Technology Ambassador Alun Morgan


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Matties: The other thing that we see a lot of conversation around is 3D electronics and additive processing. How does that impact the plans of a base material supplier?

Morgan: We're talking about the use of thinner, flexible substrates. Combined materials, like rigid-flex materials, which you see quite a lot of in the sectors now. From Ventec's perspective, we have products in the range of 25 microns now as not all materials are reinforced with glass either. Many new products are coming along and have been for some years in that area. We shouldn't forget when we come to these additive processes that they tend to target specific niche markets; that's really important, and there’s no doubt those areas will tend to grow. However, there's still a very large area in high-density multilayer materials comprised of thin layers that are still rigid, glass-reinforced materials.

We have to see this as being one aspect where things can move on, and we think of flex materials as an important area. Also for Ventec—which has a large take in automotive as well—I think we will see all of these things start running together. I don't see any shift in the whole range of materials to one particular platform or kind of material. You can draw different threads from the materials, and each of these must grow in its own way.

What's important for a supplier is that you have a presence in a number of sectors and can show technical leadership in some of those sectors, and perhaps more than one. From Ventec’s point of view, thermal management is one. Another we should mention is low-loss material and polyimide, which is traditionally a higher reliability material. Ventec has made a lot of market progress into some of those sectors, and possibly filled materials—perhaps non-reinforced, liquid crystal, or polymer materials—have a part in the future as well, although only for very specific application areas.

Matties: When we look at the supply chain, copper is widely used in the battery market, and we know that is a favorable industry for suppliers with fewer quality demands, and of course, the price of material. If you compound that with the tariffs or so-called trade wars that are going on, what impact should a fabricator be prepared for?

Morgan: That's a very difficult question. For example, we know the market has been through some terrible times with copper shortages in the last two years. Originally, a large reallocation of supply was going into batteries. The position, as we talk today, is somewhat eased. The pricing even in the last few weeks has reduced further. However, we have to face the possibility that this could come back at any stage and potentially cause issues. As a technology ambassador, I work with Ventec to prepare for and manage such circumstances to mitigate the impact on customers.

The same is true with the trade-war discussion. It just takes a comment from a person in the U.S., China, or somebody who works for one of the big supplying countries to say something, and suddenly you get a run on demand, or there could be all kinds of issues. In theory, there could be a terrible result from this. You might end up with a major supply chain shortage. On the other hand, if you view it more logically, the posturing is to get a good deal for somebody. Usually what happens is the deal is done before you get to that crunch point when you fall off the cliff.

That’s what we've seen so far. We've heard a lot about tariffs and the possibility of supply chains coming to a halt. It hasn't happened so far. Anybody looking at this was nervous, and we probably all should be and take some defensive positions at least. I can certainly imagine speaking as we are now that there's probably some volume in the supply chain building up just in case. I’m speaking to you from my perspective where Brexit is a very big topic at the moment as the U.K. prepares to leave the EU. Again, there could be tariffs and all types of issues when that process happens. Anybody with an ounce of sense would be taking a position against that and making sure there is a bit more meat in the supply chain right now.

Matties: Alun, again, congratulations on your new position. Is there anything we haven't talked about that you feel like we should also include in this conversation?

Morgan: Thank you. I will add one thing about Ventec as a company. I've been involved in PCB materials for my entire working career. Ventec is a relatively new player having been founded in 2000. Having personally visited their facilities in Suzhou and around the world, one thing I would comment on is that if I look back at the last 20–30 years, laminate production was traditionally large scale with a limited product mix. What I see with Ventec is a much more agile, flexible manufacturing model. Instead of big monolithic machines and massive production lines, there are a number of flexible smaller lines that can cope with a higher mix. I think that's very valuable today.

If you look at the complexity now of the products that are being supplied and the variety of products that go into a PCB shop, this number has increased massively over recent years. Perhaps coming to the market in 2000 has given Ventec the vision to install a flexible manufacturing structure that is capable of handling this high mix. This could explain why supply-chain control and ownership have been such an important part of their progress. From the beginning, the DFM facilities have allowed that to manifest. That was my observation when I looked at the facilities installed at Ventec.

Matties: Thank you for spending some time with us today, Alun.

Morgan: It was my pleasure, Barry. Nice to talk to you.

Visit I-007eBooks to download your copy of Ventec micro eBook today:
The Printed Circuit Designer's Guide to...Thermal Management with Insulated Metal Substrates

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