PCB Manufacturing

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Rigid-Flex PCB Supplier

Rigid Flex Circuit Boards

As you must know, the world of PCBs (printed circuit boards) is vast. These miniature boards come in a wide variety of types depending upon factors like the number of layers present in them, the material they are made up of, the technology used in their fabrication, etc. One such type is rigid-flex PCBs. They are quite in demand due to their unique features and the benefits they offer. However, it is not easy to fabricate these hybrid boards and only a few manufacturers in the market excel in this field. So, if you are looking for a rigid-flex PCB supplier, here is the ultimate guide to help you find the best one. Before that, a quick introduction to rigid-flex PCBs, and their advantages and disadvantages are also detailed to help you understand them better. So, why wait? Continue reading to explore everything related to rigid-flex PCBs!

Rigid Flex PCB: An Introduction

As the name suggests, rigid-flex PCB is a kind of PCB that has the qualities of both rigid and flexible PCBs. Therefore, they bring many more benefits to the table in addition to serving the basic function of a PCB, i.e. establishing electrical connection among various components present inside a device. While rigid PCBs are made with a rigid base layer that helps provide mechanical strength and support to the mounted components, flexible PCBs are made of a flexible base material that helps them bend and twist at different angles. Combining the features of these two types, what you get is a highly efficient and reliable type of PCB, called rigid-flex PCBs. Here, it must be noted that this efficiency and reliability depend upon the rigid-flex PCB supplier you are dealing with. Therefore, it is necessary to be extra careful while hiring a supplier for your project.

Rigid Flex PCBs

Advantages of Rigid-Flex PCBs

Rigid-flex PCBs observe a skyrocketing demand due to their various benefits. These compact-in-size and light-in-weight PCBs can be fabricated in virtually all sizes, designs and structures as per the device’s needs. They are flexible yet durable, making them the go-to choice for many electronics designers. Other advantages are listed below:

  • Flex-rigid PCBs have fewer board-to-board connectors and solder joints. This reduces the chances of circuit failures making the connections highly secure and reliable.
  • The combination of flex and rigid substrates increases the space for routing the traces. This space efficiency, in turn, allows designers to make compact designs for small-in-size devices without affecting their functionality.
  • While the fabrication of rigid-flex PCBs is a pricier affair than that of an average rigid PCB, a good rigid-flex PCB supplier may help make the entire deal quite cost-effective. This is because the overall costs, including assembly and logistics, of these usually prove to be quite budget-friendly. Their compact size, less material requirement and fewer connections help reduce the overall cost significantly.
  • The expenses and wastage are further reduced by performing automated testing rounds before the PCB is assembled. The ease of testing rigid-flex PCBs helps eliminate errors at initial levels itself.
  • Rigid-flex PCBs can withstand almost all possible external conditions. Besides being resistant to high temperatures and pressure, rigid-flex PCBs can withstand chemicals, harmful oils, radiation, vibrations and extreme shocks. The combined features of flex and rigid substrates help achieve this durability. However, make sure you inform your rigid-flex PCB supplier regarding all the resistance qualities you are looking for in your PCBs.

Disadvantages of Rigid-Flex PCBs

As it is well-known, rigid-flex PCB fabrication requires comparatively more monetary investment initially than a generic rigid one. If changes are required during the designing and/or testing processes, it further adds to the expenses. The process of rigid-flex PCB fabrication and assembly is longer and more complicated as compared to a common green-coloured PCB board. Therefore, either the turnaround time is longer or a bigger team of professionals should be hired to receive the order in a short time.

These disadvantages can be easily navigated around with the assistance of an experienced rigid-flex PCB supplier. You may contact Viasion today to understand how you can make the most out of your investment and get the best PCB solutions available in the market.

Applications of Rigid-Flex PCBs

The dynamic, durable and reliable structure of rigid-flex PCBs along with their resistance to extreme conditions make them quite suitable for important applications in various industries. From aerospace to consumer appliances, from the medical industry to automotive, almost all industries make use of rigid-flex PCBs today. Telecommunications, the manufacturing industry and the military sector are some of the other industries where these boards find their demand.

4 Layers Rigid Flex PCB Stackup

How to Choose the Right Rigid-Flex PCB Supplier – A Step-By-Step Guide

With so many options in the market, it may get overwhelming to hire a manufacturer. Follow the below-mentioned steps to shortlist your potential manufacturing partners:

Step 1: Pen down your requirements. Consider whether you need only fabrication facilities or both fabrication and assembly. Check whether you need other PCB-related services, like custom packaging. Do not forget to evaluate your required order size and preferred turnaround time. Make sure you set a reasonable budget for the project.

Step 2: Start looking for rigid-flex PCB suppliers via online research, trade shows and exhibitions, directories, listing platforms, etc. You may also take referrals from other people in the industry. Make a list of suitable options as per your requirements. For example, avoid opting for a large-scale supplier for a small order size and vice versa.

Step 3: Do not get lost in the pool of options. Shortlist your options as per their expertise. Check whether their services match your requirements or not.

