What are the quality requirements?
IPC Class 2, IPC Class 3, MIL-31032, all have different requirements and different price points that are important to capture in your estimates. Will you have a requirement for a 3rd part test? This too has an impact on the total cost.
What are the minimum drilled hole sizes?
The minimum drilled hole size can have an impact on pricing. Mechanically drilled holes are typically less expensive than laser drilled holes and mechanically drilled holes less than .008” can have an impact on cost. The cost added for smaller mechanically drilled holes can be very dependent on the fabricator’s equipment and process, so be sure to understand those capabilities.
What is the via structure?
Do you anticipate the design to be standard thru hole construction? Will there be blind and buried vias? Will there be micro vias? If there are micro vias, will these be filled and stacked or staggered, and how many levels? The number of lamination cycles needed to fabricate the flex or rigid flex has a dramatic effect on cost.
What is the preferred surface finish?
Flex and rigid flex designs can use all the same surface finish options as a rigid board. Do you need HASL? Lead-Free HASL? OSP? Silver? Tin? ENIG? ENEPIG? ENIG? These all have different price points and both pricing and lead-time are impacted by which surface finishes your fabricator has in house and runs most frequently.
To answer the original question:
Requesting pricing early in the design cycle can help determine if the design will fit within the product budget, something especially important when working with flex and rigid flex, where factors such as material utilization and via structure can have a significant impact on cost. Once there is an estimate of materials, layer count, via structure and quality requirements, reach out to your fabricator for a stack up and budgetary quotation. This is an excellent time to start a dialog and ask questions to be sure you are not inadvertently adding unnecessary cost to your design.
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