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What is Flexible PCB and Flex Circuits

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PCBs are widely used in the world today, across technologies from a range of applications.

Created as an alternative to using wires, they are today an indispensable part of the modern world.

Over the years, PCB technology has been developed to a large extent, with increasingly complex variants emerging over the years.

Created to serve a particular requirement, PCBs are today available in a variety of forms and designs, each of which are suited to a specific need.

And indeed, one could say that such developments are to be expected, as the R&D continues across the world in the field.

Of the many designs that exist, one of the more interesting varieties is that of the flexible PCBs or Flex circuits.

A fairly recent innovation in the world of PCBs, they are an innovation like no other, for a host of different reasons.

There is much that can be said about flexible PCBs or Flex circuits, the details of which are explained below.

Given in the points are some of the key details about flexible PCBs or flex circuits.

1.) Nature of the PCBs

As suggested by their name, Flex PCBs or flex circuits are called so, due to the fact that they are ‘flexible’ in nature.

They are in sharp contrast with rigid PCBs, where the circuitry and other components are set on a rigid board, and which are not ‘flexible’ in any sense of the word.

Designed using flexible materials, they are used in places where there is a need for wires and other electrical components to be ‘moving’, or at least ‘warp’ around a corner or edge.

2.) Applications and Uses

Flex PCBs or flexible circuits are designed specifically for those applications, where ‘flexibility’ is of prime importance, as well as other necessities such as the nature of the environment, cost factor and so on.

With regard to the actual applications of flexible PCBs, some of most important ones are those where there is a need for circuitry and wires in the moving parts of machines. Then there are the requirements in applications such as flexible keyboards, wearable electronics, organic light emitting diodes, etc.

3.) Space Requirements

One of the best advantages of flexible circuitry, in addition to the fact that they are flexible, is the fact that they require very little space, compared to conventional circuits.

Thanks to the nature of the construction and design, they are generally great for use, when it comes to working with gadgets that have a limited amount of space to work with.

4.) Structural Strength

An important aspect of the flexible PCB is the fact that it is both strong and weak at the same time, in terms of structural strength.

On the one hand, the circuit is flexible enough to move and bend to a large degree. At the same time however, it doesn’t have the amount of rigid strength that one would expect in say, a standard non-flexible PCB.

What this means is that although designed to be used in applications with moving parts or corners, it is to be handled as a fragile PCB rather than something tough and resilient.

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5.) Usability in Harsh Environments

Although flexible PCBs are fragile in terms of structural strength, they are very resilient within reasonable bounds for use in environments that are harsh in nature, and where conventional boards would eventually fail.

More specifically, one can expect them to survive in environments with exposure to radiation, temperature and chemicals, which would have caused a great deal of damage to regular PCBs.

6.) Manufacturing Considerations

With regard to the manufacturing process of flexible PCBs, there is a lot that goes into making them in comparison to conventional ones.

This is because although flexible PCBs may seem simple, they are harder to manufacture in comparison to regular boards in general and a difficult assembly process in particular.

All of this means that the average production process for a flexible PCB would be a complex one, in comparison to that of other PCBs.

7.) Cost Factor

Flexible PCBs are generally more expensive to produced, due to the manufacturing constraints and limitations.

Due to the complex nature of their design, they often take more time and effort to produce, which adds up in the end, and raises the cost factor of the end result.

8.) Reparability & Replacement

It is a fact that all electrical and electronic components eventually break down.

In the case of flexible PCBs, this can prove to be a big problem due to the fact that is next to impossible to repair broken circuits, and even it is workable, it would be extremely difficult.

This means that applications making use of flexible circuits need to accept the fact, that in the event of a breakage or any other kind of damage, that the entire part may have to be replaced.

9.) Scalability of Design

Flexible PCBs also have the advantage of scalability, where they can be layered to create layered-PCBs, similar to double or multi-layered conventional PCBs.

This allows for the PCBs to be deployed for more complex applications, wherever it may be required, while at the same time retaining the advantage of flexible PCBs.

10.) Weight Considerations

There are several applications, where the primary requirement, in addition to performance, is a light-weight construction.

Wherever such needs may exist, flexible PCBs are an ideal choice, given their space-savings and compact-design.

11.) Design Constraints

A major advantage when it comes to flex PCBs is that of the design constraints, which is fairly limited.

Given that flex PCBs can be created in any shape and form possible, as well as provide for a structural flexibility, they can be produced for a wide variety of devices, electronic components and more.

12.) The Potential to Replace Rigid Boards & Connectors

Although not applicable in every single, flexible PCBs can be used to replace rigid boards and connectors to a large extent.

But wherever it can be done, they offer the advantages of flexibility and space savings, without any loss in productivity.

To sum up, there is much that can be said about this interesting variant of PCB technology.

Used in a wide range of technologies and applications, it is something which can be expected to be around for a very long time. 

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