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    Competition Strategies of Asian PCB Makers Characterized by Differentiation, New Southward Battlefield Now Taking Shape

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    Asia has always played a pivotal role in the electronics manufacturing industry, with over 90% of printed circuit boards (PCB) being manufactured in the region. The most important PCB makers are in Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and China, and each has found its own particular market niche after many years of co-opetition. Taiwanese companies are the largest PCB suppliers in the world, boasting a full line-up of products and the best technology. Chinese companies are in second place, with rigid PCBs being their primary business. Third place goes to Japanese companies whose main focus is carriers and flex PCBs. Korean companies fall in fourth place and concentrate on the carrier market.

    There are several thousand PCB companies around the world and industry competition has always been intense. Businesses must keep close tabs on product and technology developments, and adjust their market positioning accordingly in order to succeed. Rigid PCBs (including single/double layer, multi-layer, and HDI PCBs) are the most widely used, but the competition is also the most intense due to technological maturity. Taiwanese and Chinese PCB makers dominate the market as they excel in cost control. Japan and Korea enjoy an advantage due to their design of end-user products. Due to their technological advantage and higher production costs, their PCB industries have gradually withdrawn from the mid-to low-end segments and transitioned to flex and carrier PCBs with higher technical thresholds. Today, Japan is the world’s second-largest flex PCB maker and third-largest carrier PCB maker. Most of these are used in semiconductor, communication, and autotronic applications. Major Korean companies have been concentrating on carrier developments after withdrawing from HDI. Korea is now the second largest carrier maker in the world. The biggest segment is BT carrier PCBs used in mobile phone AP, DDR, and SSD. In business, observing the strategy of key competitors is just as important as changes in the overall environment and market.

    The Japanese PCB industry still produces about 50% of its products locally, followed by China and Southeast Asia (Thailand, Vietnam). The industry has focused mainly on ABF for carrier and automotive PCBs in recent years. Most producers of this high-end product, such as IBIDEN, SHINKO, MEIKO and KYOCERA, are located in Japan. Automotive PCB applications are more widespread and encompass flex, HDI, and multi- layer PCB products. This category of product is relatively more mature and more labor intensive, so their production locations stretch from Japan to overseas. Key manufacturers included MEKTEC, MEIKO, and CMK. Korea manufactures about 60% of its PCBs domestically, followed by China and Southeast Asia (Vietnam and Malaysia). Korean companies were once dominant players in HDI, but competition from Taiwanese and Chinese companies meant that leading Korean manufacturers such as SEMCO, LG Innotek, and Daeduck Electronics have all quit the market.

    They have now redirected their efforts to the carrier PCB business, which has higher added value and are also strengthening their production capabilities in Korea and Southeast Asia. SEMCO, LG Innotek, and Daeduck, for example, have embarked on an aggressive expansion of their ABF carrier production capacity while Simmtech continues to build on its BT carrier and high-end HDI businesses. Chinese PCB companies produce almost 100% of their products domestically. At the end of last year, major Chinese companies all started announcing plans to build factories in Thailand. Chinese PCB companies appear to be entering a new overseas phase. The first wave of investments is expected to start mass production between the second half of 2024 and 2026. Chinese PCB companies will probably increase their proportion of overseas production to between 1.5% ~ 2.0% by 2026 The automotive market has been another highlight for Chinese PCB makers. The automotive industry has already enjoyed strong policy support from the Chinese government. China also plays an important role in both the sale and production of New Energy Vehicles (NEV) worldwide. In May this year, the government launched an initiative to bring NEVs to the countryside. If the policy can meet its targets, the economies of scale will be amplified again. The influence exerted on PCB products will rival that of computer, communication, and consumer products.

    The development strategies of PCB industry peers in China, Japan and Korea have been quite interesting. In addition to leveraging their strengths in different product fields, once more than 20 PCB makers on both sides of the Strait announced their investment plans for Thailand, a new battlefield started taking shape for the global PCB industry in Southeast Asia. There is a good chance that Thailand will become a new PCB production cluster. Clustering not only reduces logistic and procurement costs for manufacturers but can also stimulate industry innovation and breakthroughs. To promote cooperation and exchange with the Thai industry chain and strengthen the local PCB ecosystem, TPCA and TEEMA will marshal the power of our supply chain by attending, along with our members, the “Intelligent Asia Thailand 2024” event being hosted in Bangkok from February 29 to March 2, 2024. Various conferences will also be held by TPCA during this exhibition to build a platform for diversified networking. Trend forums, industry-academia and talent matchmaking events will enhance the resilience of our members’ new Thailand strategy and build partnerships to develop new markets.