Twenty-five years ago, Tom “Flexdude” Woznicki got laid off. A lot of people did, back during the mini-recession that helped bring Bill Clinton into the White House. So, he launched his own flex circuit design bureau and never looked back. Since then, he’s designed flex circuitry for everything under the sun, including the Mars Rover; the flex circuits he designed are visible in many of the Rover photos. I ran into Tom at DesignCon 2017 and we discussed the benefits of flex circuits, the expansion of the flex market, and his company’s first quarter-century in operation.
Andy Shaughnessy: I'm here with Tom Woznicki of the Flex Circuit Design Company.
Tom Woznicki: Guess what we do!
Shaughnessy: And you’re the founder…
Woznicki: Founder, owner, president, janitor, maintenance guy, all rolled into one. Andy, it's good to see you.
Shaughnessy: You too, Tom. Give us a brief background on the company.
Woznicki: We've been a service bureau that specializes in flex circuit design and this is our 25th year in business. It started back in 1992 when I got laid off from Rogers Corporation. You know, necessity is the mother of adventure and invention. I was a technical sales engineer for Rogers and they went through a re-organization and I got laid off. But I had been taking some CAD courses at night on the side because I'm a mechanical engineer by education. I thought I'd find my millions in technical sales. I fell into some design work and said, “I think I can do this,” and hung out a shingle and here we are 25 years later.
Shaughnessy: And you were using tools that were in no way designed for flex right?
Woznicki: Well, no actually. Back then Rogers was associated with Smart Flex. I don't know if you remember Smart Flex, but the designer at Rogers was using AutoCAD to design flex circuits. So I had taken a course in AutoCAD. I admit, a company who is still headquartered here, whose software I still use, CAD Design Software, makes something called Electronics Packaging Designer, which sits atop AutoCAD and then makes AutoCAD do the circuit board designing.
Whereas most board tools will only do 45° angles, this can make any shape or trace you want. Then just press the button and it burps it out into Gerber. So I've used that tool ever since. As the years have gone on, I've purchased other tools like Allegro and Altium too, because that's what customers have required.
Shaughnessy: It used to be that flex was so expensive that people didn't use it. When I first started in the ‘90s covering this industry, flex was kind of like an afterthought.
Woznicki: You only used flex if nothing else would work. To a large extent that is still the same because, I mean, a cable harness and a rigid board will always be cheaper than a flex circuit.
You’ve got to have another reason to use flex. Either weight or reliability, it's got to bend or it's got to fold, or you need really fine traces, finer that you can make on a rigid board. There's got to be a reason for it, but it's much more a commodity than it used to be, that's for sure.
To read this entire article, which appeared in the March 2017 issue of The PCB Design Magazine, click here.