Bright Outlook Forecast for Thin Film Resistor Chips and Networks

We can ascertain from Paumanok Publications Industrial Market Research and from primary sources that one area of market growth over the next five years will be in thin film chip resistors as they continue to displace thick film (Ru02 type) resistors for traditional and specialty circuit applications. The initial areas of greatest impact where thin film resistors are and will continue to be in greatest demand will be in advanced medical devices, wireless base station and data-communications infrastructure end-use market segments. The increased production volume of thin film chip resistors, especially in Taiwan and China, will continue to create increasingly larger economies of scale and lower average unit pricing, which will in turn make thin film chips more in line with traditional thick film pricing (Many in China feel we have already reached that point of parity in price). According to thin film chip resistor manufacturers, due to the reliance of thick film chip resistor manufacturers on ruthenium metal, a Platinum Group Metal (PGM) product that is subject to dramatic historical swings in price due to the difficulties of mining in South Africa, the movement toward a base metal substitute is also in the best interest of the customer. One method of manufacturing thin film resistor chips is through the sputtering of nickel chromium on an alumina substrate. Additional techniques are based on the use of tantalum nitride on silicon; and/or chromium silicide on silicon (among others).

Nickel Chromium Thin Film Solutions

The thin film resistor chips and networks that are based on nickel-chromium resistive layers offer an increase in performance and more robust construction at an increasingly lower price when compared to thick film solutions. Many of Paumanok’s Chinese customers are increasing their production capacity for thin film nichrome chip resistors for displacement of thick film chip resistors in mainstream professional and consumer electronics applications (i.e. DC/DC converters, LCD backlighting and LED lighting).

Tantalum Nitride Thin Film Solutions

We also expect continued growth for tantalum nitride based integrated passive devices for specialty applications in the United States market, however, a large portion of their consumption, which is in defense electronics, remains uncertain due to the lasting effects of the sequester. Still medical electronics applications, especially for implantable electronics will continue to create opportunity for the complex TaN film resistor. Oil & gas electronics, although currently in one of the worst market environments in its existence, will recover over the next five years and continue to require specialty thin film resistors that employ moisture resistant TaN films for downhole pump applications in logging and similar drilling related tools. Growth for thin film resistors will be in accordance with growth in the specialty end-use market segments where thin film networks and integrated passive devices find their niche, and for the thin film nichrome resistors used to replace thick film resistors in professional electronic applications, especially in medical devices, telecommunications infrastructure equipment and DC/DC converters.

Anti-Sulfide Trends and Directions Fuel Demand for Thin Film Resistors

Automotive circuitry, industrial, and commercial machinery, construction equipment, welding equipment, and marine electronics all have demonstrated higher than tolerable failure rates due to high concentrations of sulfur from polluted atmospheres in specific areas of the world such as China and India. In some highly industrial areas of the world, the air in which standard electronic devices operate contains enough sulfur to cause failures due to sulfur contamination of the silver. In thick film chip resistors, the silver used in the termination can react with sulfur in the atmosphere and create silver sulfide which may cause it to fail sooner than expected. Thin film resistors on the other hand, have a higher tolerance for high sulfur environments and therefore they are a better choice for specific electronic applications where product exposure to outdoors is extensive.

Historical Development, Technology, Types and Configurations for Thin Film Resistors

In the 1960s, resistor manufacturers such as Vishay Intertechnology, Inc. began to package individual resistors into single-in-line packages (SIP) that housed from four to eight individual components. This packaging reduced the cost to “pick and place” resistors on a printed circuit board (“conversion cost”).

Soon after, the component manufacturers realized their ability to make networks on an alumina bridge also meant that they could provide value-added configurations (such as bussed and R2R ladder circuits for filtering and line-termination). Over time, this concept was enhanced to include thick-film networks of 16 to 32 resistive elements within dual-in-line packages (DIP) in plastic housings with gull-wing leads for easy surface mounting. The dual-in-line package (DIP) made it possible for resistor manufacturers to integrate different types of passive components, usually chip resistors and ceramic chip capacitors.

In the early 1990s, new developments in passive component integration were pioneered by such companies as California Micro Devices (now a part of ON Semiconductor), Electro-Films (Now part of Vishay Intretechnology) and IRC (a TT Electronics Company). These companies used semiconductor manufacturing techniques to manipulate specific raw materials, such as tantalum nitride, chrome silicide, and nickel-chromium, to create layers of resistance. They also used ion-implantation devices to engineer silicon-oxide- and silicon-nitride capacitors; thereby creating complex integrated passive devices (IPDs). Additional silicon manipulation in thin film added transistor functions and circuit protection functions to IPDs. The new thin-film-on-silicon designs began to compete against traditional thick-film DIPs and SIPs for termination and filtering functions, especially in high frequency applications (See Figure 1 Below). 


