Why is a Stiffener Used in FPC?

What is stiffener?

The biggest feature of FPC is its soft and flexible structure. But due to its soft structure, when connecting a small part such as a connector to an FPC, we need to place a reinforcing plate to intensify some certain areas of the flexible printed circuit board so that it can be easier to add or solder interconnects or components to the stiffer part. And the reinforcing plate is what we call stiffener.

Functions of a stiffener

  • To strengthen areas of the board;
  • To support some interconnects or components;
  • To keep certain areas flat and stable;
  • To constrain the flexible parts to specified areas.

3 common types of stiffeners

There are 3 main types of stiffeners – Polyamide (PI) stiffener, FR4 stiffener, and stainless steel stiffener.

PI stiffener—With high precision and high temperature resistance, the tolerance it can allow is +/- 0.03mm.

PI Stiffener

FR4 stiffener—If the thickness is below 0.1mm, the tolerance can be controlled in +/-0.05mm. If the thickness is more than 1.0mm, the tolerance it allows is +/-0.1mm.

FR4 Stiffener

Stainless steel stiffener—It is generally used for flexible circuit designs requiring anti-corrosion resistance, capability, robustness, and formability. But the process will be more complicated, and it costs more.

Stainless Steel Stiffener

To sum up, a stiffener, which is the common method of strengthening a FPC, is used to facilitate the subsequent soldering and overall assembly and to give the board enough support to stand the components during assembly. Also, there are three main types of stiffener materials, including PI, FR4 and stainless steel.

So, this is the end of the article. In case if you have any other questions about stiffener or FPC, you are welcome to contact us via email at sales@bestfpc.com. We are fully equipped to handle your FPC manufacturing requirements.

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What is the difference between solid copper and grid copper?

There are two different design of copper trace, namely solid copper and grid copper. Do you know what is the difference between solid copper and grid copper?

Solid copper has the dual functions of increasing current and shielding, but if solid copper is used for wave soldering, the board may lift up and even blisters. Low-frequency circuits have circuits with large currents, such as commonly used copper foil. Below is a sample picture of 2 layers FPC, the top layer is copper trace, the bottom layer is a solid copper/copper foil.

The grid copper is mainly used for shielding, and the effect of increasing the current is reduced. From the perspective of heat dissipation, the grid is good (it reduces the heating surface of the copper) and plays a certain role in electromagnetic shielding. But we need to pay attention to the spacing of the grid: if it is too small, this may cause inaccurate alignment of the top and bottom copper layers especially for multilayer board; If it’s too big, there’s no shielding. Below is a sample picture of 4 layers FPC, Layer one, layer two and layer four are grid copper layer.

Different copper trace designs also have an effect on impedance. For the same projects and materials, if the reference layer is solid copper and grid copper, the impedance they reach may differ by 20-30 ohms. It also has a certain relationship with the trace width and space of the grid copper layer. In general, the greater the impedance requirement, the grid copper should be selected, and the solid copper should be selected when the impedance is small.

If you have any question about solid copper or grid copper when you design, please feel free to contact us at sales@bestfpc.com

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The different design way of pluggable connector on FPC

Flexible printed circuit board (FPC) is widely used in smart phones and LCD TVS. With the extensive use of electronic products in modern society, the demand for FPC circuit board increases greatly. More and more FPCS require connectors to be assembled at both ends, easy to connect with other devices or PCB board, and FPC can be bent in the middle, reducing the space required for assembly, see below FPC samples with different connectors.

However, FPC assembly materials are not as easy as PCB, because FPC assembly requires stiffeners or fixtures on the bottom of component areas. Especially for assembling the pluggable connectors, it needs strong support and good connectivity. Do you know the different designs of the connector area and what are the differences between them?

The first and most common design, we add a FR4 stiffener on bottom side, drill holes on FR4 stiffener in the corresponding positions of the holes, noted that there is no copper for vias of FR4 stiffener, the function of FR4 stiffener is to support the component on top side, it often used for plug-in connectors.

The second design is to make the stiffener as a single-sided FR4 PCB, there is one layer of copper, and copper plated for vias. Then laminated FPC and stiffener together, and filled with solder paste in vias when assembling connectors, the connector’s pin and stiffener can also conduct except support function. However, the FR4 stiffener and FPC copper traces are not conductive.

The third design is to make it as a rigid-flex PCB, 2 layers FPC with 1 layer FR4 PCB. Although there are only vias on FR4 PCB, but the PCB through hole can be conductive to the FPC copper traces. This design has good stability and conductivity, but it is the most expensive, the cost is 3 times higher than the first design, and 2 times higher than the second design.

