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Shift to multilayer rigid-flex PCBs gathers pace

Suppliers will complement active R&D with production expansion efforts to match growing demand.

Multilayer boards are defining the future trend for China’s rigid-flex PCB line. Most makers emphasize single-and double-sided products, but 4 and 6-layer types are gaining popularity. A few suppliers have developed variants with eight or 10 levels. A growing number of manufacturers are expected to follow suit in the months ahead amid climbing demand from high-end portable and automotive electronics, and medical and military equipment.

Rigid-flex PCB

Dongguan Hong Yuen’s HY064 model has four layers, an FR-4 or polyimide base and ENIG surface finish.

Dongguan Hong Yuen Electronics Co. Ltd offers 4, 6 and 8-layer rigid-flex PCBs, and is looking to shift to units with 10 or more levels. The maker hopes to explore the aviation and space industries in the near term.

To match development efforts, most suppliers plan to boost production by 10 to 20 percent this year. Dongguan Hong Yuen aims to raise output by 20 percent. Many enterprises currently run on 70 percent capacity, and a few even reach 100 percent.

Makers will complement manufacturing expansion programs with production technique upgrades. They are paying particular attention to sizing control, high-precision layout, buried and blind hole drilling, and hole plating and slitting to achieve quality rigid-flex boards. This is because this PCB type needs various materials with different physical characteristics, rendering counterpoint precision between boards and lamination parameters a challenge.

Rigid-flex boards currently account for 10 percent of China’s overall PCB sales. Revenue from the line has been growing by 15 percent annually in the past decade. As such, its share of the country’s PCB sales is expected to rise to 15 percent by end-2012. Export value jumped by at least 15 percent the past two years, and most makers expect the same rate this period.

Manufacturers are banking on sustained demand from key categories medical and military equipment, which combined recorded a more than 20 percent rise in orders in the past two years. Adoption in portable electronics, laptop and LCD TV sectors posted 15 percent growth.

Nearly 100 companies in mainland China supply rigid-flex PCBs, 60 percent of which are foreign-owned, mostly by Taiwan and Hong Kong enterprises. These are capable of developing multilayer boards, unlike the majority of local operations that offer single- and double-sided units, and offset the gap in technology with competitive prices.

The Pearl River and Yangtze River Delta regions are the major production centers. More than half of makers are gathered in the former, with Shenzhen and Dongguan in Guangdong province the key manufacturing cities.

About 60 percent of China’s output is shipped to North America, Europe, and East and Southeast Asia. ShenzhenSunshine Circuits Technology Co. Ltd exports 95 percent of its yield to Europe, and plans to expand to the US.

Selection yields diverse types

Mainstream releases from China constitute single- and double-sided rigid-flex PCBs. Multilayer kinds cover 4 and 6-level versions.

Most makers adopt FR-4 composite material for rigid boards and PI or PET for flex counterparts. The surface treatment options include ENIG, immersion gold, silver or tin, HASL/lead-free HASL or OSP. The minimum line width/spacing and through-hole size are 0.075 and 0.1mm, respectively. Dongguan Hong Yuen hopes to shrink the former to 0.05mm.

Besides RoHS, mainland China manufacturers try to ensure products meet UL, CE and other international standards.

The materials used in rigid-flex PCBs include CCL, PI, PET and epoxy resin. Most mainland makers source these locally, although high-end inputs may be procured from Taiwan or the US. Spending on some items such as CCLs has been climbing amid rising copper costs. As such, several companies increased quotes by 10 percent. If material expenditure stabilizes, enterprises will keep quotes steady. Any markups will be limited to 5 percent.

Taiwan: Makers eye portable electronics

Taiwan rigid-flex PCB suppliers are confident of steady growth in the years ahead. Riding on the strong market penetration of compact and lightweight electronics, many expect continued robust demand, in particular from smartphones.

A number of enterprises are exploring combination rigid-flex and HDI PCBs. Unitech Printed Circuit Board Corp., for instance, has developed a 10-layer type that adopts a 4+2+4 stackup, a 0.77mm thick board, partial overlay and selective gold ENIG+OSP surface finish.

Mainstream rigid-flex PCBs from Taiwan have a 2+N+2 structure, and 2 to 3mil line width and spacing. The minimum drilling size is 3mil.

Unimicron offers 0.25mm-thick 1+2F+1 boards for camera modules and smartphones. The company supplies 10-layer, 2-layer static flexible and 4+2F+4 rigid-flex types. This year, it is looking to release 4+4F+4 rigid-flex, 4-layer static flexible and even 12-level models. In 2013, the maker will work on a 2-layer dynamic flexible PCB structure.

Manufacturers in the island design boards for use in CMOS camera modules, touch displays, memory cards, keypad switches and Bluetooth devices. Microprojectors and digital TVs are key applications as well. Some companies provide variants for portable medical equipment.

Product gallery

Rigid-flex PCB

Product gallery

Fastpcba Technology Co. Ltd
(mainland China)

Model: JB262
MOQ: Negotiable
Delivery: 6 days
Description: Four layers; 3.5mil line width/spacing; 0.1016mm minimum hole size; RoHS, UL

Rigid-flex PCB

Fulltronics Corp. Ltd
(mainland China)

Model: FC-006
Description: Six layers; FR-4+polyimide base; immersion gold surface finish; 4mil minimum line width/spacing; 0.2mm minimum hole diameter; 1oz copper, 1.5mm board thickness

Rigid-flex PCB

Shenzhen Sunshine Circuits Technology Co. Ltd
(mainland China)

Model: SS1110RF025
MOQ: Negotiable
Delivery: 6 days
Description: Six layers; ENIG surface finish; solder mask on both sides; 4.7mil minimum line width/spacing

Rigid-flex PCB

Shenzhen Zealfull Technology Co. Ltd
(mainland China)

Model: ZLF-152
Description: Four layers; FPC+FR-4 base; immersion gold surface finish; 4mil line width, 3.5mil spacing

Rigid-flex PCB

Tech-Wave Industrial Co. Ltd

Model: Rigid-flex PCB
MOQ: 1,000 units
Delivery: 14 days
Description: Four layers; 0.5oz RA copper, 0.0127mm polyimide FCCL base; FR-4 or polyimide stiffener; gold or nickel plating surface finish; 4mil line width/spacing; RoHS

Rigid-flex PCB

Unitech Printed Circuit Board Corp.

Model: HDI 4+2+4 Rigid-flex
MOQ: Negotiable
Description: 4+2+4 HDI; OSP surface finish; 1.97mil line width, 2.95mil spacing; 100/250μm micro via size, capture pad; 0.77mm board thickness; for camcorders

Rigid-flex PCB

Yi Yi Enterprise Co. Ltd

Model: Flexible PCBs RP03
Description: Two layers; polyimide or polyester base; FR-4 stiffener; 3.9mil minimum line width/spacing; 0.15mm minimum hole diameter; 0.5, 1, 2oz copper thickness

Note: This article "Shift to multilayer rigid-flex PCBs gathers pace" was originally published by Global Sources, a leading business-to-business media company and a primary facilitator of trade with China manufacturers and India suppliers, providing essential sourcing information to volume buyers through our e-magazines, trade shows and industry research.

All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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