As the basic industry of electronic information, PCB has a wide range of downstream applications and has a wide range of applications in Mini-LED direct display, wearable devices, VR/AR, consumer electronics, automotive electronics, communication electronics, AI and other scenarios.
Mini-LED direct display
Mini-LED direct display refers to LED RGB display solutions with a chip size of 50-200 microns. It is an extension of small-pitch LEDs and has higher-density pixel units. Compared with traditional LCD and OLED, Mini-LED has the advantages of high efficiency, low power consumption, high stability, and long life.
In terms of downstream applications, thanks to the characteristics of no seams and low power consumption, Mini-LED is mainly used in commercial large-screen display fields, such as theater display, studio drama, exhibition display, security monitoring, traffic advertising display and other fields. Among them, small-pitch LED is the largest market segment in the commercial display field, and Mini-LED has become an important driving engine for the growth of the small-pitch LED market in the future.
PCB substrate is currently the mainstream solution for Mini-LED substrates. Compared with glass substrates, PCB technology is mature and has advantages in cost and yield. From the perspective of cost structure, PCB accounts for about 10% of the cost of small-pitch LEDs, second only to LED lamp beads. Mini-LED has high requirements for PCB manufacturing process difficulty and precision, mainly high-level PCB and high-end HDI PCB.
The product forms of wearable devices mainly include smart watches, smart earphones, and smart bracelets. Due to the development of mobile communication, AI, big data and other technologies, the market of wearable devices is expanding rapidly, and the functions of devices are becoming more and more abundant. In recent years, the number of participants in the wearable device market has increased, competition has intensified, and there is a trend of verticalization and segmentation.
According to Market.US data, the global wearable device market reached US$61 billion in 2022, and is expected to grow at a compound growth rate of 14.6% to US$231 billion in 2032. In terms of the Chinese market, benefiting from the increase in per capita disposable income and the upgrading of residents’ consumption, the market size continues to expand. The China Business Industry Research Institute predicts that the market size will reach 93.47 billion RMB in 2023.
In wearable devices, PCBs are used in sensors, displays, and communication modules. Taking the smart watch Google Pixel Watch as an example, the PCB accounts for about 7.2% of its total cost. Due to the miniaturization and portability of wearable devices, there are higher requirements for PCB volume, water resistance, insulation, etc., and there is a greater demand for flexible PCB and multilayer PCB.
With the maturity of key technologies such as optics, display, chip, 5G communication, and battery, the VR/AR content ecosystem is becoming more and more perfect, and well-known VR equipment brands such as Pico and Meta continue to launch new products, and the VR/AR equipment market will gradually expand. Since 2020, the global and Chinese VR headset shipments have increased rapidly.
According to the forecast of Wellsenn XR, the global VR headset shipments will reach 35 million units in 2025, and China will reach 8 million units. The market has a huge room for growth. In terms of AR headsets, the shipments are relatively small, and the development progress is slightly slower than that of VR products. In the future, the market space may expand rapidly with technological advancement.
PCBs are used in core components such as motherboards, sensors, and displays of VR devices, and are carriers for connecting electronic components such as chips. The cost of PCBs in the whole machine accounts for about 3%. With the increasing volume of AR/VR equipment, the demand for PCB will increase rapidly.
From 2017 to 2021, the global consumer electronics PCB market showed a steady upward trend as a whole. According to Yidu data forecast, the global PCB market for consumer electronics will reach US$11.748 billion in 2023. Consumer electronics is one of the four major application areas of PCB. From 2017 to 2021, the proportion of consumer electronics in the PCB market is stable at about 17%, second only to communication electronics and computers.
PCB is widely used in motherboards, sensors, displays and other components of consumer electronics products, and is a carrier for connecting electronic components such as chips. PCBs for consumer electronics have the characteristics of large quantities, thinness, and miniaturization, and are mainly multi-layer boards, HDI boards and flexible boards.
With the continuous advancement of automotive electronics and the development of intelligence, the demand for automotive PCBs has also increased. According to the data of China Industrial Development Research Network, the value of automotive electronics has gradually increased from 15% of compact cars to 65% of pure electric cars. The use of PCB products for a mid-to-high-end model has reached about 30 pieces. The automotive field is one of the fastest growing areas in the PCB downstream market segment.
