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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Copper Thickness Requirements for Flex Circuits

If an end user will specify the copper thickness of a printed circuit, there must be many reasons. For example, current carrying capacity, but copper thickness also directly impacts thermal performance and impedance. All these are vital properties, which have a great influence on the functionality and reliability of a flexible circuit.

flexible circuits
flexible circuits

At the point, it is important to understand the functional needs driving a copper thickness requirement.

Some of the common functional requirements could be:

1.Minimum thickness in a connector area to assure robust contact.

2.Adequate current carrying capacity directly related to the cross sectional area of the trace.

3.Proper conductivity, a function of cross sectional area and metal type of the trace.

4.Proper impedance in high speed circuits driven by the cross sectional area of the copper, the surrounding dielectric constant, and distance from signal trace to ground plane.

5.Thermal properties directly related to metal type and trace profile.

Copper weight is used in the industry as a “thickness” measurement. Circuit manufacturers commonly purchase copper foil with descriptions of Âœ ounce, 1 ounce, 2 ounce and so on. The number is the weight of copper in a square foot of foil. Also, +/- 10% is the industry accepted tolerance for copper foil thickness from the material supplier.

flexible pcb
flexible pcb

Drawing specifications will frequently define a flexible PCB copper thickness using weight. For example “circuit to be 1 ounce copper”. This can lead to some ambiguity, as copper plating on double sided circuits can easily add an ounce of copper to the surface of a trace. So by specifying thickness in this fashion, it is not clear if this is intended as a finished thickness or an original thickness. Additionally, controlled impedance designs work best when copper plating is restricted to the vias with no copper plated on the surface of the traces. This will minimize trace thickness variability and suggests a specific product category requiring a process known as “Pads Only Plating” or “Button Plating”. For controlled impedance designs, one of these terms should be called out in the drawing notes.

What affects final copper thickness is the variety of manufacturing processes that add or subtract copper thickness. Micro-etching is a common “cleaning” process used to prepare a surface for plating or coating. This process removes a small amount of copper. Likewise copper plating will add thickness. The circuit fabricator will directly measure added (or subtracted) thickness in mils (1 mil =.001”) or microns (25 ÎŒm=.001”).

The most accurate method for determining thickness is to do a micro section. This is a destructive test, so it is common to use coupons located in unused areas of the processing panel. These coupons are located and sized to be “representative” of the circuitry copper thickness. Copper thicknesses will vary slightly across a panel depending on current density from electroplating. Current density can be a function of the copper trace pattern so differences among various part numbers will occur. As a general rule, copper plating thickness will tend to be thinner on the outer edges of the panel and thicker toward the center.

In summary, when defining the specific copper thickness for an application it is highly recommended to start with a discussion of the myriad functional requirements. Also, the manufacturer can help recommend copper thicknesses and tolerances as well as the best methods for measurement.

Best Technology is the professional vendor of flex circuits, from 1 layer to 10 layers, 2 layers rigid-flex circuits to 16 layers rigid-flex circuits, and one-stop service including components purchasing, assembly, IC programming, testing. Choose us, you can always enjoy our best service at a good price.

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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:”m); c=Copper Thickness(unit: ”m); D=Thickness of Coverlay(unit:”m); 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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How to Improve Reliability & Flexibility in an 8 Layer Stackup Flex PCB?

When designing a flex PCB stackup, you may face some restrictions in enhancing the reliability of the board. Today, we will discuss the ways to improve the reliability of a board by increasing the flexibility and improving design considerations of a multilayer PCB stackup. These steps can be implemented for PCB stackup designs as seen in 8 layer flex PCBs.

Improve Flexibility by Reducing Overall Thickness

All or some of the below mentioned steps can be executed to lower the overall thickness of the PCB. A thinner PCB stackup will allow it to be more flexible.

1.Reduce the base copper weight.

2.Reduce the adhesive thickness.

3.Reduce the dielectric material thickness.

4.Using adhesiveless base materials can reduce the thickness of the substrate by 1-2 mils, which is almost 25-50Όm.

5.Make use of selective plating to avoid copper plating the conductors.

Improve Reliability by Reinforcing the PCB

Here, the boards, components, and the layout should be designed to deliver a robust structure that can withstand flexing.

1.The weight on both sides of the PCB should be equal. This includes the weight of the conductors and the material.

2.The conductors on different layers of a PCB should not be placed on top of each other. Instead, they should be placed in a staggered pattern.

3.Conductor thickness should always be constant in and near the bend areas.

4.There should be no plated-through holes in the bend areas.

5.There should be no discontinuities near the bend.

6.Traditional copper can be proved to reduce the flexibility of a PCB. Opt for screened-on coatings like silver epoxy.

