[News] Subsidies from the U.S. Legislation “NAPMP” Potentially Expected to Cover IC Substrates

The U.S. Department of Commerce has initiated the “National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program (NAPMP) ,” with materials and substrates being the first subsidized areas. Due to the close collaboration between IC testing and IC substrates, it is not ruled out that the IC substrate industry could be the next recipient of subsidies under the U.S. chip legislation.

However, according to Commercial Times’ report, there is a lack of interest among Taiwanese PCB manufacturers in establishing facilities in the U.S., and there are three main reasons for this. 

Firstly, the PCB industry thrives on economies of scale, and the production costs in the U.S. are too high. Taiwanese manufacturers have recently responded to the China Plus One Strategy by establishing facilities in Southeast Asia, making it unlikely for them to set up operations in the U.S.

Secondly, the U.S. is not particularly welcoming to polluting industries, making pure substrate manufacturers more likely candidates. 

Thirdly, domestic PCB manufacturers in the U.S. are also relocating their production lines. If seeking a partnership is necessary, Japanese manufacturers may present a more viable option.

As for potential subsidy recipients, industry experts speculate that one of the more likely beneficiaries could be TTM Technologies, a major PCB manufacturer in the United States. TTM announced in 2023 the establishment of a new facility in the state of New York dedicated to producing HDI PCBs, primarily for military applications in line with U.S. strategic requirements.

The United States plans to invest USD 3 billion in three main areas: an advanced packaging piloting facility, workforce training programs, and funding for projects. The funding is derived from the CHIPS and Science Act, and detailed information on the subsidy program is expected to be announced in early 2024.

In response to this news, the Taiwan Printed Circuit Association pointed out that the conditions for subsidies under the CHIPS and Science Act are stringent. In the past year, the semiconductor supply chain-related companies, led by foundry outsourcing, have started to establish a production presence in the U.S. This includes not only foundries such as TSMC, Samsung, and Intel but also packaging and testing facilities like Amkor and ASE Group.

The association highlighted that IC substrates are part of the semiconductor supply chain, but the more immediate impact is on packaging and testing facilities. If global packaging and testing facilities also take concrete actions to establish operations in the U.S. following the “whole chip” production mindset, the pressure on IC substrate manufacturing will undoubtedly increase. It is not ruled out that the IC substrate industry could be the next focus of the U.S. government’s attention.

While the production scale of IC substrates (or the overall PCB) in the U.S. may not be significant, once categorized as a strategic material, even small-scale production becomes meaningful.

In other words, establishing operations in the U.S. is not solely about scale but rather about companies having the “capability” to produce locally. Reportedly, the industry should pay attention to the future developments in U.S. policy in this regard.

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Please note that this article cites information from Commercial Times.


[News] GIGABYTE Aims for Over NT$100 Billion Revenue, Doubles Server Performance This Year  

GIGABYTE held an online earning call on November 1st, during which General Manager Etay Lee expressed optimism about the company’s performance. The growth momentum in server and motherboard sectors remains robust, allowing GIGABYTE to potentially reach the significant milestone of NT$100 billion in annual revenue ahead of schedule. Additionally, the company is increasing its server revenue contribution this year, aiming for a remarkable double-digit growth.

As reported by Anue, Lee focused on the server sector, noting that the third quarter demonstrated impressive server revenue, and this momentum is expected to continue into the fourth quarter. The company is poised for high double-digit revenue growth in the server sector this year, with the ambition to challenge triple-digit growth. These developments have led to an upward revision of the annual revenue target.

Etay Lee emphasized the current high demand for AI servers, with a majority being shipped as units or racks. These include high quality networking, high efficiency storage, and High Performance Computing (HPC) integration. The increased components in AI server systems has led to a boost in revenue and gross profit; however, there is a slight decrease in the gross profit margin.

Regarding the expanded chip ban controls imposed by the United States, Lee clarified that GIGABYTE’s AI server products have a limited presence in the Chinese market, thereby minimizing the impact of these restrictions. Furthermore, in regions such as the Middle East and Vietnam where approvals are required, the company will also submit applications, and the overall impact is minimal.

In terms of graphics cards, GIGABYTE reported that inventory adjustments are completed, and channels have returned to normal levels. This, coupled with competitive pricing for the company’s main products, the 4060Ti and 4070, has generated strong demand starting from late in the third quarter. Notably, the European and American regions have witnessed a resurgence in growth, with demand surpassing that of the Asia-Pacific region.


