Consumer and professional electronics such as computers contain printed circuit boards (PCBs). A PCB consists of a hard plastic surface that serves as a mount for various components. A PCB installed inside a computer would contain a microprocessor, transistors, capacitors, memory storage banks and other miniaturized special parts. Within a computer, each PCB is called a card or adapter. One PCB handles display graphics, another audio processing and a third provides access to the Internet.
PCBs are used in other devices as well. Aside from computers, cell phones and digital cameras also make use of printed circuit boards. Changing technologies and economic conditions are opening the door for a new type of PCB. For decades, the basic design of a PCB has been a hard thin surface, but recently, this has been giving way to flexible PCBs. Instead of a hard surface, the miniaturized components are mounted onto a malleable plastic film. The film performs the exact same functions as the old PCB did.
The main advantage is sizing and design. Since flexible PCBs can be bent within limits, they can be fitted to a wide variety of models. Digital cameras are making heavy use of flexible printed circuit boards because they require connections between components on three axes. Rigid circuit boards only allow connections on two axes. Another advantage of flexible printed circuit boards is the ability to connect without using wires. This minimizes the risk of wire failure and makes a device more reliable overall.
Flexible printed circuit boards also largely eliminate mechanical connectors, which can interfere with a device's performance by malfunctioning. Flexible PCBs can connect simply by bending or even twisting the circuit board in the proper direction. Computing and processing power is increased by allowing a greater number of components to be installed on the board. This is called circuit density. Flexible PCBs make it easier to achieve higher circuit density while making sure that each circuit is placed to efficiently route clock and timing signals. This is a significant issue in circuit board design that flexible PCBs have almost completely overcome.
The last decade has been a testament to the promise of flexible PCBs. They have been the fastest growing application within the interconnection product industry. Credit for this is due largely to Japanese electronic manufacturing firms that have found countless ways to integrate flexible PCBs into every type of component imaginable. Flexible circuitry is used in everything from cars, airplanes and even medical devices.
American firms have also found methods of manufacturing flexible circuitry. Intense competition puts pressure on flexible PCB companies to keep costs down while increasing production. Some firms offer PCB solutions including both rigid and flexible PCBs. An innovative combination of the two is known as rigid-flex products. These use standard rigid circuit boards with strips of flexible boards to serve as connectors.
Overall, flexible PCBs are sweeping the electronics world with various applications. They are revolutionizing some industries like cell phones and computers. Computer manufacturers in particular are anticipating the day when truly paper-thin computers will be available. Flexible PCBs are creating new opportunities in every field.