Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) constitute the foundation of PCB-As (i.e. printed circuit board assemblies) which are found in almost all types of electronic equipment. PCBs are bespoke platforms for electronic components connected via conductive tracks, pads and other features etched from layers of copper. PCBs vary in size and complexity and are custom made for each end-product.
Further, PCBs often represent a relatively small share, typically approximately 1-3 percent, of the value of the end-products (usually a larger share in simple end-products, such as an electronic tooth brush, and a smaller share in more complex end-products, such as an airplane). At the same time critical to the function of the end-product and a faulty PCB can be costly to fix. This makes quality one of the top buying criteria for customers.
PCBs can differ in size and complexity in terms of number of layers, features or materials. Larger PCBs are generally more expensive as they contain more components, connectors and layers of copper circuits. The number of layers is also an important price variable. According to the Company’s assessment 1-2 layer PCBs cost approximately USD 50 per square meter, 4-6 layer PCBs approximately USD 135 per square meter, 8-16 layer PCBs approximately USD 500 per square meter and PCBs with 18 or more layers cost approximately USD 2,000 per square meter. Special features such as resilience to micro waves, military grade materials or degree of flexibility are among the most frequent cost drivers. Flexible PCBs are for example used in products with moving parts and rigid-flexible PCBs in products with limited space for assembly. Radio frequency PCBs are for example used in high-frequency products to reduce signal interference.
The global market for PCBs was valued at approximately USD 60bn in 2016 of which the market for high-volume production accounts for 70 percent. The market is expected to grow at a CAGR of approximately 3 percent from 2016-2021, primarily driven by increases in the use of electronic systems and of their complexity, as well as a stable price level for PCBs. The stable price level is a result of increasing technology levels having a positive effect on the prices which is offset by price pressure on electronics. Approximately USD 8.4bn (approximately 14 percent) of the global PCB market comprise Europe and North America. Of total production, Europe and North America account for approximately USD 4.8bn (approximately 8 percent). Further, Europe and North America have net imports of approximately USD 3.6bn, or approximately 6 percent, of the global PCB market. The imports are in general either high-volume orders, which are typically placed directly with Asian manufacturers or HMLV orders which are typically placed with traders or advanced traders such as NCAB.
The demand for PCBs is driven by PCB-A production, since PCBs are the platform on which electronic components are mounted to produce a PCB-A. Consumer goods with large volumes such as cell phones mainly have PCB-A and end-product assembly in Asia. In Europe and North America, PCB-A and end-product production mainly comprise typical HMLV industries such as industrial, aerospace and defense and med-tech, but also partly high-volume industries such as telecom and automotive.
PCB-A production in Europe and North America is driven by, for example, higher transportation costs for PCB-As than for PCBs due to the higher fragility and larger size of PCB-As than that of PCBs and components separately as well as other strategic rationale for having local PCB-A production in close proximity to end-customers in Europe and North America.
The PCB market can be divided into two main segments covering different customer needs: high-volume and HMLV.
The high-volume segment comprises orders of large volumes of PCBs. Typically, an order covers more than 50 square meters and an order value exceeding USD 2,000. The high-volume segment is recognized by manufacturers with an ability to produce large volumes at low costs. The customers are for example large producers of customer goods and automotive, and the segment is highly competitive. As a result of the large volumes, short delivery times have lower priority for the customers than minimizing cost per purchased PCB. Due to these conditions, buying directly from Asian manufacturers is the most common alternative in the high- volume segment.
High Mix, Low Volume (HMLV)
NCAB’s main market segment, the HMLV segment, is defined as orders with relatively low volumes and which may include many different PCB articles. Typically, an order covers less than 50 square meters and an order value less than USD 2,000. Success factors for manufacturers include flexibility to rapidly meet customer’s demands. To cater to customer demands, manufacturers must have a low-volume adapted production. All manufacturers are specialized in one or a few types of PCBs, which means that traders can aggregate customers’ demands by using many different manufacturers.
The HMLV segment’s share of the market is expected to remain relatively unchanged in Europe and North America at an average of 60-65 percent. Hence, the HMLV segment is expected to grow with the total market in Europe and North America at approximately 1 percent per annum until 2021. During the same period the HMLV segment is expected to grow by 2 percent globally.