PCBs are an inherent component of electronic devices. They provide mechanical support and electrical connectivity for the electronic appliances. Initially, customers preferred simple, and rigid PCBs as they were easy to make, less expensive, and used for specific purposes. However, with the ever-increasing consumers’ demand and need for smaller, and sophisticated appliances, the developers faced a new challenge of integrating complex circuits into a final application. It demanded small, yet efficient, durable, yet lighter in weight PCBs that can fit into modern electronic appliances having smaller size and dimensions. Moreover, the need for PCBs that can withstand high temperature, pressure, and tough commercial and industrial conditions provided the electronics developers a stimulus to manufacture different kinds of PCBs to fulfill rising needs and expectations of the people. This led to the introduction of flexible PCBs into the world of electronics. Since then, their demand has only increased and worldwide share of flexible PCBs is expected, backed by anecdotal evidence and data, to reach a staggering $27 billion by 2022. At present, its demand is burgeoning at an annual rate of 11%.
The increased demand for flexible PCBs resonates with the benefits they offer in a myriad of applications ranging from simple-tech devices like LED lights to the complex and sophisticated military, medial, telecommunication, and aerospace components.
What is a Flexible PCB?
The name flexible rightly explains the structure of a flexible PCB. They are made of thin layers of substrates having malleable or flexible base material that provides high flexibility, tensile strength, and bendability. You can add flexible material on one or both sides of the PCB and is known as single-sided and double-sided flexible PCB respectively. They can be folded into three-dimensional configurations and it helps them to fit into any electronic device contrary to rigid PCBs that can only fit into specific products. A flexible PCB has more initial cost than a rigid PCB but in the long-term, it proves to be a cost-effective solution.
Advantages of Flex PCBs
Flexible PCBs shave become an innate part of modern electronic devices as they offer a lot of advantages over rigid PCBs. Some of the most common advantages of flexible PCBs are:
- They can be bent, molded, or transformed into any shape, 360-bendability, due to the presence of flexible material, unlike rigid PCBs. Earlier, a PCB was designed to fit into a specific electronic device or board while flexible PCBs can fit into any board or device.
- It is very easy to install and hence simple devices like counter-LED lights prefer flexible PCBs.
- They can withstand tough, and harsh industrial conditions like high temperature, pressure, toxic chemicals, severe vibrations, and other harsh environments due to flexible physical design. They have a greater ability to absorb shocks and severe commercial processes.
- They are lighter in size and flexible wires take less space than traditional wires. All the modern appliances go for lighter weight to increase mobility. Hence, flexible PCBs have become a prerequisite for smart, and smaller electronic appliances like mobile phones, and laptops.
- They are lighter in weight as layers can be closely stacked over each other, and it can reduce weight up to 75% compared to traditional PCB designs. This lightweight feature makes them an ideal board for internal components of miniature, and complex electronic devices.
- They have a minimum chance of breaking as they provide enhanced tensile strength and so can be wrapped around any device.
- Similarly, flexible PCBs are cost-effective. They have an initial high cost but their long-life and functional diversity easily make up their cost for the users. A limited number of connections and components of a flexible PCB make their assembly cost lower than traditional PCBs.
- They are durable and provided better resistance to bending cycles. According to estimates, a flexible PCB can easily withstand 200,00 bending cycles in its life.
- Likewise, they offer design versatility and are a better alternative to rigid PCBs. They can connect internal parts of sophisticated components with ease because of small size, weight, and higher flexibility.
Applications of Flexible PCBs
Flexible PCBs are used in all types of electronic equipment from the simplest devices to the most sophisticated and smart applications. Their number has been through the roof in the last few years and the following paragraphs will apprise the readers of the wide range of applications in which flexible PCBs are used worldwide.
Where Reduced Size is Critical for Performance
Because of their easy installation and small size, they are extensively used in miniature appliances like mobile phones, tablets, laptops, wearables like watches, and sleek fashion products. Also, flexible PCBs are an ideal choice. in appliances like cars, rockets, and satellites, where less weight and size are critical to the performance, and functional capacity.
Used in Sensitive Applications
As flexible PCBs offer design versatility and better functional capacity, they are used in sensitive and high-tech instruments like cameras, electronic compasses, accelerometers, motion sensors, and other such devices. Here also, small size and weight play a critical role in it’s functioning.
Use in High-Tech Instruments
Since flexible PCBs are more durable, and reliable and can withstand tough industrial and commercial processes, they are widely preferred for use in cutting-edge applications like aerospace, medical devices, military, equipment, and telecommunication. Also, they can absorb severe vibrations because of flexibility in their design and are used in computer hardware like keyboards, printers, and hard disks which require enhanced resistance to vibrations.
Similarly, they have become an important component of remote devices like oceanographers or those used in the space as these PCBs need little maintenance and repair requests.
If you have witnessed the revolutionary evolution of smaller and smart appliances like mobiles, laptops, computers then all of this has been possible because of flexible PCBs which, owing to their reduced size and weight, can easily fit into smaller and multi-functional devices. That is why more and more industries are embracing the technology of flexible PCBs and the trend is likely to only increase in the future.