Do you have any FPC project need to do assembly together? Best Technology can provide FPC, FR4 PCB, Rigid-flex PCB and SMT service, please feel free to contact us at sales@bestfpc.com

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What should we pay attention to EMI shield design?

Electromagnetic interference (EMI) is associated with every electronic device we use nowadays. If you turn on your radio set and TV simultaneously, you will experience the noisy disturbance from TV interfering with the radio signal and vice-versa. We can also experience this when we board a plane and are asked to switch off the electronic devices by the crew. This is to avoid interference of mobile and electronic device signals with the plane’s navigational signals. This is the reason why EMI/EMC study and analysis is important. Does your product’s radiation disturb other devices present nearby?  

EMI Shielding Design Challenges

As we all know, the flex circuit EMI shielding added will create multiple design challenges that require careful review to ensure a successful part number. All EMI shielding will increase both the total flex circuit board thickness and cost. The thickness increased is most often the critical issue. The normal EMI shield thickness is 22um, but we also has 10um thickness EMI shield. It can easily lead to the bending effect get worse. This creates a reliability/mechanical breakage concern. The added cost is also should concern. The

Shielding is often combined with other electrical requirements; the most common is controlled impedance. This further increases the flex thickness and compounds the challenge of meeting both the electrical and mechanical design requirements.

The flexible circuit industry has multiple solutions that can be applied, which will eliminate both the absorption and or radiation of interference noise.

What should we pay attention to EMI shield design to avoid the interfering?

  1. Keep your signals separate. Keep high speed traces ( clock signals) separate from low speed signals, and analog signals separate from digital signals.
  2. Keep return paths short.
  3. Route differential traces as close as possible. This increases the coupling factor, bringing influenced noise into the common mode which is less problematic for a differential input stage.
  4. Use vias wisely. Vias are necessary because they let you take advantage of multiple layers in your boards when routing. Designers must be aware that they add their own inductance and capacitance effects to the mix, and reflections can occur from a change in characteristic impedance.
  5. Avoid using vias in differential traces. If you must, use an oval anti-pad shared by the two vias to reduce parasitic capacitance.
  6. Singled sided FPC EMI shield is not working, you need design it as a dual flex pcb at least or double sided or multilayers FPC. Below is a dual flex pcb with EMI shield stack up.
dual flex pcb with EMI shield stack up

7. Avoid sharp right-angle bends. Capacitance increases in the 45° corner region changing the characteristic impedance and leading to reflections. This can be mitigated by rounding right angles.

8. EMI minimum solder mask opening should be more than 0.8mm, and the solder mask area need to far away from the trace more than 0.2mm. Below design solder mask opening is less than 0.8mm, it will be not able to arrange production.

EMI open solder mask design issue

If you have any EMI shield design questions, warmly welcome you to contact us. Once we received your news, we will reply to you immediately..

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How to choose the FPC stiffener?

 Flexible PCB -Flexible Printed Circuits are made of thin dielectric substrate & high ductility metal foil, flexible pcb can be bent or folded and used in static and dynamic applications. 

Do you know why the fpc need to add the stiffener?

Flexible-only PCBs can withstand fewer components than rigid-flex. The rigid part of rigid-flex can also be as complex as a traditional rigid Circuit Board. Stiffeners are occasionally laminated the same time as the coverlay.

When we need to add the Stiffeners ?

Components are near or in an active, or dynamic, flex zone
Component size and weight will import stress onto the flex
A large number of SMT pads make planarity critical
Connectors that require repeated insertions or assemblies require a stiffener, or something to help alleviate the stress of pads.

When we don’t suggest to to add the Stiffeners ?

 Small “static” components do not exert a large amount of strain on the flexible of the PCB.There are no components in the flex region.
 

How to choose the FPC stiffener?
 As we all know, the Stiffeners are typically made of FR4, PI(Kapton), stainless and alumimum stiffener.Then how we we too choose the right stiffener?

PI is often used when the end of the flex must be thickened and inserted into a ZIF connector. However, the use of Kapton(PI) requires a separate lamination cycle. For golden area, we will be need to add the PI stiffener to meet the total thickness 0.2mm, 0.3mm or 0.5mm.   

PI stiffener

FR4 stiffener can be done within the same lamination cycle. FR4 stiffener usually added for the USB connector area.

FR4 stiffener1

Stainless stiffener is not easy to transformation. And it has the good hardness. And it can play a conductive and inductive role.

Stainless stiffener

Aluminum stiffener has the best heat disspation effect, because it usually need to openning a tooling to cut the alumunum stiffener outline, then the cost is the highest.

