Copper clad laminate market overview
Copper clad laminate (CCL) is the core raw material of downstream PCB, accounting for more than 40% of the material cost, and the cost proportion is even higher in high-end PCB. The development trend of copper clad laminate terminal applications is obvious, and the high-end market is growing rapidly and has higher added value.
In addition to ordinary copper clad laminates used in home appliances, automobiles and other terminal equipment, high-end copper clad laminates can be divided into high frequency, high speed copper clad laminates and high density interconnect (HDI) substrates according to the different performance requirements of terminal applications.
In order to adapt to the characteristics of high precision, high density, miniaturization and thinness of electronic technology, IC substrates have gradually evolved based on HDI related technologies. They are an upgrade of traditional integrated circuit packaging lead frames and are used in various chip packaging. IC substrates represents the highest technical level in the current PCB field.
The sales of global copper clad laminate companies have increased
Statistics from Prismark show that global sales of rigid copper clad laminates reached US$18.807 billion in 2021, an increase of 45.84% over 2020’s sales of US$12.896 billion. Among them, the total sales of halogen-free copper-clad laminates and rigid copper-clad laminates, which have stability and environmental protection advantages and are mainly used in high-frequency, high-speed and mobile equipment fields, increased from US$3.094 billion in 2020 to US$4.453 billion, an increase of 43.92%.
According to Prismark statistics, the sales of halogen-free rigid CCL of the top 13 companies accounted for 96% of the global sales of halogen-free rigid CCL.
High-speed CCL market growth opportunities are significant
Among the rigid copper clad laminates, there are three types of special copper-clad laminates that are technically difficult in the manufacturing process and require high performance in downstream applications. They are copper clad laminates for IC packaging substrates (i.e. IC substrates), copper clad laminates for radio frequency/microwave circuits (i.e. high frequency copper clad laminates) and copper clad laminates for high speed digital circuits (i.e. high speed copper clad laminates).
According to Prismark’s data, the total sales of the three major types of special rigid copper-clad laminates reached US$4.652 billion in 2021, a year-on-year increase of 18.4%. Among them, the sales of IC substrates are 1.205 billion US dollars, an increase of 15.4% over 2021.
Sales of high-frequency copper-clad laminates increased by 9.8% year-on-year. The sales of high-speed copper-clad laminates (halogen-free and halogen-free high-speed copper-clad laminates included) increased by 21.5% year-on-year, among which the sales of high-speed halogen-free copper-clad laminates increased by 42.2% year-on-year.
And the sales volume of high-speed halogen-free CCL increased significantly from 2020. The sales growth rate in 2021 was 12.0%, indicating that the market demand for high-end high-speed halogen-free CCLs continued to increase in 2021. The market size of high-speed copper-clad laminates is more than twice that of IC substrates and more than five times that of high-frequency copper-clad laminates.
In 2021, among the three types of rigid special copper clad laminate companies in the world, there were 18 companies with a certain scale. The sales of the three types of special rigid copper clad laminates of these 18 companies accounted for about 95% of the total sales of such copper clad laminates in the world, and the sales volume accounted for about 90% of the total sales of such copper clad laminates in the world.
Among the above three major types of special copper clad laminate manufacturing enterprises, there are five Taiwanese companies, and the total sales of the three major types of special rigid copper clad laminates accounted for 40.2%. The sales of these copper clad laminates of Japanese-funded enterprises accounted for 30%. The sales of American companies accounted for 9%.
The high-frequency and high-speed subdivisions of the CCL industry have a high degree of concentration due to high technical barriers. In the field of high-speed CCL, the world’s number one manufacturer is Matsushita Electric Works of Japan, accounting for 35%. In the field of high-frequency CCL, Rogers of the United States ranks first in the world, accounting for 55% . The second place is Park Electrochemical in the United States, accounting for 22%, and the two together account for 77%.
Taking the field of high-speed copper clad laminate as the main example, the main application field of high-speed CCL is data processing center. The three major devices in the data center are servers, networks (switches, routers), and storage. A large number of high-speed PCBs, namely high-speed CCLs, are used. As the largest part of the capital expenditure of the data center, the server is the most representative.
