Flex Talk: New Materials or New to You?

I think the phrase, "There is something new for everyone," absolutely applies to the PCB industry. Our industry offers a wide range of materials just on the fabrication side, and I feel like we are consistently exposed to materials that are new to us. Reflecting back on just the last couple of weeks, I have learned about copper coins, which is something new to me, and also had a request for ENIP, which is a surface finish I am not yet familiar with. I have also introduced a couple of different groups to a palladium-based ALD-type ink that is enabling an additive process capable of very high-density interconnect as well as MINA, a surface treatment for aluminum. Other questions I have answered revolve around rigid-flex materials for someone starting one of their first rigid-flex designs and different coverlay options for a flexible circuit application.

This leads me to the thought that our industry is growing quickly with new processes and materials being introduced on a regular basis. Even if you have been in the industry for your full career, I would place a wager that there is something new for you or something new to you.

When you have questions, who do you go to for answers? Have you built a strong network to reach out to? If not, what could you do to help expand that network? Personally, as a manufacturer’s representative serving the PCB industry, I try my best to help my customers learn about new materials, processes, and technologies, and at the same time, I am intentional about attending industry events and being sure that I am learning about all three as well. I am very interested in how others approach the issue of keeping up to date with new things in our industry and welcome suggestions for events to attend.

Regularly, I am asked to help answer questions regarding flexible circuit materials, so I wanted to put together a brief explanation of materials available and things to be aware of when creating a stackup. First, for flexible circuits, specifically polyimide-copper laminates, there are a wide variety of options available. Polyimide is available in both adhesive-based and adhesiveless options from 0.5–5 mils, and copper is available from 0.25–2 oz. Other thicknesses are available, but these are the most widely used. From there, it is important to research what you preferred fabricator regularly stocks. Each fabricator stocks a group of materials based on existing customer demand and preferred materials. If you can create a stackup around those materials, it will save time and project costs.

Flexible coverlay options are also something that is asked about frequently. There are two primary options. First, and most common, is polyimide film-based coverlay. This option is highly recommended for dynamically flexing applications and rigid-flex. It is important to specify the adhesive thickness in accordance with the copper height on the base laminate to ensure full encapsulation. Another option for flexible cover coat is flexible photoimagable coverlay. This option provides a better resolution for dense SMT component areas and produces crisp, square SMT pad openings. But while this material is flexible, it is not intended for dynamically flexing applications. If you need dense SMT pad openings on flex, laser-skived, polyimide-based coverlay is an excellent solution. It is a bit more expense than drilled or routed coverlay, but it is a viable option when those things are critical.

I am also frequently asked about ALD ink supporting the semi-additive process (SAP) domestically. This process has been proven with prototypes and is on the cusp of transitioning to production in North America. This is an exciting new chemistry that enables line width and space at 0.001” and below. Numerous applicationareas are investigating how to incorporate this technology, and fabricators are exploring how to bring this process on-line to meet those needs best. Over time, this will be quite the game changer for the PCB industry by reducing layer count and lamination cycle requirements as well as supporting the technology needed for increasing complex pinouts.

The previous technologies are areas that I am familiar with. But, as I mentioned in the introduction, I am also consistently asked about processes and materials that are new to me. Copper coin technology is not something that I have been familiar with. After seeing an application that was built with this technology, I did a little research and learned that it is used to dissipate heat when thermal vias or metal core materials are not sufficient. The concept is based on getting a copper coin press-fit into a premade cut-out in the board directly under the area that is a hot spot. Interesting!

What an exciting time to be in this industry. There are so many new processes and materials in the PCB segment that it can be a challenge to keep up with all the new developments. It is fun to start chasing the next new thing, but I also think it is important to keep in mind that even materials and processes that have been around for a while are still new to someone. Not everyone has used flex materials or copper coin technology, and only a select few have used additive processes for PCB fabrication. Thank goodness our industry is supported by strong technical publications and industry events to help us all learn about technology that is new to us and help us build a strong network of people to reach out to with questions.

Tara Dunn is the president of Omni PCB, a manufacturer’s rep firm specializing in the PCB industry.

This article was originally published in the May 2019 issue of PCB007 Magazine.

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2019

Flex Talk: New Materials or New to You?

