Blog  /  What is a Rigid Flex PCB? Examples, Cost, and Uses

What is a Rigid Flex PCB? Examples, Cost, and Uses

Rigid-flex printed circuit boards (PCBs) are a revolutionary hybrid PCB technology that combines the best of both worlds. They have the strength and stability of rigid PCBs, as well as the flexibility and adaptability of a flex PCB.

What is a Rigid Flex PCB?

This unique combination integrates flexible circuit substrates into the rigid board structure. This mix of flexible and rigid board technologies can be done externally, internally, or both, depending on the design requirements.

Rigid-flex PCBs are often multilayer, with flexible layers strategically placed so they can bend, fold, or twist while maintaining electrical connections. This flexibility allows for electronic devices with complex geometries, tighter packaging, and improved reliability.

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What Advantages Do Rigid-Flex PCBs Offer?

Reduced Overall System Weight and Size

By integrating flex circuits and rigid parts, designers get rid of bulky connectors and cables, resulting in a more compact and lightweight product. This is especially handy for industries like aerospace and medical, where space and weight are critical.

The reduced need for interconnects also minimizes potential points of failure, which makes the device more reliable overall.

Unique Dynamic Stability and Flexibility

The combination of flexible and rigid PCB materials provides dynamic flex and stability. Rigid-flex circuits can handle mechanical stress and vibrations easily, so they are ideal for applications with moving parts.

This dynamic stability helps the PCB board maintain great performance over time, even in challenging environments. For example, in automotive applications, rigid-flex PCBs can survive constant movement and vibrations without losing performance, unlike the design of a typical rigid board.

Increased Design Versatility

Rigid-flex boards are extremely versatile when it comes to design. They can be shaped to fit complex and irregular spaces within devices, enabling innovation in the design process.

This flexibility is beneficial in modern electronics, where optimizing space is a huge selling point. Designers can truly design for manufacturability. This allows for more intricate and compact designs without compromising the functionality or durability of the electronic components.

Simplified Repair and Maintenance

With fewer connections and components, rigid-flex designs are easy to repair and maintain. Indeed, flexible circuits reduce the need for multiple connectors and cables.

This feature helps to minimize downtime and lower maintenance costs. In applications like medical devices, where reliability is essential, this can be the difference between a quick fix and an outage that lasts for hours.

Enhanced Circuit Reliability

The robust design of rigid-flex PCBs boosts the reliability of its circuits. Reliability is essential when consistent performance is a must, as in medical and military systems. By lowering the number of connectors and solder joints, the risk of connection failures is significantly reduced.

Reduced Overall Manufacturing Costs

Despite a higher initial cost, rigid-flex PCBs can actually lower overall manufacturing expenses. The simplified PCB assembly process and fewer components decrease labor costs and PCB fabrication time.

The improved reliability of these PCBs also means there’s less likelihood of requiring costly repairs and replacements. Over time, the initial investment is offset by the savings in manufacturing and maintenance costs.

Resistance to High Temperatures and Harsh Conditions

Rigid-flex PCBs are designed to withstand high temperatures, exposure to chemicals, humidity, and other environmental stressors without degrading. This makes them ideal for mission-critical applications, like aerospace and military.

Where are Rigid-Flex PCBs Used?

Rigid-flex PCBs can be used in a vast range of applications, even outside of a typical rigid board environment. These printed circuit boards offer a wide array of benefits in many sectors.

Where Are Rigid-Flex PCBs Used? Rigid-Flex PCBs Used Applications

Medical Devices

Rigid-flex PCBs are common in medical devices due to their reliability and compact size. They are used in applications like pacemakers, imaging systems, and diagnostic tools, where precision and durability are essential.

These PCBs can be designed to fit into very small spaces, which keeps medical devices small and convenient. Their reliability also makes sure life-saving equipment performs flawlessly over extended periods of time.

Military Systems

The military sector relies on rigid-flex PCBs for their robustness and reliability. They’re used in communication systems, navigation equipment, and weapon systems, where performance in harsh conditions is a necessity.

Military applications often involve exposure to extreme temperatures, shock, and vibration, all of which rigid-flex PCBs can handle without a problem.

Aerospace Systems

In aerospace applications, rigid-flex PCBs are also valued for their ability to withstand extreme temperatures and vibrations. They’re used in satellites, avionics, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The ability to keep functioning under the stress of launch and space conditions makes rigid flexible PCBs a huge part of aerospace technology.

Automotive Electronics

Rigid-flex PCBs play a central role in automotive electronics. They’re used in infotainment systems, sensors, and engine control units (ECUs), keeping them compact and durable.

