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A majority of the printed wiring board laminates bear the popular names of their constituent materials, such as Epoxy, Polyimide, PTFE, and the like, which are more often the generalization of the chemical names of the principal resin systems. Recently, products have been evolving suitable for high-performance applications. These new materials and their various combinations make the past generalizations more difficult to sustain. For instance, Epoxy and FR-4 are broad categories that accommodate characteristics such as Low Flow, Lead-Free, Multifunctional, CAF resistant, Green, and High-Speed Digital epoxy products. The slash sheets of the industry’s current laminate and prepreg specifications, IPC-4101, also reflects this proliferation.

Conventional adhesive based laminates are still popular in the flexible circuit industry, and they have demonstrated their performance in industries demanding high-reliability such as medical, military, automotive, and aerospace. Of late, adhesiveless laminates are finding their way into several applications as these laminates have superior properties. This is because the adhesive layer is often the weakest link in the set of materials, which fails in harsh environments such as in the presence of high temperatures and harsh chemicals.

Adhesive Based Laminates for Rigid-Flex Circuits

These usually come in commercial grade and military or defense-aerospace grade. The commercial grade is commonly known as FR-1, which is a sandwich of copper, adhesive, polyimide, adhesive, and copper, making it the least expensive and easily processed material with UL approval. However, the significant amount of FR adhesive lowers its reliability.

The Low-Flow type of adhesive, LF 1.5, used for the military grade, gives the laminate a better bond strength compared to that of the FR types. However, the significant amount of LF acrylic still does not improve the reliability, and this material is considered old school in military design.

Adhesiveless Laminates for Rigid-Flex Circuits

For improving the reliability, manufacturers use the AP 2.0 type of laminate, which has copper chemically or electrochemically deposited and bonded on both sides of a Polyimide base, thereby removing any requirement of adhesive. AP 2.0 types of laminates offer easy processing, repeatable manufacturability, and good stability.

For high-speed applications where a good control over impedance is important, manufacturers prefer the TK 4.0 laminates. These are formed as a sandwich of Teflon on both sides of a Polyimide base, with copper chemically or electrochemically deposited and bonded onto the outer side of the Teflon layers. The presence of Teflon requires special equipment for processing TK 4.0, and requires significant amounts of expertise. Working with TK 4.0 also presents significant dimensional stability challenges.

To achieve high reliability as well as high speeds, manufacturers prefer to use LCP 6.0 laminates as prepreg material. This laminate typically uses Liquid Crystalline Polymer (LCP) as the base, with copper deposited and bonded on both sides, either chemically or electrochemically. However, the material is difficult to process, requiring special tools and significant amounts of specialized knowledge.

Newer Laminates 

The rigid-flex circuit industry uses several other newer types of laminates as well. One of them is the adhesiveless polyimide blend JT, which behaves more like Low-Flow, but can tolerate higher operating temperatures.

Another is an adhesiveless laminate specifically for high temperatures. This is a modified polyimide blend without acrylic and behaves more like AP. Meant for high reliability applications, this material has the maximum operating temperature.

 

Conclusion

For more information on the various laminates used in rigid flex printed circuits boards, or to find out if a certain type of laminate is better suited to your product capabilities and needs, please don’t hesitate to contact the team at sale@pcbglobal.com

Introduction

Metal Clad Printed Circuit Boards or MCPCBs offer high thermal conductivity to remove heat from components on the PCB that are likely to run at high temperatures. The most common type of MCPCB has an aluminum base, although copper is used instead if superior heat conduction is necessary. Aluminum is more popular as it is less expensive than copper is. Irrespective of the metal base used for the PCB, the stackup design requires careful consideration for the MCPCB to succeed in its ultimate aim of heat removal.

The complication with the stackup arises from various options the designer has of placing the metal base within the stack. Compare this with the regular multilayer board, where the stackup consists of alternate layers of copper foil and prepreg/dielectric, and is a balanced structure. In contrast, an MCPCB may be of a single-layer type, a two-layer one SMD-layer type, or a double-layer type.

Single-Layer MCPCB

This is the most common type of MCPCB, and the LED industry uses them widely. The metal or aluminum base has a copper foil attached on one of its sides, with a layer of prepreg or dielectric separating the two. During manufacturing, the copper foil is etched to represent the circuit required to connect the SMD components such as resistors and LEDs. The heat generated by the SMD components when operating passes through the prepreg to the aluminum base. Therefore, the prepreg has to be electrically neutral but thermally conductive.

