An Introduction to Rigid Flex PCB | Structure, Costs, Manufacturer

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What is a Rigid Flex PCB?

A Rigid Flex PCB, also known as a flexible printed circuit board, is a unique type of PCB that combines the features of both rigid and flexible circuits. It consists of multiple layers of flexible PCB substrate that are laminated together with rigid PCB sections. This innovative design allows for the creation of highly complex, three-dimensional electronic assemblies that can be bent, folded, or twisted to fit into tight spaces or conform to unique shapes.

Rigid Flex PCBs offer several advantages over traditional rigid PCBs, including:

  1. Reduced weight and size
  2. Increased reliability and durability
  3. Improved signal integrity
  4. Enhanced design flexibility
  5. Simplified assembly process

These benefits make Rigid Flex PCBs an attractive option for a wide range of applications, such as aerospace, military, medical devices, consumer electronics, and automotive systems.

Structure of a Rigid Flex PCB

A Rigid Flex PCB is composed of several layers of flexible PCB substrate, typically made from polyimide or polyester materials, which are laminated together with rigid PCB sections. The number of layers and the thickness of each layer can vary depending on the specific application and design requirements.

The basic structure of a Rigid Flex PCB includes:

  1. Flexible PCB Layers: These layers are made from thin, flexible materials that allow the PCB to bend and flex as needed. The number of flexible layers can range from one to several, depending on the complexity of the design.

  2. Rigid PCB sections: These sections are made from traditional FR-4 or other rigid PCB materials and provide stability and support for the electronic components. The rigid sections are strategically placed to ensure the overall structural integrity of the assembly.

  3. Adhesive layers: These layers are used to bond the flexible and rigid sections together, creating a cohesive structure. The adhesive material is typically a polyimide or acrylic-based substance that can withstand the stresses of bending and flexing.

  4. Copper traces: Copper traces are etched onto the flexible and rigid layers to create the electrical connections between components. The thickness and width of the traces can vary depending on the current carrying requirements and signal integrity needs.

  5. Coverlay: A protective coverlay is often applied to the outer surfaces of the flexible layers to provide insulation and protection against damage.

Here’s a simplified cross-section of a Rigid Flex PCB:

Layer Material
Coverlay Polyimide or polyester
Copper traces Copper
Flexible substrate Polyimide or polyester
Adhesive Polyimide or acrylic
Rigid substrate FR-4 or other rigid material
Copper traces Copper
Solder mask Epoxy-based material

Manufacturing Process of Rigid Flex PCBs

The manufacturing process for Rigid Flex PCBs is more complex and time-consuming than that of traditional rigid PCBs due to the additional steps required to create the flexible layers and bond them to the rigid sections. The general steps involved in the manufacturing process include:

  1. Design and layout: The first step is to create a detailed design and layout of the Rigid Flex PCB using specialized CAD software. This includes determining the number of layers, the placement of components, and the routing of copper traces.

  2. Flexible layer fabrication: The flexible layers are created by etching copper traces onto thin, flexible substrates. This process typically involves:
    a. Cleaning the substrate
    b. Applying a photoresist layer
    c. Exposing the photoresist to UV light through a photomask
    d. Developing the photoresist to reveal the desired copper trace pattern
    e. Etching away the unwanted copper
    f. Stripping the remaining photoresist

  3. Rigid layer fabrication: The rigid layers are fabricated using traditional PCB manufacturing techniques, such as:
    a. Cleaning the substrate
    b. Drilling holes for vias and component leads
    c. Applying a copper layer
    d. Etching the copper to create traces and pads
    e. Applying a solder mask and silkscreen

  4. Lamination: The flexible and rigid layers are laminated together using heat and pressure, with adhesive layers placed between each layer to ensure a strong bond.

  5. Drilling and routing: Holes are drilled through the laminated board for vias and component leads, and the board is routed to its final shape.

  6. Component assembly: Electronic components are soldered onto the board using traditional SMT or through-hole techniques.

  7. Testing and inspection: The completed Rigid Flex PCB Assembly is thoroughly tested and inspected to ensure proper functionality and adherence to quality standards.

Advantages of Rigid Flex PCBs

Rigid Flex PCBs offer several key advantages over traditional rigid PCBs, making them an attractive choice for many applications:

  1. Reduced weight and size: By combining flexible and rigid sections, Rigid Flex PCBs can be designed to fit into smaller spaces and conform to unique shapes, resulting in overall weight and size reduction of the electronic assembly.

  2. Increased reliability and durability: The flexible layers in Rigid Flex PCBs allow for greater stress relief and improved resistance to vibration and shock, leading to increased reliability and durability compared to rigid PCBs.

  3. Improved signal integrity: The shorter signal paths and reduced number of connectors in Rigid Flex PCBs result in improved signal integrity and reduced noise and interference.

  4. Enhanced design flexibility: Rigid Flex PCBs offer designers greater freedom to create complex, three-dimensional assemblies that can be tailored to fit specific application requirements.

  5. Simplified assembly process: By reducing the number of connectors and separate PCBs required, Rigid Flex PCBs can simplify the overall assembly process, leading to reduced manufacturing time and costs.