Step 4: Check certifications and standardizations. PCBs are an electronic unit placed inside an electronic device or gadget. It is necessary that they are of certified quality to prevent device failures or other legal issues. Therefore, shortlist the manufacturers with proper industry certificates only.

Step 5: Once you are ready with the list of your shortlisted rigid-flex PCB suppliers, get in touch with them and request a quote. Remember, you detail your product requirement, order size and expected delivery time at this stage of communication.

Step 6: Upon receiving quotes, compare them. Remember, everything that costs more is not necessarily the best, it might just be overpriced. Similarly, the cheapest deal might burn a hole in your pocket later if the quality is not up to the mark. Therefore, compare the pricing while keeping in mind the quality and other services. Also, check if the quote includes additional charges like packaging and shipping. Be very critical at this stage and move ahead with only the value-for-money deals.

Step 7: You must be left with only a few options at this stage. Discuss further with these rigid-flex PCB suppliers. Make sure you mention all your related doubts and queries. A good supplier won’t shy away from answering all your questions. This stage will also help you assess communication and customer support services offered by the suppliers. If a manufacturer is taking days to revert each of your emails, they might be taking up more orders than they can manage. Hiring such companies may lead to a delay in order delivery.

Step 8: Now that you have discussed your requirements and queries with the suppliers, the next step is to finalise one. Make a calculated decision based on your research and communication experience. Remember that every company has its own USPs. Choose the one whose USPs lie more within your area of interest.

Step 9: While hiring the final rigid-flex PCB supplier, take the last step and draft a detailed agreement. Even if the supplier communicates extremely well and you have built your trust in them, it is necessary to have a legal contract in place to resolve any misunderstandings or arguments in future. This will also ensure smooth functioning in case the staff is replaced. Move forward only after the agreement is agreed upon by both the parties, i.e. you and the supplier.

Rigid Flex PCB with Components

Things to Keep in Mind While Hiring a Rigid-Flex PCB Supplier

As suggested earlier, your rigid-flex PCB supplier can make or break your entire project. One must remember that these PCBs need an expert team of professionals and state-of-the-art equipment for flawless fabrication. The two different kinds of substrate layers are not easy to combine. Therefore, one should be extra cautious while hiring a manufacturer. It is better to invest time in market research and enquiry rather than regretting your decision later. Therefore, keep the below-mentioned points in mind while looking for the right rigid flex PCB supplier for your project.

First and foremost, always check the certifications and standardizations while looking for PCB fabricators and suppliers. A good manufacturer adheres to standard industry rules and regulations like ISO 9001:2008 standards among others. Never compromise on this aspect while hiring a PCB manufacturing company.

Check the company’s experience. While there’s always a first-time, young startups are better suited for small-scale projects and prototyping. Therefore, if you have a medium to large-scale order, consider going for a rigid-flex PCB supplier with at least 5 years of industry experience.

Ask the manufacturer if they are using high-quality material or not. For a durable device, everything that goes inside should be of superior quality only. Therefore, make sure your supplier does not compromise on the quality of materials used.

A good PCB manufacturing company will always prioritise customer satisfaction and offer satisfactory post-sales services. Assess the communication and customer support services of the supplier during initial rounds of conversation. This will prove to be quite beneficial in the long run.

Check if the rigid-flex PCB supplier uses advanced equipment or not. As the industry trends, requirements and services are evolving rapidly every day, it is necessary to replace the machinery with the latest technology to keep up with these trends. Also, old machinery in poor condition may negatively affect the quality of the final PCB.

Ensure that the supplier you are hiring can handle the order size you require. No matter how good or capable a manufacturer is, if they do not have enough product lines to deliver your order, it will only lead to a bumpy ride. Also, you may confirm with your supplier if they have a backup plan in case of overbooking.

Storage and packaging processes play a crucial role in the quality of the final product. Even if the PCB is fabricated with state-of-the-art technology and expert professionals, if it is not stored properly, the humidity and hot temperatures may affect its quality. Therefore, make sure your supplier packs them using silica gels, or vacuum seals to prevent this damage.

As you know, testing and inspection are crucial to ensure the quality of the rigid-flex PCB. Make sure your rigid-flex PCB supplier conducts enough testing rounds and performs both automated and manual inspections for a fault-free product. You may also ask for inspection and testing reports/overviews to ensure quality control.

While you have already understood the importance of having a mutual agreement on the table, make sure you go through the terms and conditions laid down by the supplier. This will give you an idea of what you should expect from the deal.

Do not forget to go through the reviews and testimonials of the company before choosing a rigid flex PCB supplier. Observe if clients are suggesting areas of improvement, what are the good points most clients are talking about, and see if the supplier is responding to negative reviews, if any. While an occasional mistake, like a delayed delivery, may happen, it may be excused if the supplier communicates well and strives to improve in future.

Conclusion:

Simply keep the above-mentioned tips in mind and you are all set to find the right match for your PCB needs. Remember, it is better to invest time in research and inspection before finalising the deal rather than regretting your decision later. Therefore, do not skip these steps or decide in a hurry when you are trying to find a rigid-flex PCB supplier. Get in touch with Viasion today to request a quote!

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