of all North American fabricators’ output.

AT&S’s China output from two facilities (Shanghai and Chongqing) was $1 billion. Its Indian and South Korean output is an estimated $120 million. So, including its overseas output, the total AT&S output accounts for 36% of the total Europe-based fabricators’ output (≈$3.4 billion, domestic and overseas) (TABLE 5).

The aggregate Top 117 output ($62 billion) accounts for 83% of the global output ($74.5 billion) in 2018. It has been said that, in general, 20% of the companies in an industry account for 80% of the sales. Considering approximately 2,400 fabricators operate globally, 117 fabricators constitute less than 5% of the total. So, for the PCB industry, 5% of the fabricators are responsible for 80% of the output.

TABLE 5. Europe PCB Output, 2012-18
 
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
2018
Revenues*
1.846
1.807
1.831
1.815
1.747
1.833
1.921
Staff
16.935
16.546
16.432
16.491
15.902
16.015
16.587

*In euros millions
Source: Data4PCB/Michael Gasch

The “domestic” PCB production of once-mighty North America, Japan and Europe has now sunk to the bottom. Their growth comes from overseas plants. The US-China trade war will not affect this pattern insofar as PCB production is concerned. No idiots will bring their overseas PCB production back home, at least in this author’s lifetime.

Japan’s investment in China is finished, and its expansion in Thailand is dormant, except at CMK Thailand. Investment is now concentrated in Vietnam. However, Ibiden and Shinko Electric are investing more than $1 billion combined to cope with demand for high-end chip substrates from Intel, their collective customer which is expanding dramatically in Oregon and Israel. This may change Japan’s domestic picture in a few years.

European PCB fabricators do invest a few dollars, not for capacity expansion but more for accommodating new technologies.

A similar phenomenon is taking place in South Korea, and to a lesser degree, Taiwan. (Sixty percent of Taiwan’s PCB production is made in China, 5% in Thailand, and 35% in Taiwan). As Samsung Electronics continues to shift smartphone production to Vietnam, many South Korean FPC fabricators followed the OEM to the Hanoi area: 10 so far, with more to follow.

The author visits China three to four times a year and makes plant tours of about 60 PCB fabricators, Chinese and foreign. Some of their new plants and expansions are huge! So many new plants have been constructed in the past few years, and expansion continues, albeit more cautiously since the start of the US-China trade war. The author is aware of at least 35 to 40 gigantic new plants that are under construction in China.

Waste regulations are getting tougher in China, particularly “PCB-infested” areas such as Shenzhen and Shanghai Belt. Fabricators that cannot meet government regulations in these areas go out of business. Those that have resources to build new plants choose north of Yangtze River (Nantong, Yancheng, etc.), Hubei province (Huangshi in particular), Jiangxi province (the favorite place for Shenzhen-based fabricators because of its proximity to Shenzhen), and Zhuhai (FIGURE 3).

PCB fabricator investments in China in past decade.
FIGURE 3. PCB fabricator investments in China in past decade.

In a few years, when all these investments start producing PCBs, the Chinese output may account for more than 70% of the global production, including foreign transplants, mostly Taiwanese. More Chinese fabricators will occupy higher positions on the NTI-100 list, and more Chinese fabricators will achieve revenues ≥$100 million per year.

The author is tiring of this work because it is getting harder to collect data, but he hopes to continue this project to see how Chinese PCB fabricators will grow.

In the 2019~20 period, high-layer count MLB fabricators will gain, thanks to 5G communication infrastructure installations. 2019 is considered a starting point for 5G, and as we enter 2020, demand for base stations, routers, servers, antennas and other equipment will increase. PCB fabricators that can supply to such demands in volume will grow by leaps and bounds.

