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PCB-Dec2017

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68 The PCB Magazine • December 2017 world-wide PCB market but, speaking only for myself, I don't always take time to really think about the end applications that flex enables. Let's look at a few of the known benefits of flex- ible circuits and what type of products we may interact with that have been, or are being, de- veloped to take advantage of this. Advantages of Flexible Circuits Solve Product Packaging Problems Flex allows for a 3-axis connection. It is able to be bent and folded around corners elim- inating the need for discrete pieces. It is easy to think of products that take advantage of the space-saving benefits of flexible circuits: porta- ble medical devices such as insulin pumps or heart rate monitors, hearing aids, smartphones and tablets, and cameras. As consumers, we are requiring our electronics to be smaller, lighter and at the same time have increased function- ality. Flexible materials allow designers to meet those demands. Reduced Assembly Cost Flex eliminates hand-wiring and provides additional cost savings when purchasing costs for multiple wiring and component pieces are factored in. Home monitoring bracelets and wearable electronics are good examples. The product needs to be lightweight and durable; wired and flexible circuits are both options. A simple flex circuit eliminates time for assembly, purchasing costs and inspection costs by solv- ing the problem with just one unit. Reduces Weight and Volume This is a big one. Bulky wire harnesses and solder connections can be replaced with thin, lightweight rigid-flex. It is not uncommon to see studies showing that this savings in weight and space can be near 60%. Aerospace is a per- fect example of an industry that benefits from reduction in weight and volume. With aircraft, rockets, missiles, etc., weight is an expense. Any opportunity to reduce weight and space trans- lates to a product that is less expensive to oper- ate. The fun little TV screens that are being built into aircraft to keep us entertained, lighting sys- tems in the airplane, engine controls, braking systems—all are products that have taken ad- vantage of flexible materials. Dynamic Flexing This is easy. Anything with a hinge! The one I use every day is my laptop. Let's not forget printers, disk drives, cameras, and robotic arms. Thermal Management Flexible dielectrics offer a greater surface- to-volume ratio than round wire and this ex- tra surface facilitates getting the heat away from the circuit. Rigid PCB dielectrics often act as a thermal insulator inhibiting the flow of heat. One area of significant growth in flexible cir- cuit designs is the LED lighting market. Auto- motive and aircraft applications, especially with the combined benefit of lighter weight and im- proved thermal management, are increasing the usage of flex. Examples include headlam- ps, interior lighting, and interior electronics, just to name a few. One of my favorite applica- tions is LED lights in a pair of high-top tennis shoes. This application is not just your typical shoe that lights up when you walk; this high- top was designed with an artistic LED lit pat- tern throughout the shoe. It might not be the most high-tech application, but it is eye-catch- ing and fun. Improved Aesthetics and Bio-Compatibility Appearance can impact decisions when the end user is exposed to functional elements of the product. For example, a simple hand-held medical device being used in a doctor's office THE POWER OF FLEX " As consumers, we are requiring our electronics to be smaller, lighter and at the same time have increased functionality. Flexible materials allow designers to meet those demands. "

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