Alumininum stiffener

Are you got it? If you have any comments, please kindly feel free to let me know. Please contact Best Technology at sales@bestfpc.com.

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What is the difference between FPC coverlay and EMI shield?

Covering is the film that covers and presses on the surface of the flexible circuit, usually polyimide resin, used for solder mask, etc., and has little effect on signal shielding. The Electro-Magnetic Interference (EMI) shield is generally attached to the coverlay, and the price of the EMI shield is much more expensive than the coverlay. What is the difference between FPC coverlay and EMI shield?

FPC coverlay, known as CVL in the industry, it has the same main function as the solder mask of PCB: 1) Protect the copper foil from being exposed to the air and avoid oxidation of the copper foil; 2) Cover for the areas which it do not need to do surface treatment. 3) The solder resist function in the SMT. The usual colors are yellow, black and white in Best Tech.

Coverlay
FPC with yellow coverlay

The EMI shield uses mixed composite metal as the shielding material and has excellent OSP performance and corrosion solvent resistance. It is superior to similar products in the market in shielding and winding characteristics. The EMI shield is suitable for flexible printed circuits. It has high shielding, bending and heat resistance. The usual color is black in Best Technology.

EMI material

After pressing the cpverlay, the FPC will press a layer of EMI shield as a conductive layer to shield the external electromagnetic interference. EMI shield is mainly used in 3C products such as notebook computers, GPS, ADSL and mobile phones, because they all produce noise due to high-frequency electromagnetic interference, which affects the quality of communication.

FPC with EMI shield
Rigid-flex with EMI shield

If you want to know more design guild about the EMI shield, please feel free to contact us at sales@bestfpc.com

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Why the FPC can not use HASL surface treatment?

The hot air solder leveling is a technology developed for the coating of lead-tin on rigid printed circuit boards. Due to the simplicity of this technology, it is also applied to flexible printed board FPC. But we usually don’t suggest to use HASL and suggest to use ENIG.

In modern market, there are no FPC manufacturer will be use HASL surface to instead of ENIG. Although ENIG will be expensive than HASL. Attached the ENIG FPC and HASL FR4 PCB pictures for your reference, please kindly check it.

ENIG
HASL

The hot air leveling is to immerse the board directly in the molten lead-slot, and the excess solder is blown off by hot air. This condition is very demanding for the flexible printed board FPC. If the flexible printed board FPC cannot be immersed in the solder without any measures, the flexible printed board FPC must be clamped to the middle of the screen made of titanium steel. Then, it is immersed in the molten solder. Of course, the surface of the flexible printed board FPC is also cleaned and coated with flux.

Due to the harsh hot air leveling process conditions, it is easy for the solder to be drilled from the end of the cover layer to the underside of the cover layer, especially when the bond strength between the cover layer and the copper foil surface is low, and this phenomenon is more likely to occur frequently. Since the polyimide film is easy to absorb moisture, when the hot air leveling process is used, the moisture absorbing moisture will cause foaming or even peeling of the cover layer due to rapid heat evaporation, so it is necessary to dry and prevent moisture before the FPC hot air leveling management.

As we all know, the Gold is a better finish for the corrosive environment if it is clean going into the field. HASL will typically use a very corrosive flux to prepare the surface and if this is a lead free HASL or leaded it does not matter, both are susceptible to corrosion.

These must be very clean going into the fielded environment or just the residue from the HASL process can set up corrosion cells. The plating process for the gold finish is not as difficult to clean and the residues are typically very low even with RO water rinsing.

If you would like to learn more details or you have any different opinions, please feel free to contact us and let us know at sales@bestfpc.com

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What is the differences between FFC and FPC?

Have you ever been heard about the FFC? Do you would like to learn about the FFC usually will be used in which kind of field? What are the differences between FPC and FPC?

FFC means flat flexible cable, it consists of multiple flat conductors insulated with a flexible plastic film that is laid out with conductors that are straight. It’s shape fixed as a rectangle. The pitches are available such as 0.5mm, 1.0mm and 1.25mm. Pitch means the distance between the center of conductor to the center of the conductor next to it.

ffc

What kind of FFCs usually used for PCB? It’s typically have a stiffener attached to the opposite side of the contact portion side to be inserted into a connector. They are simple one-to one connect jumpers. The FFCs are widely used in LCDS, mother boards, touch screens, cameras and other various devices.

FPC means flexible printed circuit board. FPC consist of copper, coverlay and PI. Can be customize as different patterns and multilayers flex pcb.

fpc

The mainly differences between the FFC and FPC?