Automotive electronics cost as a percentage of total car cost worldwide, 1950 to 2030.
FIGURE 4. Automotive electronics cost as a percentage of total car cost worldwide, 1950 to 2030.
TABLE 6. World Top 20 Automotive PCB Fabricators, 2018
RANK
Fabricator
Nationality
Total Revenue
Automotive PCB
1
CMK Corp.
Japan
820
628
2
TTM Technologies
US
2,847
572
3
Nippon Mektron
Japan
2,704
560
4
Meiko Electronics
Japan
1,081
508
5
Chin Poon Industrial
Taiwan
670
470
6
Kingboard Chem GRP
China
1,250
370
7
Tripod Technology
Taiwan
1,728
351
8
KCE Electronics
Thailand
420
335
9
AT&S
Austria
1,218
275
10
PCA PCB Group
Taiwan
1,435
220
11
Wus Group
Taiwan
1,016
200
12
Unitech PCB
Taiwan
648
190
13
Dynamic Electronics
Taiwan
432
180
14
Unimicron
Taiwan
2,513
170
15
Kinwong
China
755
150
16
Gul Technology
Singapore
338
118
17
Kyoden
Japan
401
116
18
Nanya PCB
Taiwan
956
116
19
CCTC
China
368
114
20
Olympic PCB
China
330
111
 
Top 20 Total
 
21,930
5,754
In $US millions
Source: N.T. Information Ltd., May 2019
*GBM+Elna+HannStar Board, mainly the former two

Automotive unit shipments experienced a hiccup in 2018, and at this moment 2019 does not seem to have brought much improvement. EV shipments are growing at 50% annually, but its share of the total shipment of 95 million to 96 million cars per year expected in 2019 is still less than 3%. “Semi” autonomous cars will start showing up on public roads in 2020, not for testing but for carrying passengers. (We say “semi” because the level of autonomy will be level 3 or 4, at best.) It will take a few more years before we see fully autonomous cars without steering, brakes and accelerator pedals (level 5) running on the roads. But, the electronic content of the car is expected to increase continuously (FIGURE 4). Therefore, automotive PCB fabricators will perform better, despite eroding selling prices of PCBs for automotive applications. Japanese and Taiwanese fabricators dominate automotive PCB production (TABLE 6).

High-layer count MLB fabricators will make gains, thanks to 5G infrastructure installations.

PC shipments had a surprise rise in the second quarter, despite pessimistic forecasts (TABLE 7). According to the Gartner research firm, OEMs sought to ship as many units as possible before higher tariffs were imposed. PC motherboard suppliers are singing happier notes at this moment, although the long-term prospects are still not so bright (TABLE 8).

Table 7. Worldwide Device Shipments by Device Type, 2018-2021
Device Type
2018
2019
2020
2021
Traditional PCs (desk-based and notebook)
195,317
189,472
182,823
175,058
Ultramobiles (premium)
64,471
68,869
74,432
79,871
Total PC market
259,787
258,341
257,255
254,929
Ultramobiles (basic and utility)
149,561
147,963
145,811
143,707
Computing device market
409,348
406,304
403,066
398,636
Mobile phones
1,811,922
1,802,394
1,824,628
1,798,356
Total device market
2,221,270
2,208,697
2,227,694
2,196,992
In millions of units. Source: Gartner
Table 8. Top 5 PC Shipment OEMs, Q2 2019
Company
2Q19 Shipments
2Q19 Market Share
2Q18 Shipments
2Q18 Market Share
2Q19/2Q18 Growth
Lenovo
16,254
25.1%
13,750
22.2%
18.2%
HP
15,356
23.7%
14,880
24%
3.2%
Dell
11,606
17.9%
11,255
18.2%
3.1%
Acer
4,288
6.6%
4,363
7%
-1.7%
Apple
4,077
6.3%
3,722
6%
9.6%
Others
13,276
20.5%
13,961
22.5%
-4.9%
Total
64,858
100%
61,931
100%
4.7%
Source: IDC

In conclusion, this year’s winners will be those that cater to 5G infrastructure, automotive electronics, IC substrates, and, still, smartphones (absorbing 20+% of all PCBs despite its slow growth). Gains from other industries will be infinitesimal.

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