For many individuals, especially the ones that are new to the electronics or the PCB industry, it might be confusing to distinguish between FFC and FPC. At first glance, these two components look pretty similar. However, even though they look identical, as per the application, they are two entirely different entities. They provide different functionalities and features. But if identifying them as per their physical appearance can be a problem, how can you efficiently differentiate these two components? And what are the applications of these components in the printed circuit board industry?
Flexible Flat Cables (FFC)
The flexible flat cable, which also goes by the acronym FFC, is a crucial electric cable that is both flat and flexible hence its name. Due to the nature of FFC, technicians primarily utilize them in high-density consumer electronics and consumer devices which include:
FFCs have become popular due to their ability to bring forth impeccable cable management. Moreover, they have a flat and flexible dielectric film base which is made out of plastic and a variety of metal conductors. Technicians then connect the conductors to a single surface. They also have flexible solar cells for better functionality.
FFCs are more space efficient than round cables because they effectively fit into tight spaces without an incredible hassle. Moreover, due to their design, they solve the zero wire coupling issues hence eliminating wire coupling issues. Furthermore, they also offer better RFI/EMI.
FFC has a lot of applications in multiple sectors. Moreover, their operation scope tends to go higher each day due to their ability to operate in high-temp conditions. For example, some flexible flat cables can efficiently function in high-temperature jumper systems without failures. Even though temperatures at this system can hit up to 1500C. Additionally, due to this feature, FFC cables have a lot of applications in folding mobile gadgets and moving printers and cars. Moreover, they are also efficient in applications that require less space utilization since they do not use up a lot of space.
Flexible Printed Circuit
The flexible printed circuits which also go by the acronym FPC are crucial electronic components that are slightly more complex when you compare them to flexible flat cable circuits. Flexible printed cable simply describes the circuits that can incorporate various components effectively and then build them on a flexible component.
Flexible printed circuits are mostly made of copper conductor circuits and etching polyimide components. While flexible flat circuits can function efficiently in harsh conditions, flexible printed circuits can quickly work in even more brutal conditions. Moreover, you can find them in a version of 0.3mm.
FPCs can be utilized in almost, if not all, traditional rigid circuit board applications. The main aim of FPCs is to offer excellent flexibility to electronic packages or circuit boards tightly assembled. Moreover, FPCs exist in many different variations, which include:
- Flex multiple-layer circuits
- Single layer circuits
- Double layer circuits
Single Sided Flexible Circuits
The single-sided flexible circuit consists of one copper conductor layer. Therefore, in terms of width, these PCBs are pretty thin.
Double Sided Flexible Printed Circuits
Double Sided Flexible Printed Circuits are flexible circuits that have only two copper conductor layers. Therefore, they are thicker than single-sided flexible circuits.
Flex circuits or flexible circuits bear more than two copper conductor layers. Therefore, these circuits also go by the name multilayer flex circuits.
Primarily, during fabrication, technicians utilize plated THT (Thru-hole technology) to connect these layers together efficiently. However, this isn’t always necessary since sometimes there is a possibility of opening up the layers to access the lower part of the flexible circuit.
Flexible Printed Circuit and Flexible Flat Cable Application Differences
As we saw earlier, these two components provide different features and functionalities. Therefore, they play several separate roles in the electronics industry, which start with their application areas.
Flat Flexible cables have substantial applications in applications that involve high flexibility. Moreover, their utilization extends due to their design. Actually, as of the 21st century, you can find this component in almost every electronic gadget on the market. Additionally, FFC components are applicable in the following ways:
- LCD appliances
- Fax machines
On the other hand, FPCs are utilized in printers, laptops, cameras, LCD televisions, hearing aids, and antennas. Moreover, these components are pretty prevalent in the aviation sector. Over time, flexible printed circuits have efficiently evolved, and now they offer impeccable durability and reliability.
Differences in FPC FFC Production
As per production methods, FFC FPC are not produced similarly. Instead, flexible printed circuit boards are made via etching a flexible copper (CU) clad laminate (FCCL). After the etching process, technicians then laminate the FPC into varying layers. On the other hand, FFC involves a simple lamination process of a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) component. After the lamination process, technicians then utilize flat copper wires to generate the FFC.
Due to these production differences, on observation, you can notice that FFCs are more significant and thicker compared to FPCs.
FFC FPC Connectors
FPC/FFC connectors are generated for the purpose of connecting FFCs and FPCs. Several types of connectors exist, and they include:
- ZIF (zero insertion force) connectors
- Non-ZIF connectors
FPC and FPC, Thickness Variation
For flexible flat cable, which is specifically designed to function in pretty harsh conditions, their ideal thickness range is 2.54mm, 2.0mm, 1.5mm, 1.27mm, 1.25mm, 1.0mm, 0.8mm, and 0.5mm. But on the other hand, FPC does not take up a lot of space since they are not as thick as FFCs. Actually, their thickness ranges between 0.2mm and 0.15mm.
FPC Strict Standards
FPCs are pretty conventional within a vast majority of applications and people. Therefore, their production standards tend to be more strict as compared to FFCs. When you explore the application areas of FPC, you find that this printed circuit has a lot of application areas in the military and medical sectors, which both require a pretty small margin of error and outstanding efficiency.
Therefore, to produce FPCs that meet the standards of these two crucial sectors, manufacturers have to employ all the required FPC production standards.
Moreover, most, if not all, FPCs undergo quality tests prior to their release into the market for utilization. But, on the other hand, FFCs are not subject to pretty strict quality and production measures.
Why is it Impossible to substitute FPCs with FFCs?
FPC and FFC have different functionalities and features, as we established earlier. These are the main reasons why you cannot substitute these two component. Moreover, their production methods differ, and FPCs tend to be more vulnerable when you compare them to FFCs. Therefore, using one of these components in place of the other is impossible.
Flexible printed circuits and flexible flat cables are crucial components in the electronics industry. Their applications are vast, and their efficiency and reliability are also impeccable. However, these two components aren’t similar in terms of application or even production. Therefore we hope this article has helped differentiate between these two components more efficiently.