Applications of Rigid Flex PCBs

Rigid Flex PCBs are used in a wide range of industries and applications where space constraints, reliability, and design flexibility are critical factors. Some common applications include:

  1. Aerospace and military: Rigid Flex PCBs are well-suited for aerospace and military applications due to their ability to withstand harsh environments, reduce weight, and fit into tight spaces.

  2. Medical devices: The enhanced reliability and design flexibility of Rigid Flex PCBs make them ideal for medical devices, such as wearable monitors, implantable devices, and diagnostic equipment.

  3. Consumer electronics: Rigid Flex PCBs are increasingly used in consumer electronics, such as smartphones, tablets, and wearables, to enable more compact and lightweight designs.

  4. Automotive: The automotive industry uses Rigid Flex PCBs in applications such as dashboard electronics, infotainment systems, and driver assistance systems, where space and reliability are key concerns.

  5. Industrial equipment: Rigid Flex PCBs are used in various industrial equipment, such as robots, automation systems, and control panels, to improve reliability and reduce the size and weight of electronic assemblies.

Costs of Rigid Flex PCBs

The cost of Rigid Flex PCBs is generally higher than that of traditional rigid PCBs due to the more complex manufacturing process and specialized materials required. Factors that influence the cost of Rigid Flex PCBs include:

  1. Number of layers: The more layers in a Rigid Flex PCB, the higher the cost, as each additional layer requires more materials and processing steps.

  2. Size and complexity: Larger and more complex designs will generally cost more due to increased material usage and processing time.

  3. Materials: The choice of flexible substrate materials, adhesives, and copper thickness can impact the overall cost of the PCB.

  4. Quantity: As with most PCBs, higher quantities typically result in lower per-unit costs due to economies of scale.

Despite the higher initial costs, Rigid Flex PCBs can often lead to overall cost savings in the long run by reducing the number of separate PCBs and connectors required, simplifying the assembly process, and improving reliability and durability.

Choosing a Rigid Flex PCB Manufacturer

When selecting a Rigid Flex PCB manufacturer, it is essential to consider several key factors to ensure high-quality results and a smooth production process:

  1. Experience and expertise: Look for a manufacturer with extensive experience in producing Rigid Flex PCBs and a proven track record of success in your specific industry or application.

  2. Quality control: Ensure that the manufacturer has robust quality control processes in place, including inspections at various stages of production and adherence to relevant industry standards (e.g., IPC, ISO, UL).

  3. Capabilities: Verify that the manufacturer has the necessary equipment and capabilities to handle your specific design requirements, such as the number of layers, material selection, and component assembly.

  4. Communication and support: Choose a manufacturer that maintains clear and open communication throughout the production process and offers reliable technical support to address any issues or concerns.

  5. Cost and lead time: While cost is an important consideration, it should be balanced against factors such as quality, reliability, and lead time. Look for a manufacturer that offers competitive pricing without compromising on quality or delivery schedules.


  1. Q: How long does it take to manufacture a Rigid Flex PCB?
    A: The lead time for Rigid Flex PCBs can vary depending on the complexity of the design, the materials required, and the manufacturer’s workload. Typically, lead times range from 2-6 weeks, but it’s best to consult with your chosen manufacturer for a more accurate estimate based on your specific project requirements.

  2. Q: Can Rigid Flex PCBs be reworked or repaired?
    A: While it is possible to rework or repair Rigid Flex PCBs, the process can be more challenging and time-consuming compared to traditional rigid PCBs. The success of the rework or repair depends on factors such as the extent of the damage, the materials used, and the skill of the technician performing the work. In many cases, it may be more cost-effective to replace the entire PCB rather than attempting a repair.

  3. Q: What is the minimum bend radius for a Rigid Flex PCB?
    A: The minimum bend radius for a Rigid Flex PCB depends on several factors, including the thickness of the flexible layers, the number of layers, and the materials used. As a general rule, the minimum bend radius should be at least 6 times the total thickness of the flexible layers to avoid damaging the copper traces or causing delamination. However, it’s always best to consult with your PCB manufacturer and adhere to their specific guidelines for your project.

  4. Q: How do I choose the right materials for my Rigid Flex PCB?
    A: Choosing the right materials for your Rigid Flex PCB depends on several factors, such as the intended application, the operating environment, and the required electrical and mechanical properties. Common flexible substrate materials include polyimide and polyester, while rigid sections are typically made from FR-4 or other high-performance materials. Adhesives and coverlay materials should be selected based on their compatibility with the chosen substrates and their ability to withstand the stresses of bending and flexing. Your PCB manufacturer can provide guidance on the most suitable materials for your specific project.

  5. Q: Are there any special design considerations for Rigid Flex PCBs?
    A: Yes, designing Rigid Flex PCBs requires careful consideration of several factors to ensure optimal performance and reliability. Some key design considerations include:

  6. Placement of rigid and flexible sections to minimize stress and ensure proper support for components
  7. Selection of appropriate materials and layer thicknesses to achieve the desired flexibility and durability
  8. Routing of copper traces to avoid sharp bends or excessive stress during flexing
  9. Use of strain relief features, such as tear drops or curved traces, to reduce stress concentrations
  10. Proper placement and orientation of components to minimize stress and facilitate assembly
  11. Adherence to manufacturer guidelines and industry standards for design and manufacturing tolerances

By carefully addressing these design considerations and working closely with your PCB manufacturer, you can create a robust and reliable Rigid Flex PCB that meets your specific application requirements.