Flex circuit suppliers come in a variety of different sizes and stages of financial integrity. Choosing the one that will perform the best for your requirements is an important element to the success of you application. Knowing what questions to ask your flex circuit supplier is essential in choosing who will be manufacturing your flex circuits.
The following are a few questions that should be asked and answered as part of your supplier vetting and selection process:
- Is Design Support Available?
- Do You Follow IPC-2223 Design Standards?
- Budgetary Quoting?
- Where Are The Manufacturing Facilities Located? (Domestic / Off-shore)
- Any Other Specific Certifications?
Flexible Circuit During Manufacturing
1) Is Design Support Available?
Exceptional design support is critical to the success of a project utilizing flex circuits in their products. The extent of the design support required can range from initial concept review to final data set Design For Manufacturability (DFM) review.
Reviewing a concept early in the design process is an important and time saving step. This consists of first validating the application of either a flex or a rigid–flex circuit as the most effective solution. Secondly, identify the required technology to best meet the design requirements. In many cases, we’ve seen customer concepts that do not factor in all of the variables and available options. This may result in a less than optimum solution.
Once a solution(s) have been determined, you should receive ongoing supplier support during the mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and Gerber layout processes; this facilitates and reduces the cycle time of the design process while ensuring the design meets all requirements.
From our experience, the two areas where customers benefit from the most, are mechanical design support and ensuring that IPC 2223 standards are applied.
The final element will be the DFM review of a finished data set. In the majority of cases, with proper support during design engineering, all potential issues have been pro-actively addressed and no significant items are found.
The combination of the above levels of support prevents any costly and time consuming re-engineering.
2) Do You Follow IPC-2223 Design Standards?
This standard covers a very wide range of flexible and rigid–flex technologies and applications. It is critical to ensuring that a design will be both functional and reliable. Some of the more important areas this standard addresses are material selection, bend capabilities, and part construction requirements.
Due to its wide scope it requires supplier experience to first evaluate a design and then identify the specifics within IPC-2223 that apply and which do not. This can significantly streamline the design process.
Failing to adhere to any IPC2223 elements that apply to a specific design will lead to significant performance, reliability, and manufacturability issues.
3) Budgetary Quoting?
A supplier should be willing to support the customer with budgetary quotes at the early concept/design stages. This provides the customer with important costing information to allow for informed decisions to be made as to how to move forward with a specific design. As part of this, budgetary quotes need to be as accurate as possible under the circumstances.
4) Where Are The Manufacturing Facilities Located? (Domestic / Off-shore)
The location of a supplier’s manufacturing facility(s) can have a significant bearing on decisions made during the engineering process. A domestic only supplier may not be aware of higher volume off-shore manufacturing methods that, beyond cost savings, could benefit the design. We‘ve come across designs that where prototyped domestically but where not designed or optimized for volume off-shore production which caused significant issues and costs as the design transitioned into production.
While domestic manufacturing may allow for quicker prototype delivery, off-shore prototyping does not take significantly longer, is less expensive, and ensures an optimized production ready design that allows for a seamless transition to preproduction and production volumes.
5) Any Other Specific Certifications?
It is important to ensure that your supplier supports any additional certification requirements that may only come to apply once the design is beyond the prototype stage. Some of the more common are ISO13485, AS9100, ITAR, customer specific requirements, UL, and IPC 6013 Class 3. Not all suppliers support all standards and some may impact the design requirements.
When looking for a flexible circuit board supplier, remember this blog post and these five questions. It might not be a bad good idea to look back at your current flex circuit suppliers and see what their response to these questions may be. They may surprise you.