Figure 1 Description: The transition toward greater volumetric efficiency has been the development of component packaging designed to house multiple of the same components, multiple types of different components; or multiple materials stacked three-dimensionally. The goal has always been functional portability for a modern electronic society or for mission critical applications where failure is not an option.

Thin Film Metals and Deposition

Thin-films are used in network designs when more precise resistance values are required or moisture resistance or sulfur resistance are key parameters of the end-market environment. Such metals as:

  1. Nickel-Chromium
  2. Tantalum-Nitride
  3. Other (Chrome-Cobalt, Hafnium Diboride, Chrome-Silicide)

are deposited or “sputtered” on ceramic substrates using physical vapor deposition of metal “targets.” Thin film networks are made available to the consumer unpackaged for hybrid networks for hybrid circuit digital-to analog converters and as external feedback networks in hybrid operational amplifiers. They are also available as substrates for resistive-capacitive (RC) networks. RC networks are usually packaged in metal and ceramic flatpacks because they are regarded as precision resistive components.

Thin film network manufacturers are employing semiconductor technology to integrate passives beyond capacitance and resistance; to the point of including inductor coils, silicon rectifiers, Schotzky diodes and transistors.

Thin film networks, and thin film integrated passive devices are encroaching on traditional thick film DIP networks in high frequency applications, especially in the computer, computer networking, defense and medical markets.

Thin Film Resistors: Market Assessment

The thin film market has grown since we last looked at the business unit separately from other networks. There has been a considerable amount of activity in thin film nichrome chip resistor manufacturing and the number of vendors has increased accordingly. The number of vendors in tantalum nitride thin film resistors has remained largely unchanged, but vendors of TaN type thin film resistors remain the market leaders. Although we believe that a portfolio that includes TaN and Nichrome film resistors would be the most complete technology offering in thin-film to date. Vishay, and TT Group IRC Film Division continue to dominate this segment of the resistor market. Vishay got access to the market through their acquisition of Sfernice in France and through their acquisition of Electro-Films in the U.S. Newer entrants into the market include IPDiA in Caen, France and State-Of-The-Art, Inc. in the U.S. The trend that continues to drive demand is the advanced process of miniaturization and the creation of volumetric efficiency without compromising the functionality of the end product (See Figure 3). 


Figure 2 Description: The grand concept of integration for the purpose of volumetric efficiency cannot be implemented without an eye on the advanced nature of mass production in the world today. This continual development and manipulation of materials to manufacture electronic circuits takes various forms through time but the successful ones are those with the ability to increase the throughout of manufacturing while lowering the cost to produce and convert those components onto a printed circuit board. The largest problem facing volumetric efficiency is in fact the massive number of passive components providing basic capacitance and resistance that ultimately stands in the way of power and portability.

Thin Film Resistors: Component Demand by Configuration

Thin film chips represent the largest segment of the thin film resistor market, and the portion of the market that is growing most rapidly in unit sales because of its encroachment upon thick film resistors in automotive and professional end-markets. The primary motivating factor of the automotive vendors is because of their interest in sulfur resistant thin film chips. The thin film network and thin film integrated passive device markets are growing at a much slower rate because of the sluggish nature of the specific end-use markets into which they are sold, which are dominated by defense, medical, aerospace and oil and gas segments. The market is good, but will be stronger when defense spending increases again. We expect growth in all thin film resistor configurations, including chips, networks and complex integrated passive devices.

Thin Film Resistors: Markets by Type

There is noted competition between the two main types of thin film resistor elements, tantalum nitride and nickel chromium. Much is written about the superior performance of tantalum nitride especially concerning moisture resistance which makes the tantalum nitride thin film resistors more apt to be found in specialty electronics such as defense, oil and gas, and medical devices. Nickel-chromium thin film resistors are more likely to be found in more mainstream end-markets where the increasing economies of scale are making thin film versions of chip resistors just as affordable as their thick film counterparts and the precision nature of the thin film resistor is also more valuable in increasingly advanced digital circuits. 


Figure 3 Description: The control and manipulation of dielectric materials, resistive elements and inductance elements will be the next major leap forward in portability and power for the future of electronics. A broad base in materials sciences will be needed to support the communications, computing, gaming, time and location requirements of future generations.