1. Base material different: FFC base material is PET material, the range of use temperature from 85 to 165 °F. FPC base material is PI material. Attached the difference between PI and PET difference blog for your reference, hope you will be interested in . https://www.bestfpc.com/blog/2020/09/26/what-are-the-differences-between-the-poyester-pet-and-polymidepi-material%EF%BC%9F/

2. FFC width depends on the connector need to assembled pitch. FPC can be customized by all kinds of shapes. That is why the FFC you have seen is the rectangle shape, and there are all kinds of outline FPC.  

3. FFC is can be designed as 1 layer, but FPC can be designed as 1~10 layers.

4, FFC surface color usually is white, FPC is yellow, black or white.

If you have any query about FFC? Please feel free to contact Best Technology at sales@bestfpc.com

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Did you heard of etch 6L FPC to be 2L FPC?

We received a special project, one of our customer need 2L FPC, and want the thickness between two copper layers to be 0.15mm. Because this customer is specialized in RF product, he need so thick dielectric(0.15mm) between two copper layers.

What does it means?

  1. Firstly, for adhesive material, it means “adhesive + Polyimide + adhesive” should meet 0.15mm. If Adhesive is 25um, two adhesive layer totally 50um, the minimum Polyimide thickness will be 4mil.
  2. Secondly, for 4mil Polyimide, it usually refers to adhesive-less material. So if deduct 50um adhesive, it require 6mil adhesiveless material. 6mil adhesiveless PI is very hard to purchase, need to customize, have MOQ limit, and lead time will be very long.

Is there any solution to meet customer’s need?

After discussed with our engineers and manufacture department, we put forward one suggestion. Draw an stack up with 6L FPC, it’s made up of three double-sided FPC. Etch out one copper layers in TOP and Bottom double-sided FPC. And for the middle double-sided FPC, we’ll etch out two copper layers, only leave Polyimide and adhesive. 

By doing this, it finally will only leave two copper layers, and the thickness between two copper layers is 0.15mm. (As below stack up show)

To be honest, when customer put forward to his design requirement, I was amazed, 0.15mm material is so hard to purchase. But our engineers and manufacture department find a good solution for our customer. Our customer are satisfied with our work.

If you have similar need, pls feel free to contact us. We can help you make it come ture.

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How much do you know about FPC surface finish?

How many types of FPC surface treatment have you ever seen? FPC & Rigid flex is unlike Rigid FR4 PCB, there are less types of surface treatment in flexible PCB manufacturing, and most of flex pcb defult ENIG 1u’’ for flex pcb and rigid flex pcb. Please refer to the following FPC surface finishing:

  1. Electroless nickel immersion gold (ENIG or ENi/IAu), also known as immersion gold (Au), chemical Ni/Au or soft gold, is a metal plating process used in the manufacture of flexible printed circuit boards (FPCs), to avoid oxidation and improve the solderability of copper contacts and plated through-holes. It consists of an electroless nickel plating, covered with a thin layer of gold, which protects the nickel from oxidation. The gold is typically applied by quick immersion in a solution containing gold salts.

In generally, we will default as ENIG 1u’’ for customers if there are no any special requirements from our customer. There are also some special requirements from our customer, such the whole FPC surface area need to ENIG, it is very expensive. And there are also some customers may need hard gold plating (30~50u’’)for gold finger area.  

Hard-gold-plating

The advantages of Immersion gold( ENIG) will have very smooth surface, long storage time, easy for PCB soldering; suitable for fine pitch components and thin PCB board. It is more suitable for FPC just because of the thinner thickness.

2.Organic solderable protective layer (OSP) This process refers to cover the exposed bare PCB copper surface with a specific organic material.

OSP

Advantages: Can ensure a very flat surface, in line with environmental requirements. It’s cheaper compared with other surface finish.

Disadvantages: Once removed, the bare copper is exposed and subject to oxidation. Need to use conventional wave soldering and selective wave soldering process PCBA, does not allow the use of OSP surface treatment process. And it has a very limited shelf life.

2. ENEPIG (Electroless Nickel Electroless Palladium Immersion Gold) , ENEPIG is an acronym for Electroless Nickel Electroless Palladium Immersion Gold. This type of finish offers abundant benefits that make it suitable for a variety of applications.When we consider the final finish performance in a variety of different assembly methods, it can be seen that ENEPIG is suitable for a wide range of assembly requirements. The only one disadvantage of ENIPIG is the price is the most expensive.

ENEPIG

In conlusion, we sumarized the OSP and ENIG and ENEPIG some characteristics as a form as below, please kindly check it. Sincerely hope it will be helpful for you. If you have any quetions or would like to learn more details, warmly welcome you to contact us at sales@bestfpc.com

suface-finish-form

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