7.For slits in the circuit, reliefs or tear stops need to be built into the PCB.

flexible pcb

flexible pcb

Tight tolerances will have to be put in place to ensure that your stacked up PCB can provide flexibility as well as reliability. Several of the above-mentioned steps can easily be incorporated in the designing process itself. Your PCB manufacturer should be able to help you with the most appropriate improvements for your application.

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Queries to Ask When Choosing a Flex PCB Prototype Manufacturer

Most of today’s flex PCB manufacturing process begins with a prototype production. There are several advantages of building a working model of the flex circuit before attempting the mass production of these boards. Building a prototype not only helps to test the board’s function but also aids in improving it as per the requirement. Additionally, prototype creation helps in detecting errors at the earliest, and decide upon the final design and other specifications of the board. Since prototype creation plays such a decisive role, it must be executed by an experienced service provider. But, how to find an experienced service provider? Do not worry, you can evaluate the competencies of flex PCB prototype making by asking a few questions such as:

1.How long have you been providing Flex PCB prototypes to the customers: Although the question seems basic, it helps to evaluate the total experience of the manufacturer. A PCB manufacturer with several years of experience will be certainly equipped and professional enough to understand your prototype requirements than a startup.

2.How long will you take to complete the prototype making from the order accepted date? Although the turnaround time varies as per the capabilities of the manufacturer, the manufacturer must be able to create Flex PCB Prototypes in 24 to 48 hours or within a week’s team. More than the said time frame is not usually acceptable when it comes to prototype creation.

3.What are the quality standards you implement to get the prototype right and functional? Again, standard and certification compliance varies across the industry. Since there are several international standards formulated to ensure the boards quality, you must know the quality standards followed by the chosen manufacturer.

flexible circuits

flexible circuits

4.Do you own a well-equipped manufacturing facility to proceed with the approved prototypes for mass production? There are some PCB production manufacturers that are specifically functioning to meet the prototype demands of the customers, and not in mass production. Lack of cutting-edge production facilities, advanced equipment, and man power are amongst a few reasons why such production houses limit their service to only prototyping. Hence, you must ensure the extent of their service.

5.What methods do you use to assure quality? It is inevitable to have the same level of quality checks throughout every stage of the flex PCB prototypes production. Hence, while choosing a PCB production manufacturer, it is extremely significant to ensure that they are performing the inspection stringently utilizing the best of techniques such as visual inspection, X-ray inspection, and Automated Optical Inspection.

Flex PCB prototypes can be extremely helpful as they help both the manufacturers and customers to check the board against various parameters before the mass production. Best Technology, your best supplier of flex PCB prototyping services with consistent good quality. Contact us to get a free quote today.

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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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Introduction to A Flexible Circuit Coverlay

During the flexible printed circuit board manufacturing process, a flex circuit coverlay (aka coverfilm) is used to encapsulate and protect the external circuitry of a flexible circuit board.
A flexible circuit coverlay serves the exact same function as solder mask that is used on a rigid printed circuit board. The difference with a flex coverlay is the needed element of flexibility and durability it provides to the flex PCB design.
The coverlay consists of a solid sheet of polyimide with a layer of flexible adhesive that is then laminated under heat and pressurized to the circuit surfaces. The required component feature openings are mechanically created using drilling, routing, or laser cutting.
Typical coverlay thickness is 0.001″ polyimide with 0.001″ of adhesive. Thicknesses of 0.0005″ & 0.002″ are available, but only used as needed to meet specific design requirements.
For more information visit our website to learn more about our flex & rigid-flex PCB manufacturing process!

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The Future of Flexible Circuits

As predicted by Best Technology Co.,Ltd., the market for flexible circuits is going to continue to expand steadily in the future, just as it has been doing for the past three decades. The reasons for this are not hard to find, as, on one hand, flexible circuits continue to support the existing technology so important to different industries, while on the other hand, advanced flexible circuits are able to comfortably meet the futuristic demands being made by up-coming industries, including the military, avionics, aerospace, telecommunication, consumer electronics, medical, and automotive.

One of the latest applications that flexible circuits have independently triggered as an explosion is the wearable electronics market. Wearing electronics on the body essentially calls for comfort, and flexible circuits guarantee this. Some examples of wearable electronic applications prevalent on the market are wrist-worn activity and body function monitors, foot-worn sensors, wearable baby monitors, medical sensors, pet monitors, and electronics on worn clothing. By bending and forming flexible circuits to suit the curve of the human body, the applications provide comfort for long wear and use.

Since establishment on June 28, 2006, Best Technology has been dedicated to being your best partner of flexible circuits solutions for our customers. We prefer to lose quantity rather than lose quality and with adhering to the company culture for so many years, more and more customers have been attracted by us. We are so grateful for what we have obtained so far and we will insist on providing the most satisfactory products and services for our customers. Welcome to Best Technology.

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