Flexible Thinking Redux

Welcome to the resurrection of Flexible Thinking, a flex circuit monthly column I wrote more years ago than I care to remember, but perhaps some of those reading this still do. I am going to guess that given the passage of time, many of the earlier readers may have moved to retirement or perhaps into other industries. To those of you who do remember, I extend my greetings and my thanks for checking back in to read my humble musings and observations on what I think we can agree is one of the most interesting and useful of all electronic interconnection technologies. To those of you who are new to the industry or first-time readers... Welcome! It is my hope that in the columns to follow, you will find useful thoughts and ideas about this fascinating and continually evolving branch of electronic interconnections.

Flexible circuits are known by a few different names depending on one’s global location and language: flexible printed circuits, FPCs, flex circuits, flexi circuits, flexibles, bendables and a few others that are application-specific such as flexible heater circuits and controlled impedance cable constructions. While flex circuits are an original and foundational interconnection technology for electrical and electronic products (one of the first patents for electrical interconnections, issued at the turn of the last century, was arguably a flexible circuit), over the years there have been several forays into technological extensions of the basic idea. One such area of high and increasing interest in the last several years has been stretchable circuits, which the European Union has made significant investments in over the last decade in the pursuit of technologies that facilitate the integration of electronics into wearable products for a wide array of prospective applications from medical monitoring, to communications and fashion. As the name implies, this flex circuit variation is produced on stretchable substrates. The basic manufacturing is not all that difficult but designing and manufacturing conductive circuits that match the stretchiness of the substrate has been a significant challenge and has had researchers working diligently to find ways to accomplish the objective. (For those interested, there is a chapter on this subject in the 4th edition of my book Flexible Circuit Technology.)

There has also been growth of interest in a new branch of electronic interconnection using flexible circuit technology that is being called by some “flexible electronics,” which is an integration of components and sensors and to which the term “flex hybrid electronics” has been applied. This is another area of increasing interest, and the U.S. government has sponsored research and development by both corporations (manufacturers of both materials and finished products) along with a number Institutions of higher learning. There is no real bright line between an assembled flexible circuit and a flex hybrid electronic assembly, but it really does not matter if it helps bring into focus the numerous advantages that can be secured by the integration of flexible interconnections and components.

One of the centers for information gathering and investigation into materials and processes is NextFlex, in Silicon Valley. A little over two years old, NextFlex is rapidly getting the word out and facilitating consortium members’ communications and interaction to flesh out the possibilities in a world where electronics are increasingly being integrated into an everexpanding universe of creative applications, from the whimsical to the highly practical.

It should be evident that there will be a lot of subjects that can be covered in the world of flexible circuits and this space will be used to explore as many as possible in the future. It is a shared objective of the entirety of this new publication created in service to the electronics industry.

I see this space as a shared one and your individual comments, questions and suggestions are not just welcomed but actively requested. Please feel free to share with me or the editors any thoughts relative to what you might want to see covered in the coming issues, and I will do my best to address the subject matter in a future column. Again, welcome one and all and I look forward to sharing the path to growth and discovery that lies ahead.  

Joe Fjelstad is founder and CEO of Verdant Electronics and an international authority and innovator in the field of electronic interconnection and packaging technologies, with more than 150 patents issued or pending. To reach Fjelstad, click here

This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Flex007 Magazine, click here.

 

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2018

Flexible Thinking Redux

07-02-2018

Flexible circuits are known by a few different names depending on one’s global location and language: flexible printed circuits, FPCs, flex circuits, flexi circuits, flexibles, bendables and a few others that are application-specific such as flexible heater circuits and controlled impedance cable constructions. While flex circuits are an original and foundational interconnection technology for electrical and electronic products (one of the first patents for electrical interconnections, issued at the turn of the last century, was arguably a flexible circuit), over the years there have been several forays into technological extensions of the basic idea.

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2017

Flexible Thinking: The Benefits of Employing a Standard Grid Pitch in Design

03-31-2017

The industry at large needed to jump on the learning curve and overcome its fear of the unknown. One of the most vexing concerns at the time (an arguably still today) is that terminations beneath the area array package were unseeable. Given the fact that then, as today, solder joints were a major cause of failure, there was much consternation over the quality of the joints.

