As a manufacturer for various military and aerospace products, maintaining a high standard of quality is without a doubt your first priority. It also means that if there’s a way to improve your PCB assembly, you should seriously consider it, especially if there is new tech that can be used to not only improve the quality of your electronics but to make the production of your PCB more efficient as well. If you’re wondering what that technology might be — it’s flexible circuits.
What Are Flexible Circuits?
Think about how the devices you’ve recently introduced into your own life. Maybe a health monitor, or an adjustable reading lamp for nighttime reading. Do you have a portable tablet or device you consistently carry on your person? More than likely, all of these devises will have a flexible PCB inside.
Flexible circuits are flexible electronics. The term “flexible electronics” refers to any electronic device that can be physically manipulated (folded, bent, rolled, stretching, etc.) without losing any of its functionality. The production of adding electronic flexible circuits to your PCB assembly consists of mounting electronic devices onto polyimide or other flexible high-performance plastic substrates. Essentially, this allows the PCB to be flexed and then baked to its desired shape during its application. As you can imagine, this provides much more flexibility (no pun intended) into your PCB applications, which is why many industries, including industrial, aerospace, food service, transportation, and military industries, are using flexible PCB circuits extensively.
Why Use Flexible Circuits in Your PCB Assembly?
Now that you have a better understanding of what flexible electronics are, you might be curious as to what actual advantages a flexible circuit has over rigid boards.
The following are some of the benefits and potential applications of using flexible circuits in your PCB assembly:
Reduce Product’s Weight and Size
The use of flexible circuitry allows for increased density and helps to eliminate bulky connections and wiring, which can result in the decrease in weight and size of the product. For example, electrical connections between sub-assemblies can replace heavier and bulkier wire harnesses in rockets and satellites. A flexible PCB circuit can fit into cramped and tight spaces and have the ability to still retain the function of their ridged counterparts.
Improve Design and Packaging
Because flexible circuits can be folded, there’s more potential when it comes to the design and packaging of the product. If you need to fit your PCB assembly into something that is not a traditional shape or size, you can utilize a flex PCB to the space. Your engineering team at your electronic contract manufacturer, may have different variations and options for your flex circuit in terms of size, shape, or component. There could be a cost savings by using different parts due to size and function. There are several markets where flexible circuits could have a real impact on an industry such as solar power, lighting in general, displays for consumer, business, and military applications, and medical assistance devices.
Increased Resistance To Transportation-Related Damage
A flexible circuit is less likely to experience damage caused by vibrations and movement, which is why they are being used extensively throughout the transportation industry and why they are an extremely effective solution for aerospace and military production.
Maintain AS9100 and ISO 9001 Standards
Manufacturers that are AS9100 and ISO 9001 certified have to meet high standards of quality. Flexible circuits can help improve the quality of the product by reducing wiring errors, eliminating mechanical connectors, providing a sturdier operating temperature range, improving both reliability and impedance control, and offering stronger signal quality. Make sure to look for these certifications, even if your PCB assembly doesn’t require them. Maintaining these types of quality standards show that your electronic contract manufacturer adheres to quality and takes it very seriously. Many ECM’s take part in independent quality audits to show their dedication to their customers. It’s an important part of your PCB assembly process, ridged or flex.
Certain products can become more adaptable to the environment they are being used in due to the use of flexible circuits. Take for example Organic Light-Emitting Diodes, or OLEDs, which can be mounted on surfaces that are curved or bendable. They also operate at a lower temperature. Not only are OLEDs very energy efficient, but they are also extremely versatile and can be used in many different applications as a result.
As you can see, there are numerous benefits to using flexible circuits in your PCB assembly. The advantages that products built using flexible circuits have in real-world applications over those with rigid circuits are almost too many to count.