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How Flexible Circuit Boards Are Different From Rigid Ones

Flexible Circuit Boards Are Different From Rigid Ones

If your company is designing an electronic product that will have to be able to endure the demands of a dynamic environment — such as a portable device that grabs data from within the human body or a wearable fitness tracker — you may want to consider a flexible circuit board. These ultra-thin substrates have high levels of flexibility, tensile strength, and bendability to ensure the device can be shaped and positioned to fit into different spaces. Moreover, a flex PCB can eliminate the need for connectors and wire harnesses that add weight to your product.

The technology behind flexible circuits is based on incredibly thin polyimide substrates, which allow the boards to be extremely lightweight and small. The circuitry itself is etched onto the substrate, and then manufacturers apply a coverlay that insulates the outer surface of the copper, which protects it from corrosion and other damage. In addition, some of the copper may be plated directly on the film or substrate, which is known as direct-to-film (DTF) etching.

For flexible circuit board, the different layers are bonded together with either an adhesive or by heat and pressure. In some cases, an adhesive-less laminate is used, which reduces the risk of via damage and allows for thinner designs. Alternatively, some manufacturers use prepreg to connect the different layers of the board. The base material of a flex circuit is usually PI or PET films, and the copper is typically plated on top of these substrates.

How Flexible Circuit Boards Are Different From Rigid Ones

As a result of the different materials, flex circuits require more processing and inspection than rigid ones, which increases their overall cost. To mitigate this, it’s important for designers to have an open dialogue with their fabrication partners about the raw materials used and their costs, as they can impact the final price of the product.

Rigid and flex circuits have their own advantages, but if your product is going to be subjected to extreme temperatures or conditions, you should look into using a hybrid flex-rigid design. These are essentially two separate circuit boards that feature rigid sections, and flexible parts connected with them through a flex-rigid connector like the image below.

A flex-rigid can also provide more stability to the flexible part in case of an impact. Lastly, the rigid section can be reinforced with fiberglass and additional copper layers to increase its durability in harsh environments. To avoid costly mistakes, it’s important for a designer to understand the differences between rigid and flex circuits before starting their project. This will prevent them from misplacing components or choosing the wrong materials, and it will help ensure that the resulting board will meet the requirements of the application at hand. In fact, a well-designed flexible PCB can be less expensive than a rigid one for certain applications. Consult with a contract manufacturer that specializes in flexible circuits to learn more about the benefits of this innovative technology.

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