The Shaughnessy Report: Got Flex?

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Welcome to the first issue of Flex007 Magazine. This new quarterly magazine is dedicated to flex system designers, electrical engineers, flex PCB designers, and anyone responsible for integrating flex into their products at the OEM/ CEM level.

Some of you are longtime readers of our Flex007 Weekly Newsletter. After seven years, we realized that it was time to expand from a newsletter to a magazine. Flexible printed circuits (FPC) have become all but ubiquitous, and it’s time that flex has its own magazine.

Flex and rigid-flex circuits are now found in many everyday handheld devices, such as tablets, laptops, and smartphones, not to mention automotive electronics, medical, military, and aerospace applications. In a future that includes autonomous and electric vehicles, virtual and altered reality devices, you can expect flex to continue to grow.

We now see all manner of flex circuits: Single-sided, double-sided, multilayered, doubleaccess, sculpted, and, of course, rigid-flex. Flex has gone through quite a few false starts over the years. As recently as the ‘90s, flex was just one more expensive type of boutique circuit. FPC was hip and cool, but engineers had to have a real need before they specified a flex circuit. Then the cost of flex materials began dropping, and flex standards started to more or less catch up with the industry.

Fast-forward to today. Many EDA tools now feature flex design capabilities, and many fabricators have mastered the process of making these “flexitos,” as some designers refer to them. Flex is not just a boutique process anymore. (It’s still a custom process in many ways, but that’s another story.) More rigid board designers and fabricators are considering moving into flexible circuits, because flex is still a premium product compared to rigid PCBs. (For some of the more successful “double-dipper” fabricators, flex makes up only 25% of their workload but 60% of their revenue.) No wonder flex is an attractive market for US companies. Flex and rigid-flex offer numerous opportunities, but they come with a variety of challenges as well.

For this first issue of Flex007 Magazine, we asked some of the top flex experts to share their thoughts about flex, rigid-flex, and the overall flex market. For our first experts discussion, we spoke with Jonathan Weldon of DuPont Electronic Materials, Mark Finstad of Flexible Circuit Technologies, and Scott McCurdy and Scott Miller of Freedom CAD about how their companies approach flex and the many related issues. In our second experts discussion, John Talbot of Tramonto Circuits discusses the flex trends he’s seeing in the overall market, along with some of the uniquely demanding flex products such as extra-long flex circuits. Next, Kelly Dack, CID+, gives us a review of his CID class’s trip to Streamline Circuits, and their exploration of flex fabrication processes.

From Dave Lackey and Anaya Vardya of American Standard Circuits, we have an excerpt from their I-Connect007 eBook, The Printed Circuit Designer’s Guide to Flex and Rigid-Flex Fundamentals. And Steve Robinson of APCT explains his plans for the future after acquiring new flex and rigid-flex capabilities with his acquisition of Cartel’s subsidiary Cirtech.

Joe Fjelstad marks the return of his column Flexible Thinking with a discussion about how much flexible circuits have changed over the years. John Talbot’s column Consider This, he explains how to handle returned material authorizations. In All About Flex, Dave Becker shares a variety of ways that flex traces can fracture, and some solutions for keeping fractures away. And in his new column Flex Time, Bob Burns of Printed Circuits breaks down some of the many reasons that rigid-flex is so expensive compared to rigid and regular flex circuits. We hope you enjoy this inaugural issue of Flex007 Magazine and we’ll see you in three months.

Andy Shaughnessy is managing editor of Flex007 Magazine and Design007 Magazine. He has been covering PCB design for 18 years. He can be reached by clicking here.

This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of FLEX007 Magazine, click here.


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