According to Prismark data, the PCB market size in the automotive electronics field was US$8.728 billion in 2021, and it is expected to grow to US$12.772 billion in 2026, with a CAGR of 7.91%.
Compared with consumer PCBs, automotive PCBs have higher requirements for technical requirements and reliability. Specifically, automotive electronic PCBs have stricter requirements on the working environment, temperature, and durability, and their working life can be as high as 15 years, while the lifespan of general consumer PCBs is usually within 5 years.
In the traditional automotive field, automotive PCB applications cover multiple key components and systems. These applications include airbag components, steering control components, central control systems, light control components, radar technology, electronic instrument clusters, navigation systems, sunroof controls, relays, seat controls, mirrors, and window controls.
The communication electronics market downstream of PCB mainly includes product categories such as base stations, routers and switches, with a wide range of applications. The communication industry can be subdivided into wireless infrastructure, wired infrastructure and service storage. In the field of communication, PCB is mainly used in wireless network, transmission network, data communication network and fixed network broadband. The application products mainly include routers, gateways, switches, servers, base stations, optical modules, connectors, broadband terminals, etc.
According to Prismark data, the global communication equipment market size in 2019 was US$591 billion, and it is expected to rebound to US$710 billion in 2024. The PCB demand for global communication equipment will increase from US$20.5 billion in 2019 to US$27.1 billion in 2024, with an annual compound growth rate reached 5.7%.
Data is the cornerstone of AI development. With the advent of the era of big data, the year-on-year growth rate of global data volume is maintained at around 25%. It is estimated that the global data volume will reach 175ZB in 2025. At the same time, the increase in the amount of data puts forward higher requirements on the computing power of the model. According to IDC data, the scale of China’s intelligent computing power market is increasing year by year, and the growth rate is rapid. From 2019 to 2026, the compound growth rate is close to 69.4%. By 2026, the scale of China’s intelligent computing power is expected to reach 1271.4EFLOPS.
High computing power needs to be achieved by relying on AI servers. In recent years, the market size of AI servers has continued to increase. According to IDC data, the global market size will increase from 11.2 billion in 2020 to 26.6 billion in 2025, during which the CAGR will be 15.5%, and the market size will double; the Chinese market will increase from 2.67 billion in 2020 to 6.62 billion in 2025 . During the period, the CAGR was 19.9%, and the average growth rate exceeded the global growth rate.
The main difference between an AI server and a general-purpose server is its CPU+GPU heterogeneous chip architecture. AI chips mainly include graphics processing units (GPUs), field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), and application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs). Among them, GPU is the most widely used in AI chips because it is compatible with training and reasoning, and highly adaptable to AI model construction.
On the one hand, the GPU can make up for the lack of single-core computing power of the CPU, and its computing performance far exceeds that of the CPU. The parallel computing method of the GPU can execute multiple program instructions, which greatly improves the efficiency compared with the serial computing method of the CPU.
On the other hand, the heterogeneous architecture of the CPU+AI chip is suitable for processing the massive data generated by the data center, making up for the computing power deficiency of a single computing architecture. The CPU+GPU architecture enables AI servers to better meet the demand for doubling computing power and better solve the increasingly diverse and complex computing tasks in artificial intelligence applications.
Since the number or complexity of GPU has been upgraded in terms of signal transmission, number of pins, video memory particles, power supply modules, and board assembly, the difficulty of manufacturing PCBs for AI servers has been greatly increased. While the GPU board group significantly improves the performance of AI servers, it also puts forward higher requirements for the area and number of layers of the PCB, as well as the anti-interference, anti-crosstalk, and low-loss characteristics of CCL materials, thus promoting the use of PCBs for AI servers. The technical difficulty has been upgraded, and the volume and price have both risen.
With the release of ChatGPT’s iOS mobile app, major technology companies have accelerated the implementation of AI large-scale model applications. As the infrastructure of computing power, AI server will usher in the synchronous improvement of technical capabilities and demand, and the value of AI server PCB will also be significantly increased, which is 5-6 times that of ordinary server PCB. The demand for density board is increasing rapidly.