On October 18th, the Second Annual Forum of Moore Material Institute was held in Beijing, and over 200 speakers and guests attended the close-door forum and had candid discussion about development on various material fields, especially materials used in electronics industry. Here are some of my thoughts from the event.
- Traditionally, advance material industry in China is relatively less competitive on a global scale. Though great efforts have been taken in the past decades, notable gaps on high-end materials still exist between MNCs and Chinese local players. The presentations from Heraeus and Nano Star on the application of inkjet printing of Ag-ink illustrate this well. Heraeus employs a particle-free Ag-ink solution during the printing and UV, IR or flash curing afterwards. Whereas Nano Star uses nano Ag inks, curing at 180C is needed, and the occasional blockage of spray nozzle may happen during production.
- Driven by the uncertainties over Sino-US relationship and potential supply chain disruption, more customers are trying out products of local players and conducting joint development projects. I noticed senior executives from Huawei, ZTE, and BOE at the forum scouting potential suppliers / partners. As for any industrial product, having field customers and getting first-handed feedbacks are essential for efficient allocation of R&D resources and continuous product improvement. And signs of this virtuous circle started to emerge. Because of this, I am highly positive on the outlook of local companies on technology and product development in the next few years.
- Some Chinese researchers are doing remarkably interesting works, however, further collaboration with downstream partners are needed to get the ideas commercialized. Dr. Song, Yanlin made a fascinating talk about green printing technology / printable flexible electronics. Based on research on coffee ring effect, Rayleigh instability and Marangoni effect, they achieved precise control of 1D-3D nanoparticles. The technology can be utilized in diversified fields including high speed & high precision 3D printing, printing of bio-chips, as well as printing of high sensitivity sensors. But none such product is commercialized yet.
- Mr. Wu Yongrong, GM of Suzhou Jiepin, a ceramic filter player, made an interesting overview of ceramic filter industry and its opportunity & challenges. The opportunities & challenges he mentioned are not unique to ceramic filter industry, but a snapshot of many material fields. Driven by the deployment of 5G base stations, ceramic filter industry experienced rapid growth, with all tier 1 ceramic filter companies are suppliers to Huawei and ZTE, and 50+ players emerged due to easy access of production equipment (the production line is also not overly expensive). The rapid growth caused severe shortage of R&D staff, process engineer and experienced technician, and result in soaring wages. However, a high percentage of products cannot meet customers’ requirements on quality, consistency and reliability. Only 10-15 players have stable volume contracts. Within less than 5 years, the industry has experienced the cycle of booming, reshuffle, and consolidation. The top ones are investing more money and effort in R&D, entering Nokia / Ericsson supply chain, and becoming global players.
Maybe it’s appropriate to describe current status of electronics material industry in China with a Chinese saying: the future is bright, but it is an arduous task, and the road is long. Though on macro level, the industry is still lagging behind leading MNCs, there are a number of born strengths, including close to customer, quick cycle time and upstream / downstream collaboration, it can leverage. With time, I expect to see more China companies who can leverage these strengths well, move up the innovation ladder, and become influential players on a global scale.