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PCB | October 01, 2008

PCB market for Flex boards to increase

Flex has become the preferred technology for Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs). High-volume, surface-mount PCB applications, flip-chip and BGA packaging designers are also using flex circuits for their applications.
They are thinner, weigh less than rigid PCBs and have the ability to bend to fit into tight spaces. Flexible Printed Circuit Boards (FPC) addresses the increasing demand to maximize available space within the electronic assembly. Recently, the market for FPC has grown four times the rate of rigid boards.

Rigid-flex circuits are hybrid constructions that contain both rigid and flexible substrates laminated together into a single package. They usually have at least one FPC with the rigid PCBs and are multi-layered and double-sided. Copper traces in the flex section provide interconnection between the separated rigid portions.

Rigid-flex allows designers to replace multiple PCBs interconnected with connectors, wires, and ribbon cables within a single package, offering improved performance and reliability. This also offers cost reduction in terms of purchasing, supply chain and assembling. Rigid-flex allows designers to reduce weight while increasing the reliability of the interconnection. They also allow designers to work in 3D. The flex portions can be folded, twisted and rolled to follow the design of the mechanism. The electrical properties of the connectors are enhanced due to defined shielding and isolation. Rigid-flex circuits can accommodate EMI shielding layers, through-hole assembly, controlled impedance and other customer-specified electrical requirements, said Frost. Rigid-flex is quickly finding acceptance in a number of industries. From hand-held consumer electronics such as cell-phones, mp3 players to military aerospace industry, rigid-flex is gaining popularity. The medical devices industry has adopted rigid-flex for devices such as hearing aids and pacemakers.

Cost and design issues are the main challenges facing the rigid-flex market. Rigid-flex needs a different manner of design from the standard rigid PCBs.

The cost of the material used in the fabrication of the products is very high due to which the manufacturers of simple electronic applications that do not benefit from the advantages of flexible circuits and tend to avoid the products. The cost of raw material involved is a huge deterrent apart from the fabrication costs which works out to as much as five times that of a standard rigid PCB.

Driven by demand from medical, aviation and military industry as well as industrial and consumer electronics, the market for rigid-flex PCBs is growing extremely fast. The industry has maximum demand from communication and consumer electronics industries, according to Frost.Even though the flexible printed circuit market segment currently holds only a small portion of the entire printed circuit industry, its development has dramatically altered the landscape of the printed circuit market.

Among the different FPC types, rigid-flex is anticipated to the fastest growing accounting for about 33% of the total revenues from in flexible PCBs industry in 2012.

The industry is witnessing a convergence of rigid and flex. High Density Interconnect (HDI) with increased performance and functionalities, coupled with the increasing demand and applications in the end-user industries, is expected to drive the growth of the rigid-flex PCB market. With technology utilized in the rigid-flex expected to stabilize in the next 5-7 years, it is projected that this market will experience strong growth.

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