High-Tech PCB Manufacturers Poised to Gain from Remarkable Increase in AI Server PCB Revenue

Looking at the impact of AI server development on the PCB industry, mainstream AI servers, compared to general servers, incorporate 4 to 8 GPUs. Due to the need for high-frequency and high-speed data transmission, the number of PCB layers increases, and there’s an upgrade in the adoption of CCL grade as well. This surge in GPU integration drives the AI server PCB output value to surpass that of general servers by several times. However, this advancement also brings about higher technological barriers, presenting an opportunity for high-tech PCB manufacturers to benefit.

TrendForce’s perspective: 

  • The increased value of AI server PCBs primarily comes from GPU boards.

Taking the NVIDIA DGX A100 as an example, its PCB can be divided into CPU boards, GPU boards, and accessory boards. The overall value of the PCB is about 5 to 6 times higher than that of a general server, with approximately 94% of the incremental value attributed to the GPU boards. This is mainly due to the fact that general servers typically do not include GPUs, while the NVIDIA DGX A100 is equipped with 8 GPUs.

Further analysis reveals that CPU boards, which consist of CPU boards, CPU mainboards, and functional accessory boards, make up about 20% of the overall AI server PCB value. On the other hand, GPU boards, including GPU boards, NV Switch, OAM (OCP Accelerator Module), and UBB (Unit Baseboard), account for around 79% of the total AI server PCB value. Accessory boards, composed of components such as power supplies, HDD, and cooling systems, contribute to only about 1% of the overall AI server PCB value.

  • The technological barriers of AI servers are rising, leading to a decrease in the number of suppliers.

Since AI servers require multiple card interconnections with more extensive and denser wiring compared to general servers, and AI GPUs have more pins and an increased number of memory chips, GPU board assemblies may reach 20 layers or more. With the increase in the number of layers, the yield rate decreases.

Additionally, due to the demand for high-frequency and high-speed transmission, CCL materials have evolved from Low Loss grade to Ultra Low Loss grade. As the technological barriers rise, the number of manufacturers capable of entering the AI server supply chain also decreases.

Currently, the suppliers for CPU boards in AI servers include Ibiden, AT&S, Shinko, and Unimicron, while the mainboard PCB suppliers consist of GCE and Tripod. For GPU boards, Ibiden serves as the supplier, and for OAM PCBs, Unimicron and Zhending are the suppliers, with GCE, ACCL, and Tripod currently undergoing certification. The CCL suppliers include EMC. For UBB PCBs, the suppliers are GCE, WUS, and ACCL, with TUC and Panasonic being the CCL suppliers.

Regarding ABF boards, Taiwanese manufacturers have not yet obtained orders for NVIDIA AI GPUs. The main reason for this is the limited production volume of NVIDIA AI GPUs, with an estimated output of only about 1.5 million units in 2023. Additionally, Ibiden’s yield rate for ABF boards with 16 layers or more is approximately 10% to 20% higher than that of Taiwanese manufacturers. However, with TSMC’s continuous expansion of CoWoS capacity, it is expected that the production volume of NVIDIA AI GPUs will reach over 2.7 million units in 2024, and Taiwanese ABF board manufacturers are likely to gain a low single-digit percentage market share.

(Photo credit: Google)


EVs to Uncover the Gold Mine for High-Value PCBs

From foundational propulsion systems to cutting-edge autonomous driving, new technologies in modern electric vehicles(EVs) are increasingly leaning on advanced PCBs.

In a state-of-the-art electric vehicle, chips on PCB control a broad range of functions from safety alerts to convenience systems. As additional components like communication, camera, sensor, and battery charging modules join the network, the collective value of PCB is set to rise dramatically.

TrendForce’s study suggests that electric vehicle penetration was at 18% of the global vehicle sales of 80.98 million in 2022. By 2026, it’s estimated to climb to 41% of 92.85 million global vehicle sales. This surge is expected to propel automotive PCB production value from $9.2 billion in 2022 to $14.5 billion in 2026, a 12% CAGR.

Notably, it’s not just quantity but also the average value per vehicle that’s seeing significant growth in PCB use. The rising battery capacity continues to drive PCB usage growth. The average PCB value for an all-electric vehicle is estimated to be a hefty 5 to 6 times that of a traditional gas-powered car. Key contributors to this are Battery Management Systems (BMS) and autonomous driving systems, which are greatly enhancing the overall worth of automotive PCBs.

BMS Embraces FPC as Standard

The electric control system, which makes up over half the value of a vehicle’s PCB, is now experiencing a technical transformation. One of the significant factors affecting the widespread adoption of EVs has been ‘range anxiety.’ Beyond enhancing battery energy density and increasing charging infrastructure, there’s a critical objective to lighten vehicles.