Thin Film Resistors: Markets by Region

Not surprisingly we note that demand for thin film resistors and networks based upon tantalum nitride are more prevalent in the west, while at the same time the larger movement of demand in thin film resistor chips is in transportation, medical, telecommunications and networking infrastructure equipment and wireless base stations, where the added precision of thin film lends itself toward a more professional network. Asia, especially in China and Japan, we see a genuine interest in thin film resistor chips and in network solutions to enhance the continuing fascination with component miniaturization and seeing just how small we can go when it comes to components and meaningful functionality. Companies manufacturing electronic watches and wireless handset modules (power amplifier and antenna modules) have been successful at miniaturization to a degree that was beyond imagination just 25 years ago. Therefore the investments in infrastructure to build thin film chips in Asia has been well established in Japan and China for many years now, and suddenly within the past five years demand has started to increase and there is greater design engineer interest in the benefits of thin film technology in a circuit. Europe remains a small market, but there is a significant amount of homegrown technology, especially coming from IPDiA in Caen, France for example, has rapidly increased market share in France where its products are used in medical and transportation related applications.

Thin Film Resistors: Markets by End-Use Segment

The majority of demand for precision thin film resistors is coming from the automotive, medical and communications infrastructure market in 2015, especially for applications in implantable defibrillators, under-the-hood, wireless base stations and in data-communication network switching. Other markets include ultra-small power supplies, especially DC/DC converter bricks and specialty micro-power supplies.

Competition in Thin Film Resistors

There are 26 manufacturers of thin film resistors, including chips, networks and integrated passive devices in the world in 2015, 12 of these manufacturers are located in the United States, 12 of these are located in Asia and two are located in Europe. All of the 26 produce precision thin film chips; but only 14 produce thin film networks; and only six can produced sophisticated integrated passive devices. Incidentally, the top three vendors of thin film resistors also manufacture integrated passive devices so there is a direct correlation between the type of thin film resistor employed and the ability to produce an advanced integrated passive device to create an advanced state of volumetric efficiency where the board functions become three dimensional instead of the post-modernist two dimensional.

Thin Film Resistors and Networks: Global Market Outlook: 2015-2020

Our conclusion is that demand for thin film resistor chips that employ nickel chromium in traditional ultra-small chip packages will grow more rapidly than many other passive component products we track at Paumanok Publications, Inc. over the next five years. The increasingly economies of scale evident in the manufacturing bases in Japan and China will continue to drive down the price against traditional thick film solutions. The end-market however with the greatest interest is in automotive, power, and communications circuits, especially for infrastructure equipment where precision circuitry can enhance the customer calling experience, and in areas where volumetric efficiency is mission critical such as implantable defibrillators, downhole logging tools, smart metering and commercial avionics.

Summary and Conclusions

  1. Paumanok Publications, Inc. believes thin film chip resistors, networks and integrated passive devices are five-year growth markets.
  2. Market Drivers for Thin Film Chip resistors, networks and integrated passive devices are-
    1. Precise performance of the components
    2. Volumetric efficiency of the components
    3. Moisture resistance of the components
    4. Sulfur resistance of the components
    5. More reasonable pricing trends
  3. The two primary resistive thin film metallizations are:
    1. Nickel Chromium
    2. Tantalum Nitride
    3. Although other materials are also used
  4. Two separate thin film markets exist
    1. Thin Film Chips (Simple Construction)
    2. Thin Film Networks and Integrated Passive Devices (Advanced Construction)
  5. Thin Film Resistor Markets Are Also Split By Region
    1. China and Asia demand more thin film chips for professional electronics
    2. U.S. and Europe demand more integrated passive devices for specialty end markets.
  6. End-Use Markets for Thin Film Resistors and Networks Include
    1. Professional
      1. Automotive and Transportation
      2. Telecommunications Infrastructure and Networking
      3. Power and DC/DC Converter
    2. Specialty
      1. Defense
      2. Medical
      3. Oil and Gas Electronics
  7. Competition: 26 Vendors Worldwide
  8. Outlook for Thin Film Resistors and Integrated Passive Devices
    1. Above average

Dennis M. Zogbi

Dennis M. Zogbi

Dennis M. Zogbi is the author of more than 260 market research reports on the worldwide electronic components industry. Specializing in capacitors, resistors, inductors and circuit protection component markets, technologies and opportunities; electronic materials including tantalum, ceramics, aluminum, plastics; palladium, ruthenium, nickel, copper, barium, titanium, activated carbon, and conductive polymers. Zogbi produces off-the-shelf market research reports through his wholly owned company, Paumanok Publications, Inc, as well as single client consulting, on-site presentations, due diligence for mergers and acquisitions, and he is the majority owner of Passive Component Industry Magazine LLC.

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