When my oldest boy bought his first car I was worried that he might have made a mistake. Sadly my worries turned out to be true and he was stuck with a lemon. I believe that his exact words were; “It seemed like such a good deal at the time”. He thought that paying less money for an older car would be a benefit, and of course, his actual experience was the exact opposite.
The old expression of “count the cost” before you buy applies to everything and not just to purchases of large yellow fruit with four tires and a license plate. Even in the world of PCB design, it is critical to understand the full cost of your project before you jump in. For instance which is the better deal; rigid flex or standard PCBs? To understand this you should look at some rigid flex PCB cost comparisons, and we have some ideas here for you that may help.
The Elephant in the Room
Let’s get it out in the open right away; it almost always cost more to fabricate a rigid flex design than a regular printed circuit board. The fabrication of rigid PCBs (traditional FR4) is pretty standardized, but not so with flex. Rigid-flex PCBs require specialized material, copper, and assembly. Flexible circuits will vary in their fabrication in the following ways:
- Foil type and thickness
- Base film type and thickness
- Interlayer bonding methods and adhesives
- Materials for mechanical support and their mounting
A flex design will have unique characteristics due to how it was designed and what materials it was created with that are important to its usage. This uniqueness can change however from one vendor to another depending on how the vendors build the design. For instance, the different vendors may vary in the type of bond ply that is used which may, in turn, cause different behaviors when subjected to the specific application that the design was created for resulting in a failure.
For many reasons like these, the bare cost of fabricating a flex design is often more expensive. It cost more to make sure that you are getting the precise design that you need. But that’s not the end of the story, however.
Altium Designer is a natural when creating rigid-flex PCB designs
Consider the Following Before You Decide
The bare cost of the fabrication of rigid flex circuits is only one part of the overall expense. To get a complete idea of what the final costs of rigid flex circuits are, consider the following:
Multiple Designs: With a standard PCB design you may need multiple PCB designs and/or cable designs to connect everything together. These extra designs will cost you more for their development whereas a single rigid-flex design may provide the entire solution eliminating the extra design costs.
Manufacturing and Test: With multiple PCB designs you will escalate the costs associated with manufacturing and test. Replacing these multiple assemblies with a single rigid-flex design will save you time and money.
Parts: Printed circuit boards will need additional connectors and cables to connect to each other whereas the rigid-flex design is the connecting cable. Once again you will be saving money.
Reliability: Multiple PCBs and their associated cables and connectors mean that there will be many more opportunities for solder and other assembly associated failures. These will cost you yet more money and time.
Altium Designer’s Active BOM will help you count the cost in your next design
Rigid Flex PCB Cost Comparison; What’s the Answer?
A rigid-flex PCB design may have a higher price tag associated with it for its initial fabrication, but over the long term may be the lower cost solution. It is important to count all of the costs first from design, to manufacturing, and then finally to the parts that you are going to be using. You need to consider the whole picture in order to understand what your final cost will actually be. Rigid-flex PCB design will yield a circuit board with varying material and copper needs from a standard circuit board.
One great way to make sure that you’ve counted all the costs is to work with PCB design CAD system that allows you to track the expense of your parts. With an online bill of materials system that allows you to connect with your part vendors, you can get real-time information for the parts you are using, their availability, and most importantly their cost.
PCB design software, like Altium Designer, has the advanced BOM functionalities that we have been talking about here. Active BOM is more than just a simple report generator; it provides you with another portal into your design data so that you can work with your parts from either the schematic or the layout. Its cloud connection with your preferred part vendors will also keep you fully up-to-date on the parts that you are using, and as part of the entire Altium Designer unified design platform you will find that it is a natural and intuitive part of your workflow.
Find out more information by talking to an expert at Altium.
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