What’s the difference between rigid-flex PCB and flex PCB with FR4 stiffener?

In the production of FPC, normally we need to add different stiffener to meet the total thickness or hardness, such as PI stiffener, FR4 stiffener and stainless steel stiffener. But the FR4 stiffener after laminated is very similar to the rigid-flex PCB, especially there are also have drilling holes in FR4 stiffener.

Do you know how to identify FR4 stiffener and rigid-flex PCB? Please refer to the below picture. On flex PCB, you can see there are many PTH holes, maybe these boards are need to insert connectors and connect it to other products. So they need the hardness in this area.

From the left sample, we added the FR4 materials on bottom side, there are also have vias on stiffener, but no copper in vias, so this is FR4 stiffener. It can only increase the hardness of flex. From the right sample, the green part are still FR4 materials, but we plated copper for all vias, so it’s a rigid-flex PCB.

FR4 stiffener VS Rigid-flex PCB

Rigid-flex board has many production processes, high production difficulty, low yield rate, so its price is relatively expensive and the production cycle is relatively long than flex PCB. If the FPC with FR4 stiffener can meet your requirements, then it would be a better choice for you.

If you have any other question about stiffener or rigid-flex PCB, please feel free to contact us at sales@bestfpc.com

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Flex Circuit Specific Terms and Definitions

Recently, I was having a few discussions with someone very new to flex design. I was trying to be helpful and going through several things that are specific to flex and rigid flex design which should be considered as you start your first design. So, this blog is written for those of you who are new to flex and rigid flex, and may be unfamiliar with some of the terms that get volleyed around in conversation.

Flexible Circuit(flex pcb, pcb flex, flexible pcb, flex circuits):  

A pattern of conductive traces bonded on a flexible substrate. There are several different substrates available, the most common being polyimide. Different than rigid materials, these laminates will have rolled annealed (RA) copper for improved flexibility.

flex pcb
flex pcb

Rigid-Flex PCB(rigid flexible pcb):  

This is a hybrid construction, using flex materials in areas that need to bend or flex and rigid materials in areas with dense component areas, surface mount components on both sides of the PCB, and applications with higher layer count, dense routing areas.  Most common rigid materials can be incorporated into a rigid flex construction.

rigid flex pcb
rigid flex pcb

Flex Tails:  

Typically refers to the areas of flex extended out past the rigid portions of the rigid flex. This may be one flex region, or several bands of flex areas that extend in various directions. Rigid flex is often used to solve packaging issues and connect on multiple planes. Flex tails enable this.

Banding:  

Often used to accommodate a shorter flexible area if there is no room for a service loop. Instead of using the full width of the flex region between areas for each inner layer, the area can be divided into smaller bands of equal width for each inner layer, eliminating buckling and stress in that area.                                                                   

Pouch:  

This is a protective barrier material often used in rigid-flex fabrication. Often, this is a coverlay material used to protect exposed flexible materials during processing and is removed from the flexible portion of the board before shipment.

Coverlay:  

A layer of insulating material applied to the flexible circuit to insulate the conductor pattern. Coverlay is typically a layer of polyimide with acrylic adhesive. Film based coverlay is much more flexible than cover-coat materials and highly recommended for dynamically flexing applications or flex that will have a tight bend radius. It is important to be sure to spec enough adhesive to fully encapsulate the copper conductors.

Bend Radius:  

This is the ratio of the bending radius measured to the inside of the bend to the overall thickness in that area.  Typically, recommendations for non-dynamically flexing designs is 10:1 for single and double-sided construction, and 20:1 for multilayer construction. These can be exceeded but should be evaluated carefully. Dynamically flexing applications should be discussed with your fabricator for a recommended stack up.

I always wrote a blog about how to calculate the bending radius of fpc.

Button Plate:  

Fabrication process to selectively electroplate copper to vias and onto the pads capturing the vias. The remaining copper traces do not have electrodeposited copper, increasing the flexibility of the circuit.

I-Beam Effect:  

Stacking conductors on adjacent layers directly on top of one another, increasing the stiffness of the circuit in the bend or fold areas. Staggered conductors are recommended if possible, to retain the maximum flexibility of the circuit.