This focus is particularly relevant to the battery, which comprises a third of an electric vehicle’s weight.

In the key BMS systems, the use of FPCs (Flexible Printed Circuits) to replace traditional wiring harnesses is considered a major solution, mainly because FPCs reduce weight and space usage by more than 50% compared to harnesses and also perform better in terms of heat dissipation and design flexibility.

Based on a rough estimate, a mainstream vehicle battery pack requires 7 to 12 battery modules, each including 1 to 2 FPCs, putting the overall value of FPCs at approximately $60 to $210.

Currently, FPCs have a penetration rate of about 20% in BMS. However, as major automotive battery manufacturers like Tesla, CATL, and BYD continue to adopt and set FPCs as the mainstream specification, it is expected that by 2026, the proportion of FPC usage will reach 80%, further enhancing the PCB value content in the electrical control system.

Autonomous Vehicles to Fuel the HDI Demand

Advancements in autonomous driving technology are leading to an increased need for PCBs due to the rise in in-vehicle cameras and radar. Key applications like millimeter-wave radars and LiDAR necessitate advanced PCBs as carriers.

It is said that Tesla may reintroduce millimeter-wave radar, highlighting that this technology remains an indispensable component of autonomous vehicles. The PCB layer count for mainstream 77GHz millimeter-wave radar reaches 8 layers, adopting high-frequency CCLs.

The precision of LiDAR is about ten times that of millimeter-wave radar, which allows for accurate 3D modeling of information about the external environment of the vehicle, hence it is mainly used in L3 and above-level vehicles.

LiDAR primarily uses HDI (High-Density Interconnector), with each LiDAR module requiring about 4 PCBs. Compared to traditional 4 to 8-layer in-vehicle PCBs, the price of HDI is more than three times higher.

For Level 3 and above autonomous systems fitted with LIDAR, the HDIs used can cost tens of dollars. Although LiDAR’s adoption rate is currently slow due to regulatory and technical barriers, its high value offers significant potential for related components.

Another emerging trend is the development of smart cockpits, which comprise the Cockpit Domain Controller (CDC), in-vehicle infotainment system, driver information display system, Head-Up Display (HUD), dashcam, and so on. As the functions become more complex, there is a need for PCBs with higher wiring density and narrower line width and spacing, which will further drive the demand for HDI boards.

In summary, the incorporation of high-value PCBs in both the BMS and autonomous driving systems is still in its infancy. As cars become more intelligent and aim to serve as a ‘third living space,’ we can expect more innovative applications in the automotive industry, thereby providing exciting opportunities for the PCB sector.


Apple Plans to Introduce RCC Materials in 2024, Enabling Space Saving and Increased Battery Capacity in iPhones

TrendForce’s investigation into the supply chain reveals that Apple plans to upgrade the PCB materials in its new iPhone models in 2024. The current copper-clad laminate (CCL) will be partially replaced with resin-coated copper (RCC), aiming to reduce the size and thickness of the mainboard. This upgrade is expected to enhance electronic signal transmission efficiency, reduce energy consumption, and save internal space, providing more room for increased battery capacity.

Apple first introduced the substrate-like PCB (SLP) with the launch of the iPhone X in 2017. SLP offers advantages over conventional high-density interconnect (HDI) PCBs by reducing line width and spacing, optimizing PCB area, and increasing battery space. This design has remained unchanged since its introduction. However, recent discussions within the supply chain indicate that there are plans to introduce RCC materials in the second half of 2024 for the upcoming iPhones, marking an upgrade after a seven-year gap.

The main difference between RCC and traditional CCL lies in their structure. RCC eliminates one layer of fiberglass cloth, significantly reducing the overall thickness of the PCB. It also simplifies the manufacturing process and improves the laser drilling yield. In terms of component performance, RCC allows for further reduction in line width and spacing of circuit wiring based on SLP, reducing the spacing between various passive and active components on the board. It even enables the embedding of some passive components, thereby saving space required for surface mount technology (SMT) processes. All these upgrades contribute to greater power efficiency and improved performance in end devices.

Considering the similarities between RCC and ABF substrates in terms of the manufacturing process, the most likely supplier for RCC is the Japanese company Ajinomoto. If Apple successfully replaces some layers with RCC in 2024, it may impact the demand for existing CCL, particularly affecting the CCL supplier, Elite Material (EMC). It is anticipated that EMC’s RCC product may require 1-2 more years of research and development before it has a chance to be completed.

For more information on reports and market data from TrendForce’s Department of Semiconductor Research, please click here, or email Ms. Latte Chung from the Sales Department at lattechung@trendforce.com

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