PCB Fabricators’ Technical Capabilities Exceed OEMs’ Needs in Many Areas, According to IPC Study

By Dennis Fritz, Fritz Consulting

Some interesting differences showed up in the board property data reported by the OEMs and PCB fabricators that participated in IPC’s PCB Technology Trends 2018 study. By and large, those differences indicate that PCB fabricators are well positioned to meet many of their OEM customers’ technical needs today, and their projections indicate their belief that they can stay ahead of the curve through 2023.

One example is the average maximum number of drilled holes per panel. The participating PCB fabricators are drilling more than twice as many holes as the participating OEMs reported specifying.

PCB fabricators reported minimum conductor line widths and spaces that averaged 25 to 30 percent smaller than those currently specified by the participating OEMs. Perhaps more significantly, the participating PCB fabricators predict the minimum line width and spacing in 5 years will approach 50 microns, while the OEMs in the survey said line/space requirements would not even get as small as 90 microns.

Fabricators reported that they are building boards to mount finer surface mount features than the participating OEMs are specifying. Fabricators reported a minimum pitch of 0.5 millimeters on average for surface-mount packages, while the participating OEMs averaged current minimum pitch above 1.0 millimeter. Board fabricators estimate that by 2023, they will have to make boards to mount 0.3-millimeter pitch on average. OEMs were much less demanding in their expected 2023 specifications.

Differences in the samples of participating companies could explain these differences in part. The data might also reflect differences between the roles of the respondents. More than half the OEM respondents work in product development, design or R&D, while the PCB fabricator respondents represented a balanced mix of top management, production, design, quality assurance and engineering.

In many cases, OEM and PCB fabricators’ data averages were close, such as in board thickness, maximum number of layers, percentages of boards by layer count, rigid-flex layers, and the use of blind and buried vias. Both segments predict increases in the maximum number of layers and in the use of blind and buried vias over the next five years.

Do you think OEMs and board fabricators are singing from the same song-book?

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