Flexible circuits for all of your electronic devices

Flexible circuits for all of your electronic devices

August 8, 2016 in Design Tips

Today’s electronics are smaller and lighter than at any time in history. If this trend continues, the use of flexible circuits will inherently increase.

For this widespread adoption, flexible circuits can no longer be used only as a connection device. They must carry all of the components necessary to run our devices.

A difficulty has long been the assembly of surface-mount and through-hole components to circuit material that is not solid or stable. However, that is being challenged by some talented and innovative companies that see the value of flexible circuits as the future of electronics.

Early use of flexible circuits

Flexible circuits have historically been used as glorified cables, with a connector crimped on each end to plug into printed circuit board (PCB) mounted connectors.

Next, they were used in membrane switches and flat panel controls. They were thin and light and ultimately improved the quality of the panels by containing the switches and cables on one circuit. Their use as a carrier of signals was valuable, but nobody thought much about mounting components to them. That was the job of the mighty PCB.

Then the electronic industry started to think about smaller and lighter products, like the first Walkman or handheld TV remote control. Our demands as consumers leaned toward portability and convenience. We wanted to bring our music with us on a walk or run. We wanted to turn on the TV and change the channel from our easy chair.

This started a more widespread use of flexible circuits in everyday electronics.

Assembly challenges for flexible circuits

Today as before, most designers still use PCBs for their electronic devices – at a ratio of more than 6 to 1. Over 85% of all circuits manufactured today are PCBs. Flexible circuits, however, are gaining in popularity. You’ll find them in the newest fitness wear sewn into yoga pants or those cool light strips on the front of new cars.

The biggest hurdle seen at Tramonto is fear of mounting components onto a flimsy, plastic material. The PCB lends itself well to the assembly of small surface-mount components used widely in today’s products.

The flexible circuit requires more attention as its inherent flexible nature proves tedious for attaching components. These assemblies also require special treatment to survive the rigors of today’s electronics that are strapped to our bodies and bicycles, being dropped onto the ground, or bouncing around in purses or cars.

Traditional assembly processes don’t work well for flexible circuits. However, there are companies that are very good at mounting components reliably to these circuits.

These organizations know how to design fixtures to assist in the assembly process and how to prioritize the flexible nature of the circuit without compromising the fragile solder joints. They also understand the many advantages of using flexible circuits in electronic products, and are building flexible circuit assemblies that are as robust as any PCB assembly.

A new era in electronics

With the popularity of flexible circuits increasing and the advent of “printed electronics” upon us, electronics will look very different in five years than they look today.

We’ll walk into our homes and a flexible circuit sensor will turn on our lights, adjust the temperature and draw the shades. A circuit in your clothes will download fitness data for the day to your laptop, then email it to review on your phone.

Forward-looking circuit manufacturers will see their factories or assembly lines change in ways they wouldn’t have imagined 10 years ago. Tramonto Circuits embraces the change. We are here when our customers want to break the mold on traditional PCBs and fill their new devices with reliable flexible circuit assemblies.

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