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88 PCB007 MAGAZINE I MAY 2019 materials. An exemption for certain network equipment was given through 2010. Low loss materials of the time didn't work in lead-free soldering. That was a disruptive event for ma- terial suppliers. All of the things that the mate- rial suppliers had been working on for 15–20 years were now more or less obsolete. And there were materials that might have worked, but most of them were never commercially successful. Panasonic was in the right place at the right time with some good technology and even better OEM marketing. I think that term has fallen into disuse, but it was smart people in the materials business talking to end users and figuring out quickly that they had an immedi- ate need for a material—a material that was thermally robust, low loss, and low Dk, so that they could prepare to use lead-free solder in IT equipment by 2010. Companies like Cisco, IBM, and many others all had designs that worked until lead-free solder came around. There were a number of offered solutions in the materials business, but the one that hit both of those notes happened to be a Pana- sonic material—MEGTRON 6. Using a material made in Japan was more than just a techni- cal challenge. North America was still driving most of the designs; most NPI boards were be- ing built here, and there wasn't a good supply model for a material like MEGTRON 6. Some of the materials that were tried just couldn't be supported by the supply chain. Panasonic had a new distributor in North America that committed to keeping a whole bunch of inventory. It enabled low-volume, high-mix usage of a couple of Pana- sonic products that the OEMs were able to make work. This meant that OEMs that had strong connections with North American laminators had their successful experience with an Asian laminator on the high end of the business. And that changed how the world looked at who could sup- ply and would develop the next ma- terials. This enabled a two-step process for developing products. We would do new product development and evaluations at the high-end shops with high-end materials, in North America. We started early in produc- tion, maybe even early mass production, and then quickly transferred to Asia. Companies like TTM and Sanmina, etc., were able to do that successfully for the first time because they were accustomed to fabricators with local sup- ply and laminators due to the need to get raw materials quickly. We've now gone through several generations of increasing speed in the IT business. Other product markets, such as mobile and automo- tive—which are the largest users of materials in the world—didn't have that same kind of model. They saw that type of model work- ing, though, so for developing technologies for their next-generation products, they start- ed doing the same thing. The latest develop- ments in some of the high-frequency ranges have pushed those products away from basic halogen-free FR-4s into some non-FR-4 type products. FR-4 is still over 50% of all the mate- rial used in the world, but some of these fairly high-volume applications are moving to other things. And that's a new story. The largest lamina- tors in the world are primarily FR-4 suppliers. Even large suppliers in Asia have tried to enter the high-end market because they believe that even though FR-4s probably are never going to go away, the ability to support a $1–3 billion materials business is becoming less likely. Johnson: What are some of the market dynam- ics driving the new materials? A facility visit may include the Panasonic Megtron Lab.

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