Rigid-flex PCBs (printed circuit boards) are a hybrid type of PCB that combine elements of both rigid and flexible circuit technologies to provide new advantages and offer suitability for new applications. The benefits of PCBs fabricated with both rigid and flexible areas are many; most notably, rigid flex PCBs can bend, fold, or twist without compromising the integrity of the electronic circuits. This makes them ideal for applications that require a combination of flexibility and structural stability.
Rigid flex PCBs offer unique advantages and disadvantages compared to traditional rigid and flexible PCBs, and therefore are best suited for different applications, environments, and industries. In this blog, we’ll highlight the pros and cons of rigid flex PCBs, helping you to determine whether this PCB construction is the right choice for your application.
Advantages of Rigid Flex PCBs
There are various advantages of using rigid flex PCBs, many of which are a result of the rigid flex’s durability and versatility. Rigid flex PCBs offer excellent survivability in high shock applications and high-vibration environments. They also provide opportunities to increase package density while reducing overall package weight, as well as the opportunity to incorporate dynamic flex connections that offer hundreds of thousands of flex cycles without failure. Rigid flex PCBs require fewer assembly operations on boards with multiple flex interconnections and likewise offer a cost advantage on assemblies for interconnected rigid boards.
Thanks to their ability to save space, reduce weight, and withstand harsh conditions, rigid flex PCBs find suitable application in industries where their combination of flexibility and structural integrity is essential, like in the aerospace and defense industry, medical industry, automotive industry, and in many technological applications like consumer electronics and wearables.
Disadvantages of Rigid Flex PCBs
As with any circuitry solution, there are pros and cons of rigid flex PCB usage, and scenarios in which their use may not be best for the project’s restraints or the needs of the application. Rigid flex PCBs generally have a higher cost than rigid and flexible PCBs due to their comparably more complex construction and more expensive raw materials required to build them.. This complex design and fabrication process also results in lower manufacturing yields and longer manufacturing cycles, both of which can impact project timelines and budgets.
As such, rigid flex PCBs are likely not the best choice for high-volume, low-cost electronics, simple designs, or prototyping and small production runs. They also may not be ideal for use in high-frequency, high mechanical stress, or very-high temperature applications due to the limitations of their flexible areas.
Why Choose High-Quality Rigid Flex PCBs?
It may be tempting to eschew rigid flex PCBs in favor of cheaper alternatives, but doing so would only be a bargain in the short-term. Cheaper alternatives likely cut corners in the design, fabrication and testing of their circuit boards, leading to lower quality and reliability in both the circuitry and the final application. This does not come without risks; thermal issues, electrical performance issues, flexibility and mechanical failures, and an overall reduced circuitry lifespan are all significantly more likely when cheap alternatives to high-quality rigid flex PCBs are used.
In critical applications like medical devices or aerospace equipment, using low-quality rigid-flex PCBs can introduce dangerous safety hazards, potentially leading to malfunctions or accidents that can harm users or equipment. The failure of a critical application due to subpar PCBs can have severe repercussions for the reputation and credibility of the manufacturer or designer, leading to loss of customer trust. The use of cheap rigid-flex PCBs can also make these parties and users vulnerable to greater liability, compliance issues, regulatory issues, increased downtime, and higher maintenance costs.
To mitigate these risks, it’s important to work with reputable, knowledgeable, and experienced rigid flex PCB manufacturers who use excellent materials and adhere to rigorous standards of performance, quality and durability, including fastidious quality control processes. For example, at All Flex Solutions, we ensure the reliability of our rigid flex PCBs by opting for never-fail electronic packaging to maintain product integrity. Proper testing and validation of the PCBs before deployment in critical applications are also essential to ensuring their long-term, environment-specific performance. While the lower price point of shoddy alternatives may turn your head, rest assured that it is better to invest in high-quality rigid-flex PCBs up front, so you can avoid significant unplanned costs and headaches in the future.
All Flex Solutions
All Flex Solutions, Inc. is a leading manufacturer of flexible circuits, multilayer flex, rigid flex, flexible heaters, large format flexible circuits and CatheterFlex™ products, with decades of experience designing and fabricating high-quality rigid flex PCBs.
We built our first rigid flex PCB in 1982 for application as a laser bore sight for the Apache helicopter, and in the 40 years that have followed, we’ve finely tuned our rigid flex PCB expertise. All Flex rigid flex PCBs are manufactured with very high-reliability rolled annealed copper foil for “flex to install” or dynamic flex applications, with the capability to withstand hundreds of thousands of flex cycles without electronic failure.
Our Valu-Build rigid flex PCB option allows our customers to obtain extraordinarily reliable and high-quality rigid flex solutions at the lowest possible cost. The All Flex team has sourced low-cost standard materials with yield-friendly design guidelines to produce cost effective rigid flex solutions, making these versatile and dynamic circuits available to a wider range of customers and applications.
Choosing Rigid Flex PCBs
With their small physical footprint and unsurpassed durability in the harsh conditions of high-vibration and high-shock applications, rigid flex PCBs offer many benefits compared to their more straightforward rigid or flexible PCB siblings. However, their upfront cost and complex design and fabrication requirements can make them a less-than-ideal choice for projects in which budget and timelines are major considerations.
Ultimately, the most important step in choosing between rigid flex PCBs and other PCB types is to consider the specific application requirements and select the solution that is most likely to succeed long-term under those conditions. If you do opt for rigid flex PCBs for your application, be sure to purchase high-quality PCBs from a reputable manufacturer to ensure their reliability and performance, especially in critical applications.
Contact All Flex Solutions
Interested in whether a rigid flex PCB is the right solution for your unique application? Contact All Flex Solutions to connect with a knowledgeable member of our team, or to request a quote for your project.