Rigid-flex PCB Prototype Fabrication

Rigid-flex PCB Prototype Manufacturer | Rigid-flex PCB Stackup | Rigid-flex PCB Design Guide | Rigid-flex PCB Manufacturing Process

Rigid-Flex PCB, Combine The Best of Both Rigid PCB and Flexible Circuit Board Into One Unit

We are manufacturing reliable FPC and rigid-flex PCB Prototype boards using the most advanced process (learn more our Rigid-Flex PCB Fabrication Capability and our PCB factory). Rigid-flex PCBs improve reliability and lower costs associated with your device.

To let you have a deeper understanding of rigid-Flexible printed circuit boards to select more suitable PCB products for your products, this article will give you a detailed understanding of the definition, type, application, manufacturing process, advantages, materials used in manufacturing, and stack up the structure of rigid-flexible PCB, And design guidelines.

In electronics, we sometimes encounter seemingly new technologies that have roots in the past. Rigid-flex PCB technologies trace back approximately 50 years to the need to replace wiring harnesses in spacecraft. The first commercially available mobile computer (which weighed a little over 25 pounds!) used rigid-flex technologies.

Rigid-Flex PCB is an excellent combination of rigid boards and Flexible Circuits. Rigid-flexible PCB is connected by PTH (plated through holes). Higher component density and better quality control can be guaranteed.

Today, laptop computers, wearable technologies, medical devices, test equipment, and satellites are a few of the applications that rely on rigid-flex PCBs.


What is Rigid Flex Circuits?

Rigid-Flex Printed Circuit Boards are boards using a combination of flexible and rigid board technologies in an application. Most rigid flex boards consist of multiple layers of flexible circuit substrates attached to one or more rigid boards externally and/or internally, depending upon the design of the application. The flexible substrates are designed to be in a constant state of flex and are usually formed into the flexed curve during manufacturing or installation.

Rigid-Flex designs are more challenging than the design of a typical rigid board environment, as these boards are designed in a 3D space, which also offers greater spatial efficiency. By being able to create in three dimensions, rigid-flex designers can twist, fold, and roll the flexible board substrates to achieve their desired shape for the final application’s package.

As with conventional PCBs, you can mount components on both sides of the rigid board. Because of the integration that occurs between rigid and flex circuits, a rigid-flex design does not use connectors or connecting cables between the sections. Instead, the flex circuits electrically connect the system.

The lack of connectors and connecting cables accomplishes several things:

  • Improves the ability of the circuit to transmit signals without loss
  • Accommodates controlled impedance
  • Eliminates connection problems such as cold joints
  • Reduces weight
  • Frees space for other components

Every rigid-flex PCB is divided into zones that feature different materials and varying layer counts. Rigid zones may have more layers than flexible zones, and elements shift from FR-4 to polyimide in transition zones.

Benefits of Rigid-flex PCB

Rigid-flex PCB Fabrication Service

Focus on High-density Multi-layer Rigid-Flexible PCB Board Manufacturing for 10 years.

Types of Rigid Flex PCB Boards

  • 4 Layer Rigid-Flex PCB

A four layer combination rigid-flex circuit has four conductive copper layers. Typically, a four layer has two flexible layers and two rigid layers.

  • 6 Layer Rigid-Flex PCB

A 6 layer combination rigid-flex circuit board has six conductive copper layers. The two most common design types are as follows:

        1. 6 Layer Rigid-Flex – 2 flex layers and 4 rigid layers
        2. 6 Layer Rigid-Flex – 4 flex layers and 2 rigid layers
  • 8 Layer Rigid-Flex PCB

Rigid-flex printed circuit Boards combine the best of both rigid boards and flex circuits integrated together into one circuit. The two in one circuit is interconnected through plated thru holes. Rigid-flex circuits provide higher component density and better quality control. Designs are rigid where extra support is needed and flexible around corners and areas requiring extra space.

Common Rigid-flex PCB Stack-up and Structure

4-Layer Rigid Flexible circuit Board stackup
4-Layer Rigid-Flexible circuit Board stackup
4 layer combination rigid flex circuit has four conductive copper layers. Typically, a four-layer has two flexible layers and two rigid layers.
4 layer combination rigid-flex circuit has four conductive copper layers. Typically, a four-layer has two flexible layers and two rigid layers
6 Layer Rigid Flex PCB - Two flex layers and four rigid layers
6 Layer Rigid-Flex PCB - Two flex layers and four rigid layers
Six-Layer Rigid Flex - Four flex layers and two rigid layers.
6 Layer Rigid-Flex PCB - Four flex layers and two rigid layers.
8 Layer Rigid Flex PCB - Four flex layers with air gap and four rigid layers
8 Layer Rigid-Flex PCB - Four flexible layers with air gap and four rigid layers
8 Layer Rigid Flex PCB - Six flex layers with air gaps and two rigid layers.
8 Layer Rigid-Flex PCB - Six flexible layers with air gaps and two rigid layers.