The automotive environment exposes electronics to constant vibrations, temperature variations, and various chemicals. Rigid-flex PCBs’ ability to maintain performance under these conditions makes them ideal for these applications.

Industrial Equipment

The demanding conditions in industrial settings, such as high temperatures, chemical exposure, and mechanical stress, require durable and reliable electronic components, making rigid-flex PCBs an excellent choice.

Consumer Electronics

The consumer electronics industry uses rigid-flex PCBs to create slim, lightweight, and reliable devices. They’re found in smartphones, wearable devices, and laptops, boosting the functionality and durability of consumer gadgets.

The demand for thinner, more flexible, and more powerful consumer electronics is always growing, so rigid-flex PCBs are common in a wide array of applications.

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What Design Considerations are Important for Rigid-Flex PCBs?

Bendable PCBs: Understanding the Requirements

The requirements for rigid-flex PCBs to be bendable must be considered in the design phase. Understanding the application's bending needs helps to choose appropriate materials and design for optimal flexibility without reducing performance.

Factors like the number of flex cycles, bend radius, and the environment in which the PCB circuit board will be used must be taken into account for longevity and reliability.

Material Selection

The PCB materials must provide the necessary flexibility, durability, and thermal stability. Common materials include polyimide for flexible layers and FR-4 for rigid layers.

The choice of adhesive materials is also important, as it affects the flexibility and thermal performance of the PCB. Material selection impacts not only the performance but also the manufacturability and cost of the printed circuit board.

Layer Stackup

The layer stackup in rigid-flex PCBs impacts their performance and reliability. Designers must carefully plan the arrangement of flexible and rigid layers to meet electrical and mechanical requirements.

The stackup determines the PCB’s ability to handle power and signal integrity, as well as its mechanical properties. Proper stackup design can also help manage heat dissipation and keep the PCB stable.

Flex Area Placement

Proper placement of flex areas helps to avoid stress and potential failure points. Designers should position flex areas strategically so they can handle repeated bending.

The placement should minimize the stress on the flex areas, especially in regions that will experience frequent or severe bending. Reinforcing critical areas and avoiding sharp corners can also help enhance the durability of the flex areas.

Thermal Management

Effective heat management helps rigid-flex PCBs work reliably for longer. Designers must incorporate smart strategies to get rid of heat efficiently to keep things running smoothly.

This can include the use of thermal vias and heatsinks, as well as being careful about the placement of heat-generating components. Proper thermal management keeps the PCB operating within safe temperature limits, reducing the risk of damage.

Flexibility and Bending Radius

The flexibility and bending radius of the PCB must align with the application’s requirements. Designers should be clear about the minimum bending radius to prevent damage and maintain reliability.

The bending radius depends on the materials used, the thickness of the flex layers, and the expected number of flex cycles. Meeting the bending requirements is important for the PCB's durability and performance.

Transition Zones

Transition zones, where rigid and flexible sections meet, need careful design to avoid mechanical stress. Reinforcing these areas can increase durability and prevent failures.

The transition zones should be designed to distribute the stress evenly and avoid sharp bends. Proper design of these zones helps the PCB handle mechanical stress without compromising its structural integrity.

Signal Integrity

Designers must minimize electromagnetic interference (EMI) and keep up consistent signal transmission using proper layout and shielding techniques. Signal integrity issues can be caused by improper routing, not enough spacing, and poor grounding. Careful design and testing can help identify and fix these issues to ensure signal transmission stays reliable.

What is the Rigid-Flex PCB Manufacturing Process?

What Is the Rigid-Flex PCB Manufacturing Process? Rigid-Flex PCB Step-by-Step Manufacturing Process

  1. Material Preparation and Cleaning

    Proper cleaning makes sure that there are no contaminants that could affect the adhesion of the PCB layers. This step involves cleaning the substrates and other materials to remove dust, oils, and other substances that could interfere with the bonding and processing of the materials.

  2. Circuit Pattern Generation

    Circuit patterns are generated using photolithography, where a photoresist is applied to the substrate and exposed to UV light through a mask. The exposed areas are then developed to create the circuit pattern, which is the blueprint for the circuit layout.

  3. Etching

    Etching removes unwanted copper from the substrate, leaving behind the desired circuit pattern. This process is carefully controlled for precision and accuracy. The PCB etching process can be performed using various methods, such as chemical etching or plasma etching, depending on the specific requirements of the PCB design.

  4. Plating

    Plating adds a layer of conductive material, such as copper, to the circuit pattern. This boosts the electrical conductivity and durability of the printed circuit board. The plating process may involve multiple steps, including depositing a seed layer, electroplating, and final finishing to reach the desired thickness and quality of the conductive layers.

