By Dominique K. Numakura

The largest electronics exhibition in Japan was held at Tokyo Big Sight on Wednesday January 17th.   The 47 year old show started out as InterNEPCON 47 years ago and featured companies that specialized in covered packaging and wiring including printed circuits for electronic equipment. The show evolved over the years and continuously added other electronics related products.

The official count for companies and organizations that reserved booths at this year’s show reached 2480. Automotive related technologies and electronics accounted for almost half the show. A large contingent of companies that represent the Robotics, Smart Manufacturing and Wearable Electronics categories made their debut this year with a big splash. Participation was at an all-time high this year; the main floor for the convention was packed, and for those that did not reserve space in time, they had to settle for the overflow space in lobbies and aisles that lead to the convention center. The total number of visitors who attended the three day exhibition was over 130,000; the place was packed and it was difficult to navigate from one booth to the next.

It was almost impossible to visit every booth in three days. I expected this and decided to focus on booths that featured printed circuits and electronic packaging in the PWB zone and packaging zone. However, it was more difficult than I thought, because these companies were spread out and not grouped together in zones; some were found in the Robotics Zone, and others could be in the Automobile Electronics Zone. Searching through the entire exhibition would not be productive, so I decided to just wing it and provide a review of the show from those booths I did intentionally find, and those I happened to come across. The remainder of this Newsletter will share these experiences.

There were more than 100 printed circuit manufacturers and other companies that featured related products. A few of the major Japanese manufacturers included CMK, Meiko and Denso. Mid-sized manufacturers at the show included Taiyo Industrial, Oki Cable, Oki PCB, P-ban.com, Raytech and K2.  Major printed circuit manufacturers from Korea, Taiwan and Mainland China did not participate in the show. AT&S, the largest circuit manufacturer in Europe and KCE, the largest local circuit shop in Thailand reserved large sized booths.

We could see a couple of common topics with the PWB manufacturers. The first was a low cost multi-layer rigid/flex for mobile equipment, and the second was elastic (expandable) circuits for wearable electronics. Representatives from both companies expressed their optimism to me that they are expecting a huge demand for disposable devices from medical applications, while representatives from two flex manufacturers shared their enthusiasm with me for transparent and heat resistant flex circuits they had on display. These new products are projected to have a spike in sales as new items begin to roll out in the medical device category and enhancements are made in scientific devices (finger print sensors).

Denso developed a series of manufacturing processes with LCP resin for Palap board. The new production system with heat resistant thermo plastic resin is available to produce not only multilayer boards, but also flexible circuits and rigid/flex. Because of low loss at high frequency range, the printed circuits could have good performances for high speed mobile devices. LCP resin was developed during the late 1990s, and after 20 years of promoting this, the LCP resin is now at volume demands.

Several specialty chemical suppliers such as JCU, Okuno and Japan Electroplating Engineers promoted new semi-additive processes for use with high density flexible circuits. The benchmark was finer circuit than 2 micron line/space. I was not able to talk specifics with representative from the specialty chemicals groups, but the rumor is this has reached a significant volume business. (DKN Research has been purchasing small volume of the chemicals to build transparent flex and ultra-thin flex.)

I visited the booth for YAMAHA Fine Tech, a machine manufacturer for automatic test and inspection equipment, and had an interesting conversation with the sales engineering staff. The quality requirement for fine via holes in fine flex circuits has increased dramatically. The traditional open/short test will no longer satisfy customer requirements. The new requirement from flexible circuit manufacturers is to measure the conductive resistance of the via holes and eliminate half opened via holes. The latest automatic inspection machines can test 100% with high accuracies and good productivities, so the resistance inspection machines are now the standard facilities employed at the end of the manufacturing process for fine flexible circuits. Nowadays, the quality assurance required by the customers is almost the same as semiconductor IC devices.

At the end of my tour in the IC packaging zone, I discovered a unique European company. AEMtec is headquartered in Berlin, Germany and manufactures custom packaging designs for small volume based customers. The company uses a broad range of packaging technologies and combines the appropriate technologies based on the customer’s requirements. AEMtec displayed special samples for packaging based on COF (Chips on Flex) . Bare semiconductor chips were mounted on high density flexible circuits employing different bonding technologies. It looks very reliable and appealing even though they have a large number of connections with small pitches. It is completely different from the packaging technologies for consumer electronics, and I learned a lot from their presentation.

Unfortunately, I could visit only 20% of the exhibition. This doesn’t seem like much, but the quality of time I spent conversing with sales representative and engineers was exceptional!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Dominique K. Numakura, dnumakura@dknresearch.com

DKN Research, www.dknresearch.com