The following is a stack-up of 4 layer rigid-flex PCB board, and the rigid PCB part thickness and the flexible PCB part.

Rigid Thickness: 0.063 in;

Flexible Thickness: 0.006 in

4 layer rigid-flex PCB (2 layer flexible circuit)

Rigid-flex Printed Circuit Boards Production

Rigid-flex PCB Fabrication

The birth and development of FPC and PCB have given birth to the new product of rigid-flex PCB. Therefore, the combination of flexible Circuit Board and rigid PCB Board is a kind of circuit board with FPC and PCB characteristics, which is formed by the combination of the flexible circuit board and Rigid Circuit Board through pressing and other processes and according to the relevant technological requirements.

Because Rigid-flex PCB is the combination of flexible PCB and rigid PCB, the production of Rigid-flex PCB should have both FPC production equipment and Rigid PCB production equipment.

Firstly, the electronic engineer draws the circuit and outline of the flexible circuit board according to the requirement and then sends it to the factory, which can produce the flexible and rigid PCB. After the CAM engineer processes and plans the relevant documents, then arranges the FPC and PCB production lines needed for the FPC production line to produce PCB. After the two kinds of flexible and rigid PCB are created, the FPC and PCB are passed through according to the planning requirements of the electronic engineer. After seamless pressing and a series of details, the rigid-flex PCB is finally made.

JHYPCB is experienced in producing custom Rigid-Flex PCB, welcome your inquiry.

Rigid-flex PCB Manufacturing Process

  • Material selection
  • Control of Production
  • Process and Key Parts
  • Production process
  • Graphic Transfer of Inner Monolithic
  • Multilayer Location of Flexible Materials
  • Lamination
  • Drill hole
  • De-drilling contamination and protrusion
  • Electroless Copper Plating and Copper Plating
  • Surface Weldability Protection Layer and Weldability Protection Layer
    Contour processing

A vital link is that the rigid-flex PCB is very difficult and has many details. Before shipment, it is generally necessary to carry out a full inspection, because of its high value, to avoid the loss of related interests caused by both suppliers and demanders.

As the Rigid-flex circuit market continues to expand, there have been many advances in technology, including:

Pressure Sensitive Adhesives (PSAs)– PSAs with a release liner are used in applications where a portion(s) of the circuit needs to be secured to a specific location within the final product. During assembly, the release liner is peeled away, and the exposed adhesive allows the assembler to press the circuit into place and keep it there.

Shielding – Shielding is applied when an application requires limits in electromagnetic and/or electrostatic interference. Protective shielding can be patterned or solid. Either way, it reduces noise and controls the impedance of signal lines. Repeatability is ensured through etching.

Controlled Impedance – With increasing signal switching speeds, engineers need to understand and control the impedance of traces. With short signal transition times and high clock rates of modern digital circuitry, trails need to be considered transmission lines instead of simple interconnections. With today’s higher speed requirements, controlled impedance traces are designed to minimize electrical reflections and ensure an error-free transition between the track and interconnections. Controlled impedance, if perfectly optimized, allows control of the physical dimensions and material of the cable. Controlled impedance signal transmission requires flexible circuit materials to be uniform in both thickness and electrical properties. It is necessary that the circuit manufacturer accurately etch the copper foil to optimize impedance.

Panelization – Multiple circuits are partially die cut with break out tabs to allow them to remain in the panel for component assembly during the [pick & place” and wave soldering processes. Once the group of rigid-flex circuit boards is assembled, simply clip them out by cutting the breakout tabs, and they are ready for assembly into your final product.

Rigid-flex PCB production equipment-PLASMA

This equipment can remove the remaining glue on the PCB surface, and it also can increase the adhesion between the layers of the multilayer PCBs and rigid-flex PCBs

Air Gap – Through the process of selective bonding, increased flexibility is achieved by [unbonding” layers, so they are allowed to flex freely. At JHYPCB, we are proud to be a leading designer of this air gap technology allowing your designs more flexibility.

Component Assembly – JHYPCB offers through-hole and surface mount capabilities, as well as in-circuit testing, conformal coating, and electrostatic protective packaging.

