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Automobiles and 5G Drive Demand for High-capacity and High-frequency MLCCs

The basic component of capacitor is inseparable from any hardware circuit. It can be said that these components are not only related to the overall stability of the hardware circuit, but also determine the quality of electronic equipment.

MLCC, multilayer ceramic capacitor, is currently the hottest type of capacitor, and its application fields have already widely covered various industries such as automatic control instruments, computers, mobile phones, digital home appliances, and automotive electronics. In a wide range of market applications, MLCC-related technologies and products are developing rapidly, and high-end MLCCs have become the common pursuit of the market and suppliers.

Table of Contents

Consumer MLCCs are weak, but demand for high-end MLCCs in the 5G and automotive markets is strong

The downstream application scenarios of the multi-layer ceramic capacitor (MLCC)cover almost all scenarios that require electronic equipment, from the consumer field, communication field, industrial field, automotive field to military industry, aerospace field, these applications are indispensable for MLCC. The main downstream application markets of MLCC include consumer electronics, communication base stations, automotive electronics and industrial equipment.

MLCC(multilayer ceramic capacitor)
MLCC(multilayer ceramic capacitor)

From the perspective of application demand, about 70% of the demand for MLCC comes from the field of consumer electronics . However, with the decline in demand for smartphones, tablets, and PCs, MLCC showed a weak trend in the consumer market last year. The slowdown in consumer demand has caused MLCC manufacturers to face the problem of prolonged destocking time. As consumer MLCC profits are getting lower and lower, many MLCC manufacturers are shifting to automotive applications, energy storage applications and 5G applications.

Some people say, “Automobiles are a collection of MLCCs.” MLCCs for vehicles have ushered in a substantial growth under the upgrade of intelligent and electrified vehicles. High-reliability MLCCs for automotive use include soft-terminal capacitors, bracket capacitors, and three-terminal capacitors. 

The soft terminal capacitor adds a flexible resin layer to the terminal electrode, which can reduce the “bending crack” problem caused by stress. The bracket capacitor installs a metal frame on the terminal electrode, which has the characteristics of large capacitance, low ESL and high reliability. The three-terminal capacitor adopts a through-type structure, which has the characteristics of low ESL, and can play the role of noise reduction and decoupling in a wide frequency band.

These automotive MLCCs have a large number of applications ranging from automotive ADAS to various control systems, from positioning modules to battery management modules. An electric vehicle requires tens of thousands of MLCCs, and most of them are high-end models with high performance. MLCC has a wide range of capacitance, the upper limit is about 100uF, and the upper limit of voltage is about 1000V. 

Automotive MLCCs
Automotive MLCCs

In terms of performance, these automotive MLCCs mainly present the characteristics of high capacitance and low ESL. In addition, the product itself needs to be able to be used in high temperature, high pressure and high power environments. According to the calculations of relevant securities companies, the global demand for automotive MLCCs is expected to increase from 0.40 trillion units to 0.68 trillion units in 2022-2025, with a compound annual growth rate of 20%. Among them, the demand for MLCC for electric vehicles has increased to 0.42 trillion pieces, with a compound annual growth rate of 37%.

Another market with strong demand is 5G terminals. With the increase of 5G penetration rate, the number of 5G terminal equipment has increased significantly, and the utilization rate of MLCC in it has increased significantly. MLCCs in 5G terminals are mainly used to control power supply ripple, load transient overshoot/undershoot, and EMI. The biggest feature of MLCC in this application is high frequency. 5G equipment has higher frequency and wider bandwidth, which requires higher high frequency performance of MLCC. 

Another feature is high temperature resistance. The circuit substrate and components used in 5G base stations generate high heat, which is easy to cause local high temperature. The upper limit of the operating temperature of MLCC is also required to be increased. According to the calculations of relevant securities companies, the demand for MLCCs for 5G mobile phones alone is expected to increase to 1.62 trillion units in 2025.

Leading Japanese MLCC manufacturers

In the MLCC industry chain, Japanese MLCC brands currently occupy an absolutely dominant position. From the upstream raw material link of ceramic powder, internal and external electrodes, and auxiliary materials, to the midstream MLCC preparation process, Japanese brands have absolute advantages. Murata, TDK, and Taiyo Yuden are firmly in the top echelon in the world. American, Korean and Chinese Taiwanese companies such as Samsung Electro-Mechanics, KEMET, AVX, and Yageo are in the second echelon. China’s mainland enterprises such as Sanhuan, Fenghua Hi-Tech, and Weicong are currently in the third echelon.

