Rigid-Flex PCBs drive cost savings

DK-Daleba’s business development manager, Tony Hawkins

DK-Daleba’s business development manager, Tony Hawkins, explains how the many benefits of rigid-flex and flex PCBs are driving global growth.

Engineers are turning to flex and flex-rigid to help solve design issues that would be presented with standard rigid PCBs. Benefits include weight reduction, higher signal speeds and increased reliability in high vibration or harsh environments. These boards also offer different connection capabilities, helping reduce packaging requirements. Housing boards in smaller spaces is often considered the main benefit.

IoT involves embedding electronics in everyday consumer products. This inevitably means overcoming extreme packing issues often making rigid-flex PCBs the only answer. Their use is increasing as the IoT market grows, predicted to reach $1,386b by 2026 from $761.4b in 2020, a CAGR of 10.53 per cent.

In addition to these market drivers, the cost saving opportunity is becoming a significant factor. Many engineers consider rigid-flex costs to be more than rigid costs but a comprehensive approach to the whole project can often provide interesting results. 

A DK-Daleba customer recently needed to reduce the cost of two rigid FR4 boards in a single assembly, at a time when PCB cost increases were making ‘cost-downs’ impossible. The boards were manufactured at one of DK-Daleba’s Asia factories best suited to the boards’ technology while achieving the lowest possible price points. With no opportunity to reduce the costs the engineers were encouraged to take a holistic approach and examine the whole box build.  

At assembly stage, the two FR4 PCBs were joined by connectors. This added considerably to kitting costs and assembly labour. Past product failures had been attributed to the connectors so a new assembly without them was welcomed.

DK-Daleba discussed rigid-flex with the customer which had previously only considered them for space-saving. By redesigning the two FR4 boards, with dynamic connections through a flexible circuit, overall box-build costs could be lowered. When designing a rigid-flex PCB, different considerations need to be made versus a rigid PCB design. Advice was given and the customer redesigned the boards as a single rigid-flex assembly. Although the price was higher than two single rigids, the overall product cost reduced considerably with no connectors and lower labour assembly costs.

In addition to cost reduction, the product also benefitted from: lower overall weight; ultimate use of packaging space; increased reliability with no connectors; and a sturdier construction for high vibration working environments.

Switching to a rigid-flex design was a success for this customer and there will be countless similar experiences ahead as the growth of this technology increases. DK-Daleba engineers are available to ensure customers’ transitions to rigid-flex PCBs are seamless.