Rigid-flex PCB Fabrication Materials

Conductors – Copper is the most widely used conductor and comes in various thicknesses to meet each customer`s requirements. Conductor options include:

  • Rolled annealed (RA) copper
  • Electro deposited (ED) copper

Adhesives – Adhesive selection depends on customer needs and conductor thickness. Common adhesives include:

  • Epoxy
  • Acrylic
  • Pre preg
  • Pressure Sensitive Adhesive(PSA)
  • Adhesiveless base material

Organic: Entek or Organic Solderability Preservative (OSP)

  • Silver
  • Carbon

Insulators – Flexible substrate (base) and cover lay materials are available in a variety of thicknesses. Common insulators include:

  • FR-4
  • Polyimide
  • Polyester, Polyethylene Naphthalate (PEN), and Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
  • Solder mask
  • Flexible solder mask
  • Photo image able cover lay (PIC)

Finishes – The final finish depends on each customer`s assembly requirements and the application of the finished product. Common finishes include:

  • Solder (Tin/Lead or RoHS compliant)
  • Tin
  • Immersion nickel/gold
  • Hard nickel/gold
  • Wire bondable gold

Rigid-flex Circuit Boards Design Guide

  • Stiffeners: Intricate designs often transition from rigid to flex and back to rigid multiple times. As these intersections occur, the overlap of rigid-flex materials requires keeping holes away from the transition zone to maintain integrity. Besides, many rigid-flex designs include stainless steel or aluminum stiffeners that provide additional support for connectors and components.
  • Three-dimensional Designs: Different challenges offset the versatility and flexibility that allow you to build three-dimensional designs and products. Traditional rigid-flex PCB designs permitted you to mount components, connectors, and the chassis for your product to the physically stronger rigid part of the assembly. Again, in terms of traditional designs, the flexible circuit only served as an interconnect while lowering the mass and improving the resistance to vibration.
  • New Design Rules: New product designs, coupled with improved flex circuit technologies, have introduced new design rules for rigid-flex PCBs. Your design team now has the freedom to place components on the flexible circuit area. Combining this freedom with a multilayer approach to rigid-flex design allows you and your team to build more circuitry into the design. However, gaining this freedom adds a few challenges in terms of routing and holes.
  • Component placement: Flexible circuits always have bend lines that affect routing. Because of the potential for material stress, you cannot place components or vias close to the bend line.
  • Reduce Stresses: And even when components are correctly located, bending flex circuits places repeated mechanical stresses on surface mount pads and through holes. Your team can reduce those stresses by using through-hole plating and by bolstering pad support with an additional overlay to anchor the pads.
  • Reduce Stress on Your Circuits: As you design your trace routing, follow practices that reduce stress on your circuits. Use hatched polygons to maintain flexibility when carrying a power or ground plane on your flex circuit. You should use curved traces rather than 90° or 45° angles and use teardrop patterns to change trace widths.
  • Strengthens the PCB: These practices decrease stress points and weak spots. Another best practice distributes stress across traces by staggering the top and bottom traces for double-sided flex circuits. Offsetting the traces prevents the traces from laying over each other in the same direction and strengthens the PCB.
  • Trace Routing: You should also route traces perpendicular to the bend line to reduce stress. When moving from rigid to flex and back to rigid, the number of layers from one medium to the other may differ. You can use trace routing to add stiffness to the flex circuit by offsetting the path for adjacent layers.

Electromechanical Factors Influence Design

When you design rigid-flex PCBs, think in terms of electromechanical factors that affect both the flex circuit and the rigid board. As you build your design, focus on the ratio of bend radius to thickness. With flex circuits, tight bends or an increased depth at the bend area increase the chances for failure. Fabricators recommend keeping the bend radius at a minimum of ten times the thickness of the flex circuit material and building a [paper doll” of the circuit to determine where bends occur.

You should avoid stretching the flex circuit along its outer bend or compressing it along the inner curve and increasing the bend angle beyond 90° increases reaching at one point and compression at another end on the flex circuit.

Another critical issue in rigid-flex reliability is the thickness and type of conductor found in the bend region. You can decrease the thickness and mechanical stress by reducing the amount of plating on the conductors and using pads only plating. The use of massive copper, gold, or nickel plating decreases flexibility at the bend and allows mechanical stress and fracturing to occur.

Click here to download the “7 Must-knows for Your First Rigid-Flex PCB Circuit Board Design Guidelines

Rigid-flex PCBs Applications

Rigid-Flex PCBs offer a wide array of applications, ranging from military weaponry and aerospace systems to cell phones and digital cameras. Increasingly, rigid-flex board fabrication has been used in medical devices such as pacemakers for their space and weight reduction capabilities. The same advantages for rigid-flex PCB usage can be applied to military weaponry and weapon control systems.

In consumer products, Rigid-Flex doesn’t just maximize space and weight but significantly improves reliability, eliminating many needs for solder joints and delicate, fragile wiring that are prone to connection issues. These are just some examples, but Rigid-Flex PCBs can be used to benefit nearly all advanced electrical applications, including testing equipment, tools, and automobiles.

Automotive Electronics
Communication Equipment
Consumer Electronics
Industrial Control
Medical Equipment
Security Electronics
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