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Ceramic Capacitor Prices Stable

TDK offers a complete family of commercial-, automotive- and high-reliability grade MLCCs.
If there is one thing that multilayer ceramic chip capacitor (MLCC) manufacturers can expect annually, it is continued price pressure from buyers. And in most cases, they acquiesce due to higher volume purchases. As a result, most buyers can expect stable to decreasing tags for commodity parts in the fourth quarter of 2013. Lead times also won't be a problem, settling in the six- to 10-week range for most parts.

“There is rarely a price increase for ceramic capacitors,” says Steve Maloy, director of product marketing for multilayer ceramic capacitors, TDK Corporation of America, Lincolnshire, Ill. “Buyers ask for price reductions as often as quarterly, and we're still seeing price pressure this year.”

“The passives industry has become more and more taken for granted in terms of its quality to the circuit, so there is a tendency for buyers to push suppliers for cheaper prices,” says Maloy. “One way to achieve the cheaper prices is to downgrade the spec or quality expectations. A lot of people are opting to go to commercial-grade parts where there are a lot more players, particularly Asian chip capacitor makers that can offer a lower price.”

“Buyers ask for price reductions as often as quarterly, and we're still seeing price pressure this year,” says Steve Maloy, TDK's director of product marketing for multilayer ceramic capacitors.
The good news is that raw materials pricing, particularly for precious metals, has stabilized.

“Prices for raw materials are looking better than they have over the past two to four years,” says Maloy.

“In general, we're seeing stable to decreasing raw materials prices, and it's been trending down over the past six to 12 months,” Maloy adds. “But still, the overall five-year trend is relatively high, and if you look at it from a longer term position, the price pressure coupled with increased raw materials pricing has caused a lot of problems for ceramic capacitor manufacturers.”

Although the cost of palladium has caused huge headaches for ceramic capacitor manufacturers in the past, most switched to base metal electrode (BME) construction years ago, which primarily use nickel and copper. Only the most high-reliability parts use noble metal electrode (NME) construction, consisting of noble metals such as palladium and silver, for the inner electrode construction.

Despite the lower expected tags for MLCCs, capacitor manufacturers expect good growth rates in 2013. Many continue to see strong demand for MLCCs, forecasting up to 10% growth in revenue. Unit growth is pegged significantly higher at 20%.

“There have been a lot of aggressive bookings over the past two to three months from many distributors, indicating that they want to build inventory, anticipating a favorable year,” says Maloy.

While some of the big demand drivers include the need for higher capacitance and smaller package sizes, many MLCC suppliers are focusing on niche-type product areas such as higher capacitance, frequency and voltage parts, and even larger case sizes, which can command a higher price tag than commodity devices.

TDK's SRCT capacitors enable high-density mounting, making them suitable for mobile devices.
The challenge is how to add more value to the product, says Maloy. Advanced products are really what suppliers want to push, focusing on packaging techniques such as low-profile parts and advanced performance products such as solutions that mitigate cracking problems caused by board flexure, he adds.

A few of TDK's new products include the SRCT (solder resist copper termination) series that allows for closer mounting and higher density population. The company also offers a MEGACAP capacitor that stacks two capacitors, which is popular in automotive applications.

In addition to commercial- and automotive-grade capacitors, TDK has added high-reliability grade MLCCs that exceed automotive-grade performance and are available off the shelf. They come with anti-counterfeit packaging and on-line product validation, and certified compliance data.