I hope this helps explain some of the common terminology with flex and rigid-flex materials and design. Please reach out to me with any questions for further information!

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FPC Coverlay Opening FAQ

Since electronic products tend to be shorter, smaller, lighter and thinner, flex pcb is more and more popular with people and the demand is increasing.

FPC coverlay is a functional film normally used in PCB industry, and it is used to protect copper foil from oxidation, cover for surface treatment subsequently and play the role of solder mask in SMT process.

flex pcb
flex pcb

Speaking of fpc coverlay opening, that is, at bare copper foil point, open a hole in coverlay according to the shape of design solder pad, so that fpc traces or traces at golden finger or solder pad can be exposed, which contributes to subsequent surface treatment by connection and placement.

flex pcb
flex pcb

We often adopt 2 ways for fpc coverlay opening. One is to open a tool. This is the first choice, very suitable for production in large batch. The other is uv laser cutting, very suitable for prototyping and production in small batch.

These are what we have sorted out about fpc coverlay opening. Hope it is helpful to you. If you are still confused, please contact us, we have professional staff who can answer your inquires for 24 hours a whole day.  

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FPC Flexibility Influencing Factors

During PCB design, FPC flexibility plays an important part and FPC flexibility is influenced by the followings:

(1)From the perspective of FPC material itself, FPC flexibility is influenced by the followings:

First, molecular structure and direction of copper foil(i.e. copper foil types);

Folding strength of RA copper is obviously superior to ED copper.

Second, thickness of copper foil;

In terms of the same type, the thinner the copper foil, the better the folding strength.

Third, types of adhesive used by substrate;

flex pcb
flex pcb

As a general rule, the flexibility of epoxy glue is better than that of acrylic adhesive. So, if high flexible material is required, epoxy glue is recommended. Moreover, the adhesive with high tensile modules can improve flexibility.

Fourthly, the thickness of adhesive;

The thinner the adhesive, the softer the material. Thin adhesive can improve FPC flexibility.

Fifth, insulation substrate.

flex pcb
flex pcb

The thinner the insulation substrate(PI), the softer the material. Thin insulation substrate can improve FPC flexibility. And FPC flexibility will get better if PI with low tensile modules is used.

In conclusion, for material, type and thickness are the most important 2 factors influencing FPC flexibility.

(2)From the perspective of FPC technology, FPC flexibility is influenced by the followings;

First, symmetry of FPC combination;

After substrate is pasted with coverlay, good symmetry of material on both sides of copper foil can improve flexibility. This is because they bear the same stress when bending. PI thickness on both sides of PCB tends to be the same, and thickness of adhesive on both sides of PCB tends to be the same.

Second, control of lamination technology.

During coverlay lamination, the adhesive is required to be completely filled into the middle of the trace, and there can be no delamination. If there is delamination, it is equivalent to bare copper bending, which will reduce the number of bending.

If you have any queries, comments or suggestions on FPC flexibility, feel free to contact us, and we have 24-hour online customer services.

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How to calculate bending radius of fpc?

 The most frequently asked question we received regarding fpc is “how much can I bend a fpc?” So, we would like to share how to calculate bending radius of fpc with you today.

fpc
fpc

When fpc is bending, the stress borne by both sides of center line is different. Pressure is inside of bending face, while tension is outside. The stress has something to do with thickness and bending radius of fpc. Excessive stress will lead to delamination of fpc, fracture of copper foil and so on.Therefore, the laminated structure of fpc should be arranged reasonably in the design, so that the lamination at both ends of the center line of the curved surface should be symmetrical as far as possible. At the same time, the minimum bending radius of fpc should be calculated according to different applications.

Situation: the minimum bending radius for single-sided fpc:

 Bending Radius for Single-sided fpc
Bending Radius for Single-sided fpc

  The calculation method:R=(c/2)[(100-Eb)/Eb]-D
Wherein:R=Minimum Bending Radius(unit:µm); c=Copper Thickness(unit: µm); D=Thickness of Coverlay(unit:µm); EB=Copper Elongation Desired(Measured as a Percentage)
Copper elongation desired also differs among various types of copper.

