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  • Flexible Circuit Boards

    Flexible PCBs give you the freedom to wrap your Printed Circuit Board around corners, create flat board to board connections and manufacture custom membrane keypads. In this article, I shall give some background to the materials used in flex pcb's and suggest an introduce approach to low cost prototypeing.


    Typically there are two types of material used for flexible PCB manufacture. The traditional and more widely used material is Polyimide or PI which is usually referred to as Kapton or PyraLux (trade names of Dupont). The most common alternative is Polyester film, or Mylar.

    The following table indicates some of the important properties of the materials commonly used in Flexible circuits. Tg=Transition temperature.

    Substrate (Selection)


    Tg [C]

    Moisture Absorption

    Remark

    Polyimide (PI, Kapton)
    220...390 1...3 % Standard resin for flexible printed circuits. Good resistance against strong acids, organics, but poor against strong bases.
    Polyester (PET, Mylar) 90...110 < 0.4 % PET is a low cost, optically clear substrate that is suitable for many applications. Good resistance against strong acids, organics, but poor against strong bases.
    Polyethylene Naphthalate (PEN) approx. 120 < 0.5 % PEN is a low cost substrate designed to offer properties ranging between polyester and polyimide. PEN also has excellent resistance to solvents and chemicals.
    Composite (Epoxy/Glass etc.) 90...165 <3% Good resistant against strong acids, organics, but fair against strong bases. Lower flexibility than other substrates.


    The Flexible circuit is constructed of layers of material bonded together. The inner core is the substrate, the outer layers are copper and a protective film. As shown Below:

    An alternative construction uses an adhesive layer to bond the copper tot he Substrate, see below:
    Copper layers bonded to the polyimide core with either an acrylic or modified epoxy adhesive
    An adhesiveless laminate has the copper directly attached to the polyimide core . Eliminating the adhesive bond layers allows for thinner constructions and more flexible design with vastly improved reliability. In addition adhesiveless copper clad laminates have higher operating temperature ratings, higher copper peel strengths, and the desired reduced Z-Axis thermal expansion stress on vias.
    When in house prototypeing, flexible PCB's are often seen as unviable, because of the lack of readily available laminates. (If you wish, it is possible to go through a rather lengthy and complex procedure to obtain samples from DePont or 3M), in addition the high demand from large manufacturing hoses has driven prices up making development using flexible circuits very difficult for the home user or prototypeing engineer to work with.

    PCB Supplies offers a solution, fiberglass. Fiberglass based flex is made up of 1ply fiberglass and a copper overlay, (Total thickness around 0.125mm) This allows the home user or prototypeing engineer to produce flexible PCB's at a fraction of the cost of Polymide or Mylar, using standard production processes. To read more about flexible PCB's click the attatchments below
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