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The Japanese were arguably the leaders in the PWB industry for technology and gross revenues during ‘80s and ‘90s. Portable electronics, laptop computers, and audio and video products generated a remarkable demand for HDI multilayer boards and flexible circuits that helped Japanese remain industry leaders. During the ‘80s and ‘90s, Japanese manufacturers developed many new technologies to satisfy market demand for build-up multilayer boards, high-density rigid-flex, and semiconductor substrates. The Japanese PWB industry grew year-over-year, and many electronics companies budgeted a lot of money for R&D, and at the same time reduced manufacturing costs by shifting much of their manufacturing facilities to low-cost labor regions--mostly in China and Southeast Asia.
The double-digit growth rate hit a roadblock when the U.S. IT recession was in full bloom during 2001. Fortunately, the PWB industry in Japan rebounded thanks to new electronic products such as cell phones, digital cameras, and LCD televisions. The multilayer rigid-flex segment posted significant growth when cell phones evolved into smaller devices, and a new market for module substrates was created by the introduction of new semiconductor packaging technologies. Total volume returned to the same level as it was in 2000 (the best year since the recession began).
Unfortunately, a second global recession hit in 2008. This slowdown once again started in the U.S, but this time it crippled the Japanese PWB industry. A small rebound in 2010 could not sustain its momentum, and business continued to spiral downward.
The Japanese PWB manufacturers were not optimistic over the next few years, and they do not expect any significant growth for the next four years. Conversely, PWB manufacturers in Taiwan, Korea, China, and other Asian countries are very optimistic. Their sales forecast for the next few years shows no signs of weakening, and they continue to invest in capital improvements for manufacturing capacities.
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Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of The PCB Magazine.