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Cost Savings through Rigid-Flex Printed Circuit Boards

Rigid-Flex Printed Circuit Board

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Cost Savings through Rigid-Flex Printed Circuit Boards Using rigid-flex Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) in your projects can help to cut costs while allowing better performance and reliability, as these PCBs combine the best features of regular rigid boards with those of flexible circuits. Electronics manufacturers are increasingly using rigid-flex PCBs in their products, both simple and complex, and this includes applications in military equipment, aerospace, medical devices, consumer electronics, and more. Using rigid-flex PCBs in projects can generate both direct and indirect cost savings. Direct cost savings come mainly from two areas—reductions in the Bill Of Materials (BOM) and inventory, while the indirect cost savings are from a reduction in assembly costs, and improved performance and reliability. Let us assume a fictitious product with six interconnected rigid PCBs. These could be a power board, two control boards, and three display boards. Interconnections between the three may consist of wire harnesses, terminated with female connectors at both ends, fitting into male headers on respective PCBs.

Direct Cost Savings You can use a single rigid-flex PCB to replace the entire assembly within the product. The single PCB can have six rigid parts replacing the independent PCBs, and its flexible parts replacing the interconnection wiring. This is possible, as the flexible parts of a rigid-flex PCB can be bent to accommodate the PCB into a three-dimensional form fitting the product. Therefore, in a single stroke, the rigid-flex PCB now replaces all the wire harnesses, all related connector pairs, and the six rigid PCBs within the product and in its BOM. Moreover, the inventory now has to handle only a single PCB, as against a multitude of PCBs, connectors, and wires. This inventory reduction leads to additional benefits. As only a single PCB has to be procured, both purchasing and incoming inspection activities can do with fewer resources. Likewise, storage space requirement comes down.

Indirect Cost Savings PCB assembly of a rigid-flex board can lead to substantial reductions in time and cost. Although the rigid-flex board can accommodate any component rigid PCBs use, replacing all through-hole components with Surface Mount Devices (SMDs) is advisable. Through-hole components have leads that need trimming and forming before they can be mounted, and clinching thereafter. Either this is done manually or by using special machines requiring several extra processes, all adding to the assembly cost. Replacing all components with SMD types brings uniformity in the assembly machinery requirements, and reduces the number of processes involved. That helps to bring down the rates drastically. Using SMD components on rigid-flex PCBs allows the PCB assembly to use pick-and-place machines, which are more reliable than the process of manual assembly. Automated soldering processes in the assembly shop also help to form better and more reliable solder joints. As no wiring harnesses are involved, you do not have to pay for assembling them. Therefore, you forego the costs involved in cutting wires to size, crimping terminals to their ends, and assembling them into connectors. On the plus side, no wire harnesses also means elimination of wiring errors, and the reduced number of interconnections improves the reliability of your product. This also means a simpler testing process for the assembled PCB, further reducing the assembly costs. Improving the reliability of your product also translates into lower warranty replacements. That means you can have fewer after sale resources allocated for servicing and maintenance of your product. Furthermore, the time saved in the assembly and testing processes can translate into higher throughput for your product.

Dependable Rigid-Flex PCB Assembly in Half the Time Typically, rigid-flex PCB assembly takes about half the time it takes to assemble rigid boards. This advantage comes from the several turnkey solutions offered by the assembly services, which include inventory control, PCB assembly, and testing. With automatic assembly machines and ESD-controlled plants, it is easy to handle high volumes of electronic prototypes, and you can confidently offload your rigid-flex PCB assembly to cut your production time in half, while improving your product quantity and quality.

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