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2016

Flexible Thinking: Process Engineering—PCB Manufacturing’s ‘Delta Force’

05-11-2016

Process engineers serve a vital function on the front line of printed circuit manufacturing. They are often, if you will, the “Delta Force” that subdues and controls that which is one of the mortal enemies of manufacturing…process variation.

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2015

3D Printing in Electronics - A Perspective

01-14-2015

Knowing the value of a product or technology is key to making the right decision. Appreciating the value of an element of business is evermore important as the rate of change surrounding an industry accelerates. This brings us to one of the current buzz subjects in our industry: 3D printing. Understanding what it is and what its value is to a company and that company's ability to improve its place in the industry is vital.

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2013

The E.I. Files: The Electronics Industry's Black Swans

07-31-2013

First proposed in 2007, there is a potential electronics industry "black swan" technology quietly being developed and refined. It is one that could greatly and positively impact, at once, the cost, reliability, and environmental friendliness of electronic manufacturing by simply eliminating the soldering process.

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Flex Circuits and Photonics: A Pairing for the Future, and the Here and Now

04-17-2013

Photons are making continuous headway into the world of electronics. One thing that the basic data carriers (electrons, microwaves and photons) have in common is that flexible circuits are being increasingly looked to for help in managing their data transmission function.

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2012

Stretching the Limits of Flex

11-29-2012

Those steeped in flexible circuit design and manufacture for any length of time fully appreciate the long list of benefits that only flexible circuits can offer. Some of the most fundamental benefits of flex circuit technology have been exploited since the earliest days of the technology. Joe Fjelstad explains.

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Flexible Thinking: Circuit Flexibility (and How to Achieve it)

10-04-2012

The most common interpretation of the word flexible, as applied to the flex circuits that the industry currently makes, is something capable of being bent repeatedly without breaking. Joe Fjelstad discusses a few other definitions of flexible that are worthy of consideration when using the term, for their ability to unlock new thinking patterns relative to what is flexible.

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Technology Roadmaps: Thoughts and Observations

09-26-2012

If one is without a sense of the direction their technology is headed, odds are that they will sooner find themselves on the road to ruin than the road to success. A technology roadmap is a critical tool in helping a company make informed decisions. By Joe Fjelstad.

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2011

Something Old, Something New: Stretchable Circuits and Elastronics

10-13-2011

The stretching of circuits to alternately increase and decrease the length of a circuit has proven useful for electronic products and assemblies for years. Stretchable circuit technology and elastronics are poised to take on challenges that cannot be easily met by flexible circuit technology alone. Keep them in mind next time you find yourself in need of a little more "spring" in your design. By Joe Fjelstad.

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Stretchable Circuits: The Emergence of "Elastronics"

07-14-2011

The stretchable circuit is an interesting and promising new branch on the flexible circuit tree. The stretching of circuits to alternately increase and decrease the length of a circuit has proven useful for many years. The European Union has funded research in this area through such initiatives as the STELLA project.

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2010

Flexible Thinking: An Alternative Approach to Rigid-Flex Assembly

11-18-2010

The fundamental approach to manufacturing rigid-flex has remained constant for the 40-plus years of rigid-flex history. But is there a better way? What if one could produce a circuit that was rigid throughout the manufacturing process and only become flexible in the final step? In other words, what if one could make a rigid circuit assembly, flex?

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Reasons Why The Flex Market Continues to Shine

10-07-2010

According to IPC market statistics, flexible circuits continue to be the brightest sector of the overall printed circuit market. The reasons for this are many but, at the end of the day, it generally boils down to the fact that flexible circuits are an excellent way to solve interconnection challenges in a cost-effective way.

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Flexible Thinking: Flexible Structures for Data Transmission

08-12-2010

Flexible circuit cables offer some significant advantages for facilitating the movement of data between elements of a system that must also be moved or flexed. However, there is a balancing act involved and there is more than one master to be served to create a system that is robust, reliable and easily manufacturable.

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Flexible Thinking: Supporting Components on Flex Circuit Assemblies

07-21-2010

With proper planning, stiffeners can be designed to aid assembly through the designed manufacture of a flex circuit that can be handled as if it were a rigid circuit board. Such constructions can be accomplished by using any one of several methods.

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A Simple Approach to Flex Manufacture, Assembly

04-29-2010

Flexibility, the single attribute that makes flex so attractive, also makes flex circuits more difficult to build. What if we could produce a circuit that was rigid throughout the entire manufacturing process and only become flexible in the final step?

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