From the perspective of related industry chains, higher server technology standards have higher requirements for CCL and PCB. PCB and its key raw material, copper-clad laminate, are the key substrates for carrying various wiring in the server, and the corresponding performance needs to be improved to adapt to server upgrades. Specifically:
1) The number of PCB board layers increases from less than 10 layers to more than 16 layers. The higher the number of layers, the greater the technical difficulty;
2) The transmission rate of PCB boards increases, and the transmission rate doubles every time the server platform is upgraded;
3) It can work at high frequency and high speed, and the PCB board is required to be made of Very Low Loss or Ultra Low Loss grade copper clad laminate material;
4) Low dielectric constant (Dk) and low dielectric loss factor (Df), the typical Df value is required to be reduced to 0.002-0.004, the Dk value dropped to 3.3-3.6.
The iteration of the server has two important impacts on the demand for technology upgrades and the growth of total demand for copper clad laminates. From the perspective of CCL technology upgrade, comparing the latest Intel Eagle Stream platform with the previous generation platform, it can be clearly seen that the CCL upgrade for server platforms is in a critical transition period from one step to another.
From the perspective of demand for high-end copper clad laminates, it can be seen that server iterations mean that the number of board layers required for processing has increased significantly. High-performance servers have expanded demand for high-speed copper clad laminates.
The popularization of 5G mobile phones will strengthen the growth momentum of HDI
The application of HDI substrates has been gradually promoted from a small number of high-end equipment to mid-end products, and the usage will increase significantly in the future. HDI motherboards are mainly divided into first-order, second-order, third-order, and Any layer HDI. The feature size is gradually reduced, and the manufacturing difficulty is also gradually increased.
At present, third-order, fourth-order or Any layer HDI motherboards are widely used in electronic terminal products. Any layer HDI is called any order or any layer HDI motherboard. The mainboard of Apple mobile phone is imported from iPhone4S to use Any layer HDI for the first time. The flagship series of Huawei mobile phones in recent years also mainly use Any layer HDI.
In 2018, the global HDI output value reached USD 9.222 billion, of which consumer electronics mobile phone terminals accounted for the highest proportion, about 66%. The computer PC industry takes the second place, about 14%, and the combined proportion of the two is about 80%.
The consumer electronics industry has become the largest application market of HDI. Increasing miniaturization of electronic devices, rapid inclination of consumers towards smart devices, significant growth in consumer electronics, and adoption of automotive safety measures are among the increasing factors driving the gradual growth of this market.
As the communication standard is upgraded to 5G, the usage of radio frequency chips, passive components and BTB connectors will all increase. A variety of mid-to-low-end mobile phone manufacturers with a large number of users will adapt to technology iterations by increasing the motherboard area, using a double-layer board structure or a higher-order HDI substrate, and correspondingly will increase the demand for HDI. The price of high-order HDI substrates is significantly higher than that of low-order.
In addition to the expansion of the application range and application order of HDI substrates, in order to adapt to the trend of miniaturization and functional diversification of flagship mobile devices, the number of components that need to be mounted on the PCB continues to increase but the required size continues to shrink.
Against this backdrop, PCB trace widths, pitches, microvia plate diameters and hole center distances, and thicknesses of conductor and insulating layers are all decreasing. Traditional HDI is limited by the manufacturing process and cannot meet the requirements. With more stacked layers, smaller line width and line spacing, and a carrier-like board that can carry more functional modules, SLP has significant performance advantages. Compared with HDI, substrate-like SLP can shrink the line width/space from 40/40μm to 30/30μm.
IC substrates are in short supply
As a high-end packaging field that replaces traditional lead frames, IC substrates are, to a certain extent, the highest level representative of copper-clad laminates under the current high-density interconnection trend due to their high density, high precision, high pin count, high performance, miniaturization and thinning.
It is also one of the representatives of the highest technical level in the entire copper clad laminate field. From the perspective of market size, according to Prismark data, the IC packaging substrate industry grew by 19% in 2021, and the market size reached 12.2 billion US dollars. The compound growth rate from 2020 to 2025 will be 9.7%. The overall market size will reach 16.2 billion US dollars, which is the fastest growing PCB segment.
From the perspective of packaging material costs, low-end wire-bonded substrates account for about 40% to 50% of the total packaging cost, while high-end flip-chip substrates can account for as high as 70% to 80%. The IC substrate has become the most valuable material in the packaging process.