  5. Lamination

    Lamination involves bonding the flexible and rigid layers together. The layers are stacked and pressed under heat and pressure. This step creates the multi-layer structure of the rigid-flex PCB and bonds the layers securely without voids or spaces.

  6. Drilling

    Drilling creates plated through holes and vias and component placement. Precision drilling helps get accurate hole placement, essential for electrical connections and mechanical stability. The PCB drilling process may involve various techniques, such as mechanical drilling, laser drilling, or micro-drilling, depending on the size and requirements of the holes.

  7. Via Formation

    Vias connect different layers of the PCB, allowing for electrical connectivity between them. The vias are typically filled or plated to create reliable connections and improve mechanical strength. Via formation can involve various methods, such as through-hole, blind, or buried vias, depending on the design.

  8. Solder Mask Application

    A solder mask protects the circuit pattern from oxidation and contamination. It also prevents solder bridges during assembly. The solder mask is typically applied using a screen printing process or photo-imaging, for precise coverage and protection of the circuit traces.

  9. Surface Finish

    The surface finish protects the exposed copper surfaces from oxidation and provides a good solderable surface for component assembly. Common finishes include ENIG (Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold) and HASL (Hot Air Solder Leveling).

  10. Cutting

    Cutting separates the individual PCBs from the panel. Precision cutting makes sure the PCBs meet the required dimensions and shapes. Various cutting methods can be used, like routing, laser cutting, or mechanical sawing, depending on the design and materials.

  11. Profiling

    Profiling shapes the PCB edges and creates notches or slots as needed. These notches help the printed circuit board fit perfectly into the final product. Profiling can involve various techniques, such as CNC machining, to achieve the desired edge contours and features.

What are the Cost Considerations for Rigid-Flex PCBs?

Higher Initial Investment

Rigid-flex PCBs are more expensive upfront due to the complexity of their design and manufacturing. This includes costs of specialized materials, rigid-flex technology, advanced manufacturing techniques, and thorough testing procedures. The benefits in the end often outweigh the upfront costs, though.

Potential Long-Term Cost Savings

Despite the higher costs to begin with, rigid-flex PCBs can lead to long-term savings by reducing the need for connectors, cables, and assembly time. This is especially handy in high-volume production runs. The integrated design also lowers the risk of mechanical failures, lowering maintenance and replacement costs even more.

Economies of Scale

Economy-of-scale benefits apply to rigid-flex PCBs, making them more cost-effective in large production runs. By optimizing production processes and material usage, manufacturers can lower the per-unit cost, making rigid-flex PCBs a viable option for various applications and budgets.

Design Iterations

Design iterations can add to the cost, but they’re extremely helpful for optimizing the PCB for its intended application. Prototyping and testing phases help identify and resolve possible design challenges, so the final product meets all performance and reliability requirements.

Prototyping Costs

Prototyping costs for rigid-flex PCBs are higher than for traditional rigid boards, but prototypes are a must for testing and validation. Prototyping helps avoid costly errors in mass production.

Flex and Rigid-Flex PCB Cost Comparison

PCB Type Low Complexity Medium Complexity High Complexity
Rigid PCB $1 – $10 $10 – $50 $50 – $200+
Flex PCB (Single-Sided) $5 – $20 $20 – $75 $75 – $300+
Flex PCB (Double-Sided) $10 – $30 $30 – $100 $100 – $500+
Rigid-Flex PCB (4-Layer) $20 – $50 $50 – $200 $200 – $1,000+
Rigid-Flex PCB (6-Layer) $50 – $100 $100 – $500 $500 – $2,000+

Benefits of OurPCB Rigid-Flex PCBs

Superior Quality

We provide high-quality rigid-flex PCBs that meet industry standards. You can trust in their reliable performance and durability. As a top-tier PCB manufacturer, we only use premium materials and advanced manufacturing techniques.

Custom Solutions

At OurPCB, we offer custom PCB manufacturing and assembly solutions tailored to your specific needs – no one-size-fits-all products. This allows for the creation of unique and innovative PCB designs that meet the precise requirements of various applications.

Expert Support

You’ll get expert support throughout the design and manufacturing process. Our experienced team provides guidance and assistance, helping you navigate the complex world of rigid-flex PCB design and production.

Cost-Effective Production

Our cost-effective production methods help keep prices competitive without compromising quality. Efficient manufacturing processes and economies of scale enable us to offer affordable solutions for both small and large production runs.

Fast Turnaround

With a focus on efficiency, we promise fast turnaround times, helping you meet tight deadlines. Our advanced manufacturing capabilities and streamlined processes allow us to quickly produce and deliver high-quality PCBs.

 

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