06-10-2019

There are so many new processes and materials in the PCB segment that it can be a challenge to keep up with all the new developments. It is fun to start chasing the next new thing, but it is important to keep in mind that even materials and processes that have been around for a while are still new to someone.

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Flex Talk: New Engineering Talent Joining the Electronics Industry

05-27-2019

Last spring, Ross Olson, an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota and member of the U of M Solar Vehicle Project team, attended the Geek-a-Palooza event in Minneapolis and displayed one of their race cars. Tara Dunn had the opportunity to get to know Ross, and recently sat down with him to talk about his interest in engineering and his thoughts on the future of the electronics industry.

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Flex Talk: Old-fashioned Networking

05-08-2019

We live in a connected world. Information is collected at an astonishing rate, and people are working diligently to put this information to good use. It is new, fun, and exciting. But I sometimes wonder what is going to happen to the good, "old-fashioned" networking. Not networked devices, but the act of going out and meeting people in our industry, learning about their story and expertise, and sharing yours—mutually beneficial sharing of information and resources.

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Flex Talk: Don’t Build Flex That Doesn’t Flex

03-08-2019

One of the primary advantages of moving to a flexible circuit design from a rigid board is the ability to package the flex in three dimensions, bending or folding into imaginative configurations and saving precious space in the final package.

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Flex Talk: FlexFactor—Imagination and Innovation

01-23-2019

The ultimate goal of FlexFactor is to create a generation of students who use their critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration skills to create the materials and devices that will address and mitigate the biggest challenges of the future.

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2018

Flex Talk: The Myth About Rigid-Flex Costs

12-12-2018

Do you cringe when you think of the option of rigid-flex? It is not an uncommon reaction when talking with designers and engineering managers about using rigid-flex to solve a packaging problem. Why? The most frequent answer is, “They are so expensive.” While it is true that a rigid-flex PCB is typically more expensive on the surface when compared to rigid-board solutions with cables and connectors, a lot is being missed with that mindset.

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Flex Talk: Mina—RFID, LED and What Else?

09-17-2018

“The science of today is the technology of tomorrow.” This Edward Teller quote is an apt description of the Mina product. This advanced surface treatment, recently developed to enable low-temperature soldering to aluminum in the RFID market, is not only finding success in that market, but quickly finding a home in other markets, including the LED market, where the incentive is both cost and improved LED performance.

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Raising the Capability Ceiling: SMTA Upper Midwest Chapter Expo

06-25-2018

An energetic and engaged crowd filled the recent SMTA Upper Midwest Expo & Tech Forum. The event, held in June 14 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, hosted 57 exhibiting companies and had over 100 pre-registered attendees. The underlying theme for the technical presentations was "Raising the Capability Ceiling!" Here's a wrap-up of the event.

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Flex Talk: E-Textiles—the Wild Frontier

05-23-2018

How many hours is your car sitting idle outside in your driveway or a parking lot? What if your car was used for solar harvesting—converting heat to energy? What about biometric sensors in automotives: skin sensors for preventing DUI, posture identification to monitor driver fatigue, monitoring exposure to hazardous materials in a load for truck drivers.

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Flex Talk: Something New for Everyone

05-02-2018

Whether you are new to single- and double-sided flex, moving into rigid-flex construction, thinking of using bookbinder technology, or investigating an additive process, working with new technology can be both exciting and challenging.

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Flex Talk: Invited Guests to the Party

04-16-2018

Hanging on the wall in my office is this quote from Jeff Bezos: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”

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2017

FlexFactor: Faith in the Future

11-27-2017

Take just a minute and read through this list of new product ideas. Can you identify the common thread? Yes, they are all enabled by advanced technology, but would you believe that these products were all pitched in the last year by high school students?

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Flex Talk: The Man Behind the Curtain

10-03-2017

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” This famous quote from The Wizard of Oz conjures up the image of Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow discovering that the great Wizard of Oz isn’t as grand or as magical as he seems.

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Flex Talk: Knowledge is Power

08-31-2017

“What can I do to help drive cost from my design?” This is a question that I am asked routinely. That question is often followed by, “Can I get these faster?” Both questions are even more predominant when talking about flexible circuits or rigid-flex.