Murata has maintained an annual growth rate of 10% for automotive MLCCs. Last year, it built factories in many places, and said that it will increase the total production capacity of 3 billion pieces per month in its three production plants starting from the second quarter of this year. Not long ago, Murata set up a joint venture company to expand the production of MLCC raw materials, further expand MLCC production capacity, and consolidate its leading position in the new demand explosion market.

Multi-Layer Ceramic Capacitor (MLCC) Market
Multi-Layer Ceramic Capacitor (MLCC) Market

MLCCs with a size of 1608 M (1.6×0.8 mm) and a capacity of 10µF, MLCCs of 3216 M (3.2×1.6 mm) and 47µF, and MLCCs of 3225 M (3.2×2.5 mm) and 100µF are Murata’s first to launch on the market and lead the automotive MLCC A trendy product with small size and large capacity. 

According to the latest progress report on Murata’s official website MLCC, Murata has developed a 4.3µF ultra-large capacitance three-terminal multilayer ceramic capacitor in a 1005M (1.0×0.5mm) size capacitor for automotive use, and has started mass production. Murata uses its unique thin-layer molding technology and high-precision lamination technology to micronize and homogenize ceramic and electrode materials, and its products have leading ultra-large capacity performance in the industry.

TDK also began to gradually adjust its production capacity, withdrawing from the general-purpose product market, and focusing on the small-size, high-capacity, and automotive-standard MLCC market. In order to achieve miniaturization and increase in capacity of MLCC, TDK has been working on ultra-fine particle size by relying on advanced material technology. At present, TDK’s unique process technology can realize high-level stacking and stacking of up to 1000 layers without dislocation of dielectric layers and electrode layers, and the average interlayer thickness of one layer can reach sub-micron level.

At present, TDK is focusing on the promotion and innovation of automotive soft terminal capacitors, bracket capacitors and three-terminal capacitors. For example, the horizontal stacking method on bracket capacitors effectively reduces ESR/ESL, and the impedance of three-terminal capacitors is further reduced to improve noise reduction. With the technical advantages of thin layer and multilayer, the extremely small chip size of TDK MLCC can also realize the large capacity and extremely high reliability close to that of tantalum capacitors.

MLCC technology development trend

Judging from the trend of MLCC, the performance upgrade of MLCC in the future is mainly reflected in the aspects of electrical characteristics, reliability and high-density mounting.

MLCC technology
MLCC technology

The improvement of the capacity density per unit volume of electrical characteristics is closely related to the two trends of miniaturization and high capacity. It is the most direct manifestation of performance upgrades. Behind this is driven by material technology and preparation technology. The core technology in batching, stacking, sintering and other processes determines the size, high capacity performance and high frequency performance of MLCC products, which is the core competitiveness of market competitiveness.

Reliability is undoubtedly the entry ticket for MLCCs in mid-to-high-end applications, and application scenarios with strong demand are increasingly demanding conditions such as the operating temperature range and voltage of MLCCs. Improving the reliability of MLCC under high temperature and high withstand voltage conditions is the direction that all manufacturers are working hard.

High-density mounting affects the performance of MLCC, which is directly related to the size, shape and precision of MLCC. High-end MLCC head manufacturers such as Murata and TDK have made unique improvements in terminal electrodes and braiding forms (such as TDK’s narrow pitch Taping) to increase the density of placement.

Conclusion

Benefiting from the vigorous development of the downstream automobile and 5G markets, MLCC has become one of the most widely used and fastest-growing electronic components. Due to its miniaturization and large capacity, it is gradually robbing the market of aluminum electrolytic capacitors, tantalum electrolytic capacitors and film capacitors.

Under the current market structure, the recognition of domestic MLCC by the terminal market is getting higher and higher. The continuous advancement of production capacity expansion, process improvement, and self-research on materials and equipment is also the way for many MLCC manufacturers to enhance their competitiveness and accelerate the domestic substitution of MLCC.

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