Due to the explosion of the COVID-19 pandemic in China, Shanghai has adopted a rolling lockdown policy since March and Kunshan City, a major production hub for the electronics industry near Shanghai, has also felt the impact. According to TrendForce, limited manpower and logistics and suspended transportation options mean neighboring OEMs and ODMs can only rely on onsite inventory to barely meet the needs of production lines, further exacerbating component mismatches. Concurrently, a short-term surge in finished product shipments and demand for material replenishment after the various lockdowns are lifted may gridlock customs authorities, with delivery delays potentially lasting until the end of April before there is any chance for improvement.
TrendForce further indicates, starting from 4Q21, demand for consumer specification products, which account for the bulk of products sold by MLCC suppliers in Taiwan, Korea and China, weakened as customers continue to adjust their inventories. Although ODMs currently predict the demand for consumer specification MLCC will recover month by month in 2Q22, emergency lockdowns caused by the pandemic are bound to impose delays on logistics. Likewise, OEMs’ supply of key direct buy components will also be interrupted due to the Shanghai lockdown. Shortages of CPU, battery module, and panel materials will impact production lines because materials cannot be delivered to relevant factory warehouses, exacerbating ODM component mismatch issues. On the other hand, the focus of downstream branded customers remains on low visibility and weak demand in the 2Q22 end market.
MCLL supplier production centers in China including those located in Tianjin, Suzhou, Wuxi, and Guangdong, have yet to be locked down but inter-provincial logistics and transportation have clearly felt the escalation of inspection and supervision since the end of March, resulting in prolonged transportation timetables. However, the biggest problem for MLCC suppliers at this stage is they cannot deliver materials to Shanghai and Kunshan. There are a number of large ODM plants at these two locations, such as Quanta Shanghai Manufacture City in the Songjiang District of Shanghai and the Compal, Wistron, and Pegatron campuses in Kunshan. At present, ODMs’ average inventory level for consumer specification products sits at 3 to 4 weeks, which is sufficient to meet the needs of short-term production. However, stocks of certain high-voltage automotive MLCC of 250V or higher specifications and high-end server MLCC size 0805/1206/1210 items may be in danger of depletion.
Looking to 2Q22, the lockdowns of Shenzhen, Dongguan, and Shanghai that began in March have hobbled China’s manufacturing industry and sent it into a period of contraction. In addition, the Russian-Ukrainian war and rising inflation continue to slow demand growth for mainstream consumer electronics, potentially risking recession. With so many unfavorable factors, ODMs must still observe an easing of component mismatching before further considering MLCC stocking momentum after restrictions are lifted. If the pandemic in China cannot be effectively brought under control in the short term, overall ODM inventories will continue to be maintained at a high level for approximately 1 to 1.5 months to prevent similar sudden lockdowns disrupting operations. However, TrendForce believes that it will be difficult for MLCC suppliers to surmise the visibility of customers’ real demand. Once the purchase order situation reverses, they will be unable to respond quickly with capacity adjustments, thus becoming a primary focus of MLCC manufacturers’ risk management in 2Q22.
The “new normal” in the post-pandemic era has seen the meteoric rise of high-speed and high-bandwidth 5G applications, which subsequently brought about a corresponding increase in cloud services demand. As such, the global server shipment for 2021 will likely reach 13.6 million units, a 5.4% increase YoY. As commercial opportunities in white-box servers begin to emerge, Taiwanese ODMs, including Quanta, Wiwynn, and Foxconn are likely to benefit.
The prevailing business model of the server supply chain involves having the ODM responsible for the design, hardware installation, and assembly processes, after which servers are delivered to server brands (such as HPE, Dell, Inspur, and Lenovo), which then sell the servers to end-clients. In contrast, a new business model has recently started to emerge; this business model involves having server ODMs responsible for manufacturing specific and customized server hardware, available directly for purchase by such end-clients as cloud service providers, thereby bypassing brands as the middlemen.
With regards to market share, Foxconn accounts for nearly half of the total server demand from Microsoft Azure and from AWS, while Quanta accounts for about 60-65% of Facebook’s server demand.
According to TrendForce’s investigations, ODMs including Quanta, Inventec, Foxconn, Wiwynn, and QCT have all received server orders from clients in the cloud services sector in 1H21. In particular, both Quanta and Inventec received orders from Microsoft Azure, AWS, Facebook, and Google Cloud. With regards to market share, Foxconn accounts for nearly half of the total server demand from Microsoft Azure and from AWS, while Quanta accounts for about 60-65% of Facebook’s server demand, in turn giving Foxconn and Quanta the lion’s shares in the ODM market.
The aforementioned Taiwanese ODMs have been aggressive in growing their presence in the private industrial 5G network and edge computing markets, with Quanta subsidiary QCT being a good case in point as an ODM that supplies servers to both telecom operators and private industrial networks for these clients’ respective 5G infrastructures build-outs.
More specifically, QCT stated the following in a press release dated Jan. 4, 2021:
“Quanta Cloud Technology (QCT), a global data center solution provider, independently developed Taiwan’s first 5G standalone (SA) core network, which recently passed interoperability and performance verifications for 5G Open Network Lab operated by Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI). The core network was successfully connected to partner radio access networks (RAN) and third-party user equipment, realizing end-to-end 5G signal transmission from edge to core and achieving significant acceleration in both uplink and downlink speeds.”
In response to the edge computing demand generated by global 5G commercialization efforts, Wiwynn recently released the EP100 server, which is a 5G edge computing solution compliant with the OCP openEDGE specification. Developed in collaboration with U.S.-based 5G software solutions provider Radisys, the EP100 can function as an O-DU or an O-CU depending on the various 5G RAN needs of telecom operators.
Furthermore, Wiwynn is continuing to develop the next generation of edge computing servers targeted at the enterprise networking and edge computing segments.
Foxconn, on the other hand, has been focusing on developing vertical solutions for private industrial 5G networks. Foxconn’s hardware infrastructure offerings include edge computing servers, TSN network switches, and gateways. The company also offers a slew of software solutions such as data management platforms and other apps, hosted by Asia Pacific Telecom. Last but not least, Foxconn recently announced an additional US$35.6 million investment in its Wisconsin project; this injection of capital will make the company well equipped to meet the demand for servers as well as 5G O-RAN and other telecom equipment.