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Flex Talk: Mina—Trouble-Free Soldering to Aluminum

06-22-2017

Thinking about the RFID market and the significant growth projected in this market, I decided to do a little research on RFID tag manufacturing. During this research, I learned of a relatively new offering, Mina, an advanced surface treatment technology that addresses the common constraints of large scale manufacturing of aluminum on polyester (Al-PET) circuits.

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Flex Talk: Squink—Integrating Fabrication and Assembly in one Package

05-01-2017

When walking through trade show expos, I tend to be drawn into product demonstrations on the show floor. Recently, at the IPC APEX EXPO, I stopped in front of a piece of desktop printing equipment that was demonstrating with a flexible circuit.

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Flex Talk: Flex Material Handling—An Inside Peek

04-03-2017

As increasingly more designs move to flexible materials to take advantage of space, weight or packaging benefits, it has been clear that flexible circuits require a different set of rules than their rigid counterparts. We spend substantial time working through the design to ensure that he flex is as robust as possible.

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Flex Talk: Final Surface Finish—How Do You Choose?

01-26-2017

There are so many final surface finish options to choose from today. How do you decide which is best? HASL—both tin-lead and lead-free—immersion tin, immersion silver, ENIG, OSP, and ENIPIG are the primary finishes used in PCB fabrication.

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2016

Flex Talk: A Glimpse into PCB Sales

12-28-2016

Summarizing the feedback from both customers and manufacturers, the most successful PCB salespeople are organized, take a genuine interest in their customers’ needs and business challenges, have a better than average understanding of the PCB industry, fully understand the manufacturer’s strengths and capabilities and advocate for both to find the best solution.

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Flex Talk: Troubleshooting Flex Circuit Applications for Mil/Aero Projects

10-06-2016

I imagine that everyone has been in this position at one time or another: Despite everyone’s best attempt at creating the perfect design, PCB fabrication and assembly, something goes wrong and the troubleshooting begins.

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Flex Talk: Inaugural West Coast Geek-A-Palooza a Fun-filled Success

05-24-2016

Geek-A-Palooza kicked off the 2016 schedule May 12 in Irvine, California. Historically, Geek-A-Palooza has been held in Minneapolis but is expanding this year to include Orange County and Boston as well.

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Flex Talk: PCB Sourcing? One Size Does Not Fit All

04-18-2016

When analyzing a set of PCBs to improve yields and maximize profits, the first place to start is with a critical review of each PCB design. Are there any attributes that are pushing your manufacturer’s standard design rules? If so, is this necessary to the design or is there another approach that could improve the manufacturer’s yields, reduce cost, and ultimately increase profit?

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2015

Flex Talk: Thoughts on the IPC Flexible Circuits–HDI Forum

11-19-2015

As an attendee at the IPC Flexible Circuits–HDI Conference held October 28–30, I found myself in a room of people, all eager for technical information, with the opportunity to reconnect with industry friends and to make new connections. The audience was diverse with young people, new to our industry, sitting alongside industry veterans willingly sharing their knowledge and passion for HDI design and flexible circuit technology.

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Designing Flex Circuits for Domestic Prototyping

08-20-2015

Designing a flex circuit to be prototyped domestically? No problem. Designing a rigid-flex circuit for production offshore? Got it. Designing a part that will be prototyped domestically with a seamless transition to offshore production? That can be a little more challenging.

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Rigid Flex: Total Cost Comparison

07-09-2015

The transition to a rigid-flex design from the traditional approach of using cable assemblies to join two or more PCBs has obvious benefits—space, weight, packaging, reliability and increased currently carrying capabilities. Yet many times the perception that rigid-flex is a high-cost solution causes designers and engineers to hesitate.

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Primary Cost Drivers for Flex Circuit Designs

06-25-2015

Someone once told me that the potential applications for flexible circuits are really only limited by our imaginations. After pondering that a bit, I had to agree. In fact, one of the things I like best about what I do is that moment during a discussion when I can see the light bulb go off in a designer's head.

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The Flex-to-Fit Approach

06-04-2015

The flex-to-fit concept reminds us that creativity and engineering go hand-in-hand. When there is not ample space for a conventional approach, this process, which is the convergence of the mechanical world and the electronics world, results in the ability to design a flexible circuit along the contour of an existing, irregularly shaped structure.

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