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14 The PCB Design Magazine • March 2017 Rigid-flex Benefits and Challenges Current-generation rigid-flex designs are typically found in mobile phones, LCD televi- sions, digital cameras and laptops, to name just a few. Basically, whenever a product needs to be compact and/or lightweight and/or flexible, then rigid-flex technology will most likely be applied. The benefits of rigid-flex technology include: • Reduced cost and increased reliability through the elimination of the physical connectors used in the traditional "design- separately-then-assemble" approach. • Improved signal integrity through the elimination of cross-sectional changes to the conductors (removal of physical connectors and their associated solder connections). • Reduced space requirement as parts can be placed, and traces can be routed, in three dimensions. • Improved electromechanical functional- ity including dynamic bending, vibration and shock tolerance, heat resistance, and weight reduction. In order for product development teams to realize these benefits, designers who tradition- ally were solely proficient in rigid technology have to very quickly expand their knowledge base to now include rigid-flex technology. These designers need to work through both their individual learning curve and the vari- ous rigid-flex technology challenges, either of which has the potential to derail a project and cause costly design failures. Unfortunately, the rigid-flex technology challenges themselves can be further exacerbated if the ECAD tools being utilized by the design team do not facilitate and ensure process compliance. Best Practices and Guidelines As previously mentioned, education on terminology, requirements, processes and best practices are all critical in order to mitigate the challenges associated with rigid-flex design. Some of the fundamental challenges, along with the associated best practices and guide- lines to address those challenges are as follows: • Stackup management: The stackups for the rigid and flex PCBs will almost RIGID-FLEX DESIGN TIPS AND BEST PRACTICES Figure 1: Three rigid boards and two flex PCBs as viewed in their flat state.