Over the last decade, electronic products have become increasingly complex and dense as they support more functions into dramatically reduced footprints. The need for flexible circuits has grown exponentially, since they are often the preferred solution to achieve package weight-reduction, compared to rigid planar boards.
They are also easier to manufacture, reducing total assembly time while driving down cost and errors. Through their proven suitability for handling more than 25 point to point wires connections, flexible PCBs also provide greater system reliability.
Additionally, their main advantage is their ability to bend in order to accommodate the most cramped environments, enabling denser component layouts within the specified mechanical constraints of consumer products.
This makes flexible PCBs suitable for use in almost all electronics-based equipment, from consumer products such as digital cameras, computers and hard drives, to internal medical devices and military equipment.
Several generations of notebooks, tablet computers and other devices have been able to slim down while increasing their functionalities thanks to flexible layouts and interconnects.
Reducing the design cycle
Looking at how some flexible PCBs are designed today, and considering their development cycles, it is clear that there is considerable room for improvement. When Dassault Systèmes started to work on this subject with a leading Japanese worldwide consumer electronics company, we soon realized that their design process was slow, extremely complex and time consuming.
The first steps of the development process were purely manual and involved placing the flexible PCB assembly within the product. Even today, some companies are still making paper PCBs by hand, and check the components’ positions manually throughout the product’s physical mock up stages.
Following this procedure, 2D drawings were generated and shared with the ECAD designer for component placement and routing.
Within this outdated methodology, mechanical and electronic design processes were conducted separately. Only late in the development cycle was it possible to exchange critical design data between MCAD and ECAD systems. The limitations in data exchange and the lack of co-design functionality resulted in the need for additional design iterations, driving up development times and costs.