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Increasing data speeds, decreasing edge rates, and intricate form factors challenge our ability to meet electrical and mechanical performance requirements of flexible printed circuits. This paper demonstrates that a focus on advanced flex circuit materials will enable flex circuits to remain a valid interconnect. To maximize performance improvements and ensure the success of advanced flex materials, new design and fabrication trade-offs must be understood by material suppliers, OEMs, and fabricators. This article represents collaboration between an OEM, a fabricator, and a material supplier with the goal of broadening flex circuits in higher-speed applications. Modeled and measured data will characterize construct performance. In addition, lessons learned will be presented that detail engineering trade-offs required to maximize performance and manufacturability of new flex materials.
Conversion from an old, established technology to new innovations often requires fundamental changes at every level, from raw materials all the way to the performance of the ultimate system. For example, automobile bodies have long been made from metal. However, high fuel costs are motivating a significant technology shift to utilizing carbon fiber composites as a raw material. While the advantages of this new technology are clear, the technology conversion is far from trivial because the new technology impacts every level of the automobile design, manufacturing and certification process.
For instance, a car body designer has a material that is both lighter and stronger than metal, but there are trade-offs (such as the ability to protect a passenger in a crash) that must be considered, which requires a completely different approach than when designing a car body made of metal. The manufacturer of the vehicle has to re-tool their production line. Processes like welding and assembly have to be optimized for the new material. Finally, the supplier of the raw material has to work with both the designer and the fabricator to supply carbon fibers that are lightweight, strong and meet the cost targets. While all of these new implementation tasks inject new risks which must be understood, that risk is balanced by enabling automobile manufacturers to meet more stringent fuel efficiency standards.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of The PCB Design Magazine.