A.The maximum copper elongation desired for RA Copper ≤16%

B.The maximum copper elongation desired for ED Copper ≤11%

Moreover, value for copper elongation desired for the same material will be different in different applications. For one-time bending, the limit of the critical state of fracture is used (for RA Copper, the value is 16%). For bending installation design, use the minimum deformation value specified by IPC-MF-150 (10% for RA Copper).For dynamic flexible applications, copper elongation desired is 0.3%. For magnetic head applications, copper elongation desired is 0.1%. By setting the copper elongation desired, the minimum bending radius of fpc can be calculated.

Dynamic flexibility: In these applications, copper functions through deformation. For example, the phosphorus and copper metal dome in the IC card seat, i.e. the part where the IC card contacts with the chip after being inserted, and the metal dome is constantly deformed in the process of inserting. This kind of application is flexible and dynamic.
If you have any queries or comments on bending radius of fpc, contact us anytime.

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Do You Know the Standard Flex Stackup for 1 Layer, 2 Layers, or Multilayers?

Standard flex stack up for 1 layer flex pcb:

1 layer flex pcb stackup
1 layer flex pcb stackup

This is the simplest flex pcb. Generally, base material and adhesive and copper foil are used as raw materials, or protective film and adhesive are used. Firstly, copper foil needs to be etched to get traces required. Protective film needs to be drilled to expose pad. Both are combined by using rolling process after cleaning, then the exposed pad should be electroplated with gold or tin for protection. In this way, the flex PCB is finished and can be punched into small flex pcb.

Standard flex stack up for 2 layers flex pcb:

2 layers flex pcb stackup
2 layers flex pcb stackup

When the traces of flex pcb are too complicated, the 1 layer flex pcb can not meet the needs of wiring, or needs copper foil for grounded shield, 2 layers flex pcb or multilayers flex pcb can be used.

Standard flex stack up for multilayers flex pcb:

The via holes are added to make multilayers flex pcb different from 1 layer flex pcb, so that copper foil in each layer can be connected. Generally, for base materials and adhesive and copper foil, the first processing technique is to make via holes. The base materials and copper foil should be drilled firstly and then electroplated with copper of certain thickness after cleaning. Thus the via holes are finished. The subsequent manufacturing techniques of multilayers flex pcb are almost the same with 1 layer flex pcb.

For example, here is the standard flex stack up for 4-layer flex pcb

4 layers flex pcb stackup
4 layers flex pcb stackup

There may be some differences among the stackup for 1 layer flex pcb, 2 layers flex pcb and multilayer flex pcb, but similarities also exist among many manufacturing techniques of flex pcb. Different techniques are just added in some basic places, so as to be applied in different fields.

If you have any queries or comments about flex pcb, welcome to contact us anytime.

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Space Is Money – How Flex PCB Can Help You Save Big

In the electronics industry, the name of the game is lighter and smaller. Consumers want sleek, beautifully designed computers and gadgets that still pack a big computing wallop. That is to say, for designers, at least, space is money.

If you can make your product smaller and less bulky than the competition, you will gain the market advantage. Flex printed circuits boards (aka flexible circuits or flexible pcb) are designed to give you all the space you need to create innovative new product designs.

Now let me talk about the trouble with Rigid Printed Circuit Boards

If you’ve ever had to work with rigid printed circuit boards before, you know how much of a nightmare they can be. You have to find space for them and work the rest of the components around them. Flex printed circuit boards give you back control over your design. Because they can flex, you can fit them into smaller spaces, which frees up space for more components, that can make your product more powerful, more efficient, or both. They fold, twist, and roll, making it easy to find a spot for them. This also gives you the opportunity to place other parts in a better order for the most efficient sub-assembly possible. Better part placement refers to less energy waste, a longer battery life, a more solid overall configuration, and a better operating product. It also means you have control over how you map out the inner workings of your product for optimum setup.

In the fierce electronics industry, even a slightly better assembly can put you ahead of your competition and turn your product into a bestseller, while they get left in the dust.

Flex PCBs also weigh less. Even shaving off a few ounces on your product could make a noticeable difference that will make it easier for your customers to use it, wear it, and carry it. The more they want to interact with your device, the more hooked they’ll become.

Want to learn more about flex PCBs? Just contact Best Technology. Do not hesitate any more. We can explain how they work and help you determine if adding them to your next product will save you space and money.

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