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Manufacturers are experimenting with printed circuit board assemblies (PCBA) design, pushing the boundaries of device form and function. Flexible printed circuit boards (PCBs), though not a new invention, are increasingly being used for their versatile design benefits. By allowing greater design flexibility in the production of new technologies, flexible PCBs unlock competitive advantages and cost savings for manufacturers.

Let’s examine in detail five key ways flexible PCBs fuel manufacturing innovation.

Pushing the envelope on product miniaturization

Flexible PCBs allow designers to maximize functionality in assemblies with strict size constraints, using rigid-flex technology. Having fewer connectors, flexible PCBs are being used to unlock reductions in space and weight. Flex circuits are more pliable than their traditionally rigid counterparts, allowing them to be configured around the edges and folds of compact devices and withstand up to 200,000 bending cycles. Without this design flexibility, the development of sleek smart fashion accessories, and miniature consumer electronic devices like the world’s smallest smart phone simply would not be possible.

Improving assembly quality

Flexible PCBs undergo a more simplified assembly process compared to rigid printed circuit boards. In devices requiring 3 axes connections, flex PCBs can be configured with little to no wiring, eliminating the risk of broken lines, compromised signal integrity, and noise interference. Often used to maximize limited space, flex PCBs typically rely on fewer parts, which in turn minimize the amount of soldered joints and the risk of connection issues from cold joints.

Enhanced board durability

The lighter weight and reduced number of connectors on flex PCBs not only enhance connection reliability, but also improve the overall durability of assembled boards. The elastic, lightweight nature of these processors increases their ability to absorb vibrations with minimal impact on the device’s internal components.

Flexible materials also enhance board durability, as the polyesters and polyamides that comprise flex PCBs are capable of withstanding harsher environmental conditions than rigid PCBs. With enhanced resistance to extreme temperatures, vibration, corrosion, and exposure to oil, water, and other moisture, flex PCBs are powering advanced applications in military, aerospace, medical, and electronic sectors.

Decreased assembly costs

The reduced number of cables, connectors, and overall parts required for a flex circuit assembly makes it a more cost-effective option for mass production than rigid PCBs. Beyond a reduction in initial overhead costs for parts, there are additional downstream benefits to flex circuit assemblies as well; ordering fewer parts creates less supply chain risk, as well as fewer overall maintenance requests throughout the lifecycle of the processing system.

Higher success rates in design and testing

The flexible portion of conventional flex circuits used to require time-consuming manual interventions from manufacturing engineers. To interpret bends and folds, engineers had to manually translate flexible sections of 3D design models into readable 2D formats. Now modern software programs accommodate complex 3D designs, allowing engineers to stack and test flex parts in layers much earlier in the production process, reducing the time and costs associated with testing and redesigning parts later in the funnel. With the help of modern 3D modeling software, developers and fabricators are better aligning their expectations and design considerations and speeding the process with which they make material selections, decide on device sizing, and adhesion methods.

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