The secret of Japan's monopoly on high-end MLCC

As one of the most important patch components for electronic machines, MLCC has a similar fate to the smart toilet lid-invented in the United States, promoted in Japan, and in demand in China.

Japan and the MLCC
The development of MLCC is a process of decreasing volume and increasing capacity.

The secret of Japan's monopoly on high-end MLCC

The original version was invented by Italian L. Lombardi, but it was not called MLCC at that time, just a simple ceramic capacitor (ML in MLCC is short for multi-layer, meaning multi-layer). After the Improvement of the United States, the introduction of titanate as a raw material, and applied in the volume and precision requirements of military electronic equipment, the prototype of MLCC.

In the 1970s, with the rapid development of computers and portable electronic equipment, MLCC became an indispensable part of electronic equipment. But it is Japan, not the US, that is reaping the dividends of this wave.

01. Rise of Passive components in Japan

The rise of MLCC in Japan is positively related to the rise of Japanese consumer electronics industry and automobile industry after the war.

Murata website

After the war, Japan was devastated, but due to the technology transfer of the United States, and later the United States re-engaged in the war in Asia, Japan became a later supply base for the United States, which directly contributed to the development of the Japanese electronics and automobile industries.

Thanks to technology transfer and cheap labor, Japan's electronics industry entered a golden age in the 1970s.

In 15 years, the output value of Japan's electronics industry has increased fivefold, domestic demand has tripled, and exports have increased 11-fold. SONY, Toshiba, NEC and others rose rapidly. The prosperity of the electronics and automobile industries has also led to the growth of passive components, as well as the growth of MLCC companies such as Murata, TDK, and Sunbaer.

In the 1990s, Japan's electronics industry was gradually replaced by Korea and Taiwan. However, Japanese electronic component manufacturers, relying on their profound technical barriers, took advantage of the rapid growth of smart phones, forming kyocera, TDK, Murata Manufacturing, Nippon Electric corporation, Nitto Denko, Alps Electric, Roma, these seven industry giants.

Japanese component companies dominate high-end products with their profound technological advantages.

For example, Murata ceramic capacitors, complete specifications, can be matched with the whole series of customers, and excellent quality, so it has been recognized by many big customers; Sunlure focuses on research and development and production of high capacity and other high-end specifications, its high capacity capacitor quality is stable, the price is cheaper, many machine manufacturers favor; TDK focuses on MLCC with small size and large capacity and large size and high capacity specifications.

The secret of Japan's monopoly on high-end MLCC

Taiyo yuden

These three companies are unshakeable and have strong bargaining power because they occupy the top end of the market. On the contrary, in the low-end MLCC market, due to fierce competition between civil complete machines, most customers are facing greater price pressure. Therefore, in addition to requiring stable quality and sufficient supply capacity of suppliers, they will constantly require suppliers to reduce the supply price. In the years leading up to this squeeze, MLCC prices were falling 1% to 2% a year.

02. Passive Components "Live on their roots"

MLCC is an experience-hungry industry, especially at the high end.

Among today's Japanese MLCC companies, TDK was founded in 1935, Murata in 1944, and Suntrap in 1950. The average history of these three companies is 78 years ago, so they have entered the MLCC industry from its infancy. After decades of development, Japanese enterprises have accumulated strong research and development technology and rich production experience, which is difficult for latecomers to match in a short time.

On the other hand, it also has something to do with the so-called craftsman spirit in Japan.

Every coin has two sides.

Craftsman spirit sometimes means rigid, means old-fashioned. So craftsman spirit can be outdated in fast-changing industries, such as Japan's slow development of digital chips. But on the other hand, the craftsman spirit also represents the tireless pursuit of technology, polishing a product day after day for decades, and this craftsman spirit plays a huge role in an industry that is slow to change (except for sushi).

Documentary: Sushi God

Looking back on Japan's dominant industries, photoresist and silicon wafer industries are relatively stable and change slowly, which are more suitable for long-term grinding. The same is true for passive components, such as MLCC. From its inception to today, the biggest change is smaller and smaller, with more and more capacity, and almost no change in function. That gives Japanese firms plenty of time to build up the technology and manufacturing know-how that is their powerful moat.

03. Three technical barriers

Material barriers

"Advanced materials will bring future breakthroughs to existing industrial technologies," Inamori once said.

The spirit of craftsman is the belief of Japanese enterprises, and concretely, the reason why Japan can dominate the passive components industry is a very important reason lies in the control of materials.

MLCC raw materials mainly include MLCC powder materials and metal electrodes. MLCC powder materials include barium carbonate, titanium oxide, magnesium titanate and other materials, and these materials are basically monopolized by Japanese business.

According to the Global Petroleum and Chemical Economics Analysis, 65% of the electronic ceramic powder market share is occupied by Japanese manufacturers, of which Sakai Chemical accounts for 27%, is the world's largest ceramic powder producer; Ferro of the US followed with 19% of the global market.

The ceramic powder used by Murata, TDK and solar inductor can be developed for self-use. As the core technology of the product, their technology is highly confidential, and the raw materials developed are not for sale.

TDK's official website

As for the metal electrode, the world used the precious metal palladium silver electrode originally, and then The Japanese manufacturers took the lead in using the base metal nickel electrode, so that the cost of MLCC electrode material decreased a lot.

Japan is unique in material technology, South Korea, China Taiwan manufacturers are also clever housewife without rice, can only look at the ocean.

Technological barriers

In addition to materials, the technological barriers accumulated by Japanese businessmen for decades are also unsurpassed by the newcomers in a short time.

The core technology of MLCC mainly includes material manufacturing technology, laminated printing technology and co-firing technology.

Material technology aside for the moment. In lamination printing technology, Japanese manufacturers generally can do in 1μm of film media on the stack of more than 1000 layers, the production of media thickness of 1μm of 100μF MLCC, and mainland manufacturers can only do stacking 300~500 layers.

In co-firing technology, Japan is in the leading position in MLCC sintering special equipment technology, not only has all kinds of nitrogen atmosphere kilns, but also has obvious advantages in equipment automation and precision.

The giant's official website

Small process differences can lead to large product performance differences, and time is the first factor in smoothing out these process differences.

Barriers to equipment

He that will do his work well must first sharpen his tools. Without spaceships, the moon will always remain a beautiful legend.

Japan's MLCC industry is not only superior in materials, but also in production equipment. MLCC manufacturing requires stacking machines, printing presses, slicing machines and silver end machines, and advanced equipment has always been monopolized by japanese-led manufacturers.

Taiyo yuden

Take the flow drawing machine as an example. The flow-drawing machine is the equipment with the largest investment and the highest technical difficulty in MLCC industry.

Standardized equipment cannot directly meet the production needs of enterprises. MLCC enterprises also need to modify standardized equipment based on their own understanding of material properties and manufacturing process. These are the need for a long time of experience and the accumulation of technology, can achieve good results.

The so-called technical barriers, to some extent, are also time barriers, trial and error takes time, polishing takes time. In a slow-moving industry, high-end manufacturing depends on R&D, but it requires decades of r&d.

Development of MLCC in Korea and Taiwan
Japan's MLCC industry is among the top in the world, but other countries and regions are not without opportunities.

As mentioned above, the relocation of the Japanese electronics industry chain has led to the outflow of low and mid-range products to other parts of Asia, with South Korea and Taiwan taking over the low and mid-range MLCC industry.

The growth of MLCC in Korea is largely due to Samsung, a national treasure of Korea.

Samsung is not only a top semiconductor company, but also a top consumer electronics company, ranking among the world's top three in mobile phones and booming in home appliances. So big consumer electronics feeds back into Samsung's semiconductor and passive components businesses.

Currently, Samsung's Samsung Electric is second only to Japan in the MLCC industry, and in recent years, Samsung has been expanding its production capacity, including the way to steal more market share.

However, MLCC in Taiwan region of China can develop mainly because it and Japanese enterprises complement each other in different product series in MLCC field.

Taiwanese manufacturers Yago and Huasinke mainly supply small sizes for high-end consumer products, such as the 0402 for smartphones and tablets, and are cheaper than Japanese manufacturers.

Japanese manufacturers have given up this market one after another due to the shrinking profit of the size and small capacity specifications above 0603. However, Taiwanese manufacturers have well controlled product costs due to their strict and rich production management experience and complement this market.

In recent years, the Taiwanese manufacturers led by YAGeo have been increasing the number of agents in the mainland, and through the infiltration and expansion of channels, the products are involved in the whole machine manufacturers through agents, constantly encroachment on the low-end product market of Japanese manufacturers.

The giant's official website

In terms of r&d technology, Taiwanese manufacturers strive to improve their technical level through acquisition. For example, Yageo purchased philips' ceramic capacitor department, and its manufacturing capacity has gradually caught up with that of Japanese companies. In 2019, Yageo also acquired Gimei to expand its layout in the high-end market. At the same time, Taiwanese enterprises are constantly moving their industrial chains to the mainland to reduce manufacturing costs.

More than MLCC
Passive components include not only capacitors, but also resistors, inductors, and passive RF chips. These areas are almost the same story as the MLCC industry.

In rf chips, Murata of Japan, Broadcom, Skyworks, Qorvo and Qualcomm of the United States dominate the vast majority of the market. Laminated chip inductor is the main inductor, the market is monopolized by Japanese manufacturers. In terms of chip resistance, American and Japanese enterprises are in the lead in technology, Taiwan factory scale advantage is obvious, mainland manufacturers have a smaller market share, and Japan is the only country in the world to achieve the industrial production of 01005 specification chip resistance.

High technical barriers, slow product upgrade iteration, the need for long-term accumulation of technology and experience, is almost the entire passive components field common. And some products have a long certification cycle, so customers will not easily switch suppliers. The double barriers of technology and market make it very difficult for the latter to break through.

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