Two-Layer, One SMD Layer MCPCB

If the electrical circuit involved is more complicated and the single-layer MCPCB is incapable of handling the density, a two-layer board is necessary. Eventually, this translates to two copper foils forming the two layers, bonded together by a prepreg or substrate between them. The design now proceeds in the same way as that for a regular two-layer PCB, including vias connecting the two layers, but with a single major difference.

One of the two copper foils will finally be blind-sided by the aluminum base, electrically insulated from it with a thin layer of prepreg. As this copper layer will have to be entirely attached on to the aluminum base, it cannot have any components soldered on to it. The designer has to be careful not to position any SMD components on this copper layer, but use this copper layer only for routing purposes. Therefore, the finished board will have SMD only on one of its sides just as the single-layer board does, but unlike for the single-layer board, the tracks will appear on two layers, increasing the density of the entire board.

Double-Layer MCPCB

It is also possible to manufacture an MCPCB in a balanced manner, in which the aluminum base has copper foils on both its sides, rather than on only one side, separated from it by prepreg. Vias connecting the top copper layer to the bottom will necessarily pass through the aluminum base, and the designer has to be careful to avoid a short. The manufacturer has to pre-drill the aluminum base with a hole diameter larger than for the via, and seal it with an insulating material before the copper foils are bonded on. Once the copper foils are in place, the entire structure is through-drilled for creating the vias.

Conclusion

The use of aluminum in PCB’s has many benefits in terms of its use and application. For more information on the stack-up abilities of aluminum PCB’s, please contact our team at sales@pcbglobal.com

Introduction

The high frequency material the PCB fabrication process is using can affect the circuit performance for the end user. That means there must be interaction between the fabricator and the designer, while the end user should understand the concerns of the PCB fabricator for these materials. This is important for achieving good manufacturing yields along with a highly reliable and quality finished product, as each type of high frequency material has its own unique fabrication concerns.

The most common high frequency materials are PTFE (Teflon), PTFE with ceramic fillers, and non-PTFE thermoset resin systems with ceramic loading. Less commonly used are LCP or Liquid Crystalline Polymer materials.

Characteristics of PTFE Materials

The PCB manufacturing industry has long been using PTFE materials for high frequency circuits. Apart from pure PTFE, some of the substrates may also consist of a small amount of micro-fiber glass impregnated into it. Others can be PTFE with woven glass reinforcements. Still others may possibly be PTFE with ceramic filling. However, compared to all other types of materials used for high frequency circuits, the nearly pure PTFE is the most challenging type of circuit material faced by PCB fabricators. The reasons for this are:

  • PTFE has a high CTE
  • PTFE does not allow other materials to adhere to it easily
  • PTFE is a soft substance, easily able to distort

However, from the perspective of electrical performance, PTFE substances are the best to use. PCB fabricators find the ceramic filled PTFE substrates the easiest to handle.

Working with PTFE Materials

When working with PTFE materials, PCB fabricators must be careful in not creating smears when drilling, not altering the substrate with scrubbing or other mechanical processes, fine tuning dimensional stability issues, and using best practices for minimizing handing damage to the soft substrate. PTFE substrates need a special through-hole preparation process to allow copper plating to adhere to the wall of the hole, and another special process for laminating PTFE materials with other bonding materials.

As there are no known methods or processes for de-smearing PTFE, it is very important to minimizing heating during the drilling process, since heating is responsible for causing smearing. The cleanest possible drilling for pure PTFE requires a new drill tool to ensure no smearing, but ceramic filled PTFE substrates can tolerate a re-sharpened tool.

Pure PTFE substrates need to undergo a wet-chemistry process prior to the copper plating process, to ensure good adherence. Typically, sodium naphthalene or a derivative can remove a fluorine atom to make the PTFE substrate accept the copper plating. Ceramic filled PTFE must undergo an additional process of baking to remove moisture the substrate has absorbed during the wet-chemistry phase. An alternative is to use a special plasma cycle using helium, which avoids the baking process.

Lamination on the PTFE surface requires a bonding medium, and most bonding materials that the PCB industry conventionally uses are applicable for PTFE as well. However, fabricators must be careful to not alter the exposed substrate surface after the copper etching process, as any scrubbing will polish the soft PTFE surface, and hinder further bonding.

 

Conclusion

The application of PTFE is unique due to the common use in high frequency application. If you are looking to improve the efficiency of your PCB with the use of Teflon, please contact the team at sales@pcbglobal.comfor more information and recommendation for your project and design. 

The printed circuit industry offers copper clad circuits in four different classes, with individual standards defined by IPC. These are rigid, flexible, high-speed, high frequency, and High Density Interconnect (HDI). Each of these families has more standards within them for defining the base material, acceptance, and design they use. However, users may utilize all four classes of boards in a single assembly for their application. This poses a problem of inter-connectivity, as the design rules vary from one type of board to another. This has led to improvements in flexible circuit technology to make them more suitable for high frequency and high-speed applications.

Difference between Flex and Rigid Materials

One significant difference with flex materials is their base material generally does not contain glass reinforcement as is usual with rigid boards. Both mechanical integrity and flexibility of flex circuits comes from the dielectric material, which comprises various grades of polyimide. Manufacturers usually have their trademark composition of polyimides, with emphasis on specific functional aspects. 

Another significant difference is the brittle solder mask is replaced in flexible circuits with coverlay, a thin coating of conformable, elastic layer, and is processed differently. Unlike rigid boards, manufacturers prepare flex dielectrics as large rolls of coated film and laminate them to the copper layer in a separate step. This makes the thickness of the cast films very consistent, and this has the major advantage of keeping a tight control over impedance, an important factor for high-speed applications.

Unlike electrodeposited (ED) copper commonly used in rigid circuits, flex circuits use rolled-annealed (RA) copper. The rolling process ensures the copper is smoother, ductile, and less likely to crack when bending. 

Flex Materials and High Frequencies

Applications meant for high frequencies and high speeds require consistent dielectric thickness, low dielectric constant, and low dielectric loss. However, as operating frequencies cross 1 GHz, the term dielectric constant loses its consistency. This is because the polymers used in flex circuits absorb energy from the RF and this is called the loss tangent of the material. As the operating frequency increases, materials with high loss cause greater changes to occur in the relative permittivity, which means, to work at high frequencies, materials used for flex circuits must be chosen carefully. Most popular materials for use at high frequencies are Advanced Kapton and Teflon, as they maximize signal integrity for high-speed flexible circuits.

Influence of Copper at High Frequencies

Flex circuits are usually very thin, which means the copper layer is thin as well, and this has an exponentially increasing impact on signal loss as compared to that from the dielectric. This is because of the phenomenon known as skin effect, wherein high frequency currents tend to concentrate around the periphery of the copper conductor rather than flow uniformly across its cross-section. This increases the resistance offered by the copper, and hence increases the loss. Therefore, manufacturers use special types of RA copper known as Meg4 and Meg6, as these present a lower loss at higher frequencies.

Conclusion

Flex circuits work very well at high speed and high frequency applications, provided suitable materials are used for the dielectric and copper traces. For more information of flex circuits or to speak to a PCB Global Team member to see if utilising flex in your PCB project is right for your design and application, please don’t hesitate to contact us at sales@pcbglobal.com

Introduction

Regular Metal Core Printed Circuit Boards (MCPCBs) use copper or aluminum as their metal base. The use of metal as base helps to conduct heat away from the components on the PCB, as copper and aluminum are good thermal conductors. However,such MCPCBs have to operate well below 260°C to prevent solder joints on the components from melting. For operating temperatures up to 650°C, the industry uses Thick Films withSteel Alloy as the base.

Applications of Steel Alloy Base Thick Films

Unlike MCPCBs that strive to keep components cool by conducting heat away from them, thick films with steel alloy as base are popular for providing heat in confined spaces. The steel alloy base offers superior structural properties along with a thin profile, which is suitable for a fast ramp up and down for high temperature applications.

Thick films with steel alloy base are common in applications requiring heating such as in medical and life sciences for dialysis, blood/fluid warming, temperature therapy, instrument warming, and sterilization. The aviation and transportation industry uses them for de-icing, freezer protection, battery and oil heating, and providing personal comfort. The food service industry uses thick films with steel alloy base for warming cabinets, grilling platters, heated dishware, and fryer systems. The printing industry uses them in laser print heads, 3-D printing, thermal printing, and in printer heads in commercial and industrial printing. The semiconductor industry uses thick films with steel alloy base for water heating, as wafer chuck heaters, and high temperature burn-in boards.

Advantages of Steel Alloy Base Thick Films

The major advantage of the steel alloy base is its ability to allow heating up to 650°C. Apart from this, heaters based on thick films with steel alloy base offer a low profile, are compact and lightweight, which results in fast