Electronic Chemicals: PCB Chemicals and Semiconductor Packaging Materials
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Published: December 2010
In 2009, the global market for electronic chemicals for the production of printed circuit boards (PCBs) and semiconductor packaging materials was estimated at $10–15 billion. This diverse, highly specialized, technology-driven global market is projected to grow at an average annual rate of almost 5% through 2014. The steep economic slowdown is mostly behind, but the forecast represents modest growth because of slower economic growth in developed economies like the United States, Western Europe and Japan. Emerging economies such as China are starting to shrug off their financial woes and will grow at rates above 5%.
Globalization started to affect chemical markets in the mid-1990s. Only fifteen years later, it became standard practice to design and develop a product in one country, manufacture it in another and distribute it globally. Most successful semiconductor and electronic producers established factories in Asia and the materials suppliers followed the lead of their customers. At first it was the availability of low-cost labor and a young workforce that drove companies to Asia, but in the past fifteen years, Asian companies have developed cutting-edge, technologically advanced manufacturing capabilities and large-scale manufacturing facilities.
In developed countries, consumer demand for electronic products has always had a significant impact on overall demand. Globalization also brought wealth to the emerging economies and has created a middle class of consumers. Currently, this population is approximately 2 billion people and growing rapidly, spending almost $7 trillion on goods and services in 2009. The middle class has become the largest consumer segment of the economy in Asia, Eastern Europe and some countries in South America. These consumers have an appetite for high-tech products including the newest flat panel televisions, PCs and peripherals, video equipment and smart mobile devices. In the past, businesses had more influence on demand for electronic products, but currently it is the consumer that most significantly impacts demand for electronic products.
The following pie charts show world consumption of PCB chemicals and materials and semiconductor packaging materials.
Unlike any other industry, the electronics industry has been faithful to Moore's Law and keeps delivering innovation at the lowest cost. Therefore, even the most innovative materials need to be delivered at the most competitive cost. PCB and packaging manufacturers have very active global supply organizations and will source from the most competitive suppliers that operate on a large scale.
Currently, the global growth of PCBs is being driven by the increased use of multilayered, flexible PCBs. The board density and design complexity keep increasing as electronic companies try to add more features to the product. Electronic designers are trying to design products with clock speeds in excess of 350 MHz. At these speeds, speed and power dissipation become an issue requiring the use of advanced materials that can maintain their physical properties under ever more stressful conditions. At the same time, the electronics industry is extremely cost-sensitive. The properties of advanced materials and costs must be in balance.
The importance of Asia in the global electronic chemicals market cannot be overemphasized. Manufacturing capability in China, Taiwan, the Republic of Korea and Japan makes Asia the center of the electronics industry. Currently, almost all high-volume low-cost production of electronics is conducted in Asia.
It is believed that within the next five years, the laws of chemistry and physics will prevail over Moore's Law and that as a consequence miniaturization and cost-effective scaling will hit a technology wall. What does this bode for Moore's Law? A common consensus in the electronics industry is that, if you cannot fit any more transistors on a single device, you need to build multiple stories. In the next five years, three-dimensional (3-D) semiconductor packaging technology might offer a technology breakthrough. There seems to be a benefit to stacking chips utilizing through-silicon vias (TSVs) technology. Theoretically, this increases performance as well as eliminating the cost of expensive interposer material. However, developing and commercializing this technology will require innovative materials because vias need to be etched, drilled, film insulated, copper filled, and then wired. The TSV process is not in production today but it is expected to be commercialized during 2012–2014.