All About Flex: Copper Grain Direction

Many materials have different characteristics depending upon the orientation of the material. For example, woven textile materials have a warp and a weft direction. The warp direction is the longitude direction and the weft is the transverse. The cloth will behave differently depending on which direction the tension is applied. Copper foils also behave differently depending on the orientation of the material. Two common categories of copper used are ED (electrodeposited) copper and RA (rolled annealed). Orientation is generally not critical for ED copper, but it can be critical for RA.

To better understand why orientation may be critical, it helps to understand how copper is formed into the thin planes required for circuit fabrication. Electrodeposited copper is produced by using direct current to dissolve copper anodes and plate them from solution onto a stainless-steel drum (the cathode). The copper is then rolled onto a spool, thereby creating a continuous roll of copper foil. The rotational speed of the drum is adjusted to alter the thickness of the copper. There are multiple types of ED copper with varying surface roughness and grain structure. With flexible circuit fabrication, surface roughness can provide different adhesion properties and/or chemical resistance when the foil is subsequently bonded with an adhesive to a polyimide film.

Rolled annealed copper is produced by taking billets of thick copper and rolling them under extremely high pressure to produce a desired thickness. Rolling oils are added to enhance the thickness reduction process. These oils need to be chemically removed before any lamination processes. Figure 1 depicts the RA process.

CuFig1.jpg 

Figure 1: Rolled annealed copper manufacturing process. 

Rolled annealed copper will have an elongated grain structure parallel to the material direction. Electrodeposited copper is characterized by a more random and vertical grain structure that has no specific material direction orientation. RA copper is smoother and has better elongation properties. Oxide treatments or mechanical abrasion is often applied to rolled copper to create bond enhancement properties.

RA copper is used extensively in bending applications. Circuit orientation on the panel relative to the grain direction is important to maximize flex life, especially in dynamic flexing applications. Grain direction is positioned perpendicular to the bend axis as bending across the grain will negate the inherent advantages of the elongated grain structure. Figure 2 gives shows a side-by-side comparison of the grain structure between ED and RA.

CuFig2.jpg 

Figure 2: Comparison of grain structures in RA and ED copper foils.

If an application requires some—or a lot—of flexing, the fabricator should be made aware of bend location and desired flex life. In addition to copper type, several design conventions are used to maximize flex life. These include copper thickness, bend radius, component and via locations, and position of copper in the circuit construction. Knowing the flex life expectations of a particular application allows the fabricator to optimize a construction to best meet product life requirements.

Rolled annealed copper has become standard fare in the flexcircuit world. It generally provides the most robust end product and in many applications, will be a bit more forgiving than electrodeposited foil. Because RA copper has a smoother surface than ED, it is often used in high-speed electronics or microwave applications. ED copper allows for better surface adhesion, has slightly better conductivity, and is used almost exclusively in the world of rigid printed circuits.  

Dave Becker is vice president of sales and marketing at All Flex Flexible Circuits LLC.

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2018

All About Flex: Copper Grain Direction

01-04-2018

Many materials have different characteristics depending upon the orientation of the material. For example, woven textile materials have a warp and a weft direction. The warp direction is the longitude direction and the weft is the transverse.

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2017

All About Flex: Options for Purchasing Flexible Heaters

11-15-2017

Flexible heaters represent a product technology generically described as thin and flexible heating elements used as attachments to various heat sinks to provide freeze protection, consistent temperatures, and thermal control from -80°C to +230°C and higher.

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All About Flex: More on UAVs and Flexible Circuits

10-30-2017

The use of drones or unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs) is growing at a nearly exponential rate. This includes drones used by the government, private companies and hobbyists. If you have $100, you can find a long list of drones for purchase.

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All About Flex: Flexible Circuit Failure Analysis

10-19-2017

Design reviews and early involvement by a circuit board fabrication house can minimize the possibility of field problems, but despite best efforts, there remain occasions when diagnosis of a poorly performing design is required.

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All About Flex: Flexible Circuits for Reusable Medical Products

09-21-2017

Flexible circuits have been used in medical devices and medical instrumentation for several decades. Flex circuits and flexible heaters can be ideal solutions in applications requiring lightweight, continuous movement, and highly reliable interconnections that are biocompatible.

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All About Flex: Flexible Circuits and Man-Made Satellites

09-12-2017

The first satellite was launched by the USSR in 1957. The U.S. successfully launched its first satellite, Explorer 1, in 1958 while announcing the intention to “win” the race to outer space. Today satellites serve many vital purposes.

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All About Flex: Using ZIF Connectors with Flexible Circuits

09-07-2017

Zero insertion force (ZIF) connectors are probably the most popular flexible circuitry connector because they allow the circuit to be inserted and removed multiple times with very little mechanical wear on the copper traces.

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All About Flex: The Anatomy of a Flex Circuit Cutline

08-22-2017

Numerous methods are used to create the cutline of a flexible circuit. With the various tooling options, the methods, process steps, tooling and technology are different. These differences affect the actual physics of cutting, and create slight variations on the circuit material.

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All About Flex: ITAR Registration

08-15-2017

Vendors building product for the defense industry often stipulate a supplier needs to be ITAR registered. ITAR stands for International Traffic in Arms Regulations and is a program run by the U.S. government to control the export of defense-related technology to foreign countries.

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Successful Flex Circuit Assembly

08-02-2017

Many contract manufacturers are reluctant to mix rigid and flexible circuits on the same assembly line as the handling and fixturing requirements can be quite different. Characteristics allowing a flexible circuit to be flexible can often present learning curve challenges when component or mechanical assembly is required. This article details some of the common issues experienced when assembling flexible circuits, and strategies to ensure reliable assembly.

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All About Flex: Button Plating on a Flexible Circuit

07-20-2017

Button plating describes a fabrication process widely used in the flex circuit industry to selectively electroplate copper to the vias and onto the pads capturing the vias. The rest of the copper traces do not have plating. Another industry term used to describe this feature is pads only plating. Producing a circuit with this processing methodology requires two photolithography steps.

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2016

All About Flex: Customer Acquisition

12-22-2016

The “Customer Acquisition” process can be thought of as consisting of three major segments: collection, selection and execution. While these sub-divisions should be considered as intimately interrelated, examining them as separate disciplines can be enlightening.

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All About Flex: Disruption in the Supply Chain

12-08-2016

Manufacturers need a highly dependable supply chain to successfully support their products. This is especially true of custom designed and built components, as many times, only one supplier is available for a component since tooling and development costs discourage dual sourcing.

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All About Flex: Packaging Flexible Circuits and Assemblies

12-01-2016

Many facets are involved in delivering a flexible circuit. During the quote and design phase, requirements are reviewed. So assuming the relevant product documentation was gathered, the salesperson turned around the quote, and the customer placed an order and parts were built, it’s all over, right? Not quite. One critical aspect that does not get much discussion is packaging and shipping.

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All About Flex: Non-Copper Flexible Circuit Applications

11-22-2016

While pure copper is the most common choice for flexible circuit fabrication, there are times a different metal is more suitable for an application. Copper is well known for its excellent electrical and thermal conductivity, but there are applications where the best thermal or electrical conductivity can be a disadvantage.

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All About Flex: Flex Circuit Specifications for Commercial and Military Applications

10-27-2016

Applications across the various markets for printed circuit boards can have significantly different specifications and performance requirements. Circuits for toys and games logically have lower performance requirements than those used in medical devices. IPC-6013 is an industry-driven specification that defines the performance requirements and acceptance features for flexible printed circuit boards.

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All About Flex: Five Characteristics of a Reliable Flexible Circuit Supplier

10-27-2016

Due diligence when selecting a source for a custom electronic product can be a critical sourcing procedure. Chains are only as good as the weakest link, and the electronic components assembled to create a marketable product need to combine into a robust solution.

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All About Flex: Flexible Circuit Prototypes

10-13-2016

Most electronic projects begin with at least one build of prototype parts before moving into volume manufacturing. But the definition of a flex circuit prototype can vary considerably from one project to another. In many cases, a prototype build is only a few parts used to verify form, fit and function, with engineering trying to determine if something actually works.

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Flex Circuit Specifications for Commercial and Military Applications

09-30-2016

Applications across the various markets for printed circuit boards can have significantly different specifications and performance requirements. Circuits for toys and games logically have lower performance requirements than those used in medical devices. IPC 6013 is an industry-driven specification that defines the performance requirements and acceptance features for flexible printed circuit boards.

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All About Flex: Lead-Free Soldering Flexible Circuits

09-23-2016

Ever since the European community adopted the RoHS directive in 2006, the U.S. electronics industry has been steadily increasing its use of lead-free solder. Medical was the first U.S. industry to go totally lead-free. Today, a significant percentage of electronics soldering is done with lead-free solder.

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All About Flex: FAQs on RoHS for Flex Circuits

09-02-2016

In 2003, the European Union (EU) adopted a standard called the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS), which restricts the use of certain materials in electronic products and electronic equipment. The intent is to reduce the environmental impact of known hazardous materials and has driven changes in manufacturing processes and materials used to manufacture a wide array of electronic products.

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2015

All About Flex: Embracing the Mess

12-03-2015

Marketing in the world of printed circuits is an important discipline, but I have learned it is better to be prepared with a nimble reaction than to expect the marketing department to consistently be successful in predicting the future. The path to the goal is often achieved much more quickly by making an early decision followed by a course correction rather than waiting for all the information.

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All About Flex: Flexible PCB: What’s in a Name?

11-12-2015

Flexible PCB is a common term that is synonymous with flexible circuits. While the term “PCB” is generally used to describe rigid printed circuitry, “flexible PCB” is a little contradictory because “boards” aren’t really flexible. Some companies, like All Flex, design and manufactures flexible PCBs, but not rigid PCBs. There are many similarities between the two, but also significant differences.

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Plated Through-holes in Flexible Circuits

10-29-2015

There is probably no more important feature than the plated through-hole (also called via or via hole) with regard to the reliability and integrity of a flexible circuit. The through-hole provides electrical connection between insulated layers and enables electrical functionality on double-sided and multilayer flexible circuits.

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Testing Flexible Circuits, Part 3: The Completed Flex Circuit

10-15-2015

Most flex houses perform a variety of tests on completed flexible circuits. The type, frequency, and complexity of these tests vary with customer and application. Test requirements are generally defined by the customer, but input is often solicited from the supplier during the quote process.

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Testing Flexible Circuits, Part I: Requirements and Procedures

09-17-2015

In this first of a three part series regarding tests for flexible circuits, I will examine overall requirements and procedures; the second installment will focus on raw materials, and the third and final part will focus on testing for bare flexible circuit and circuit assemblies.

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Catching Up to Yesterday

09-02-2015

Recently, KPMG, an international consultancy that operates as a network of member firms offering audit, tax and advisory services, came out with their 6th annual survey of manufacturing executives focusing on global manufacturing trends.

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The Butterfly Effect

08-20-2015

If a random initial disturbance from the wings of a butterfly can have a dramatic effect, just think what can be accomplished with intentional acts aimed at making sure our customers are receiving proactive attention.

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Is Wearable Technology Just a Fad?

08-13-2015

Wearable technology is in its infancy. The industry needs to mature and go back to basic marketing—finding a need and filling it. Flexible circuits have been around since the mid-1960s and have been successfully filling needs. Flexible circuits are ideal for wearable technology because they are thin and lightweight. As the marketing matures, the applications will come and flexible circuits will be there to fill the technical needs.

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Unique Single-Sided Flexible Circuits

08-06-2015

The number of iterations, sequences and combinations possible when manufacturing a flexible circuit can create unique product features to reduce hand assembly of wires, create switch contacts, or eliminate connectors. With minor alterations in basic processing steps, a flex circuit applications engineer can often imagine and configure a dramatically different flexible circuit.

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Agricultural Drones and Flexible Circuits

07-28-2015

According to MIT Technology Review, one of theTop 10 breakthrough technologies last year was the agricultural drone. I focused on drones in one of my recent columns, Flexible Circuits and UAV Applications, which briefly mentioned agriculture as one of the uses for drones.

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