The statistics are clear, and they pinpoint that the production of flexible printed circuit boards increases every day. Intriguingly, they’ve become popular now, even though flexible circuits were first used in the 1950s. Have you ever thought about what the secret of their popularity is?
A large number of users consider them attractive for the following reasons:
• The ability to bend – the primary benefit is obvious, but it is also the most important.
• Improved reliability – the low number (or elimination) or connectors, solder joints, and other interface connections makes these boards more reliable.
• Thin and light – while ensuring flexibility, the manufacturers also found a way to reduce the size and weight of flexible PCBs. Thanks to that, it is easier to fit them in restricted spaces.
• Suitable for high temperatures – flexible materials can do a better job in dissipating heat than the materials used for rigid boards. Improved thermal management also occurs because of resistance to acids, oils, and UV exposure.
• Affordable cost – the math is simple, and it says that you will pay less for a smaller PCB. Even though many flex boards have high density, the overall cost is usually affordable.
• Durability – it always depends on the materials you choose, but flexible PCBs can be extremely durable. That is why some of them used in medical and military applications.
What are the challenges of flexible PCB?
Have you ever wondered about the applications that utilize flexible boards? You can see these PCBs throughout various industries ranging from medical to entertainment. But there is one thing that brings all these industries together – wearable products!
It is wearable technology that caused a huge increase in demand for flex PCBs. The chances are you have at least one flexible board around you. It might be in your smartphone or the smartwatch you made yourself.
Printed circuit board designed for a wearable product has to be compact because the wearer shouldn’t be able to notice it. It can affect both design and performance. If you are wearing a smartwatch, you wouldn’t want its PCB to be visible, and that is quite logical.
Boards designed for wearable products often have specific designs. Some applications require the PCBs to be elliptical, and others need them to be round. More often than not, you will encounter a shape you can’t consider “usual.”
That is why the biggest challenge for designers is routing and placement. They need to be creative to ensure that they can place everything properly, even though they have limited space available.
What are the materials and technologies for flexible PCB?
The performance of a printed circuit board always has a lot to do with the materials used when designing it. That is why identifying new and improving the existing materials is a way to enhance a flexible PCB.
The printed circuit board industry always works on implementing seemingly small innovations. Those may be enhancements in metal foils, or adhesives used improvements in cover layers or any other area.
It is important to note that the manufacturers do not consider the same things when choosing materials for flexible and rigid printed circuit boards. When it comes to flex PCBs, thermal management becomes integral, as well as the capability of bending the material.
Apart from using improved materials, another way to enhance flexible boards is to come up with new technologies for the design and assembly process. The micro via technology is one of the latest major innovations in the industry. At this point, you can’t find a better approach for plating, etching, and connecting.
Although it is a challenge to use the micro via approach, many manufacturers have perfected using it. It is the experience that makes them capable of handling all the challenges related to this part of the production process.
It is vital to note that there is plenty of room to improve flexible boards even further. Many applications are waiting to find a solution related to their specific issues. For example, LED light applications could benefit from finding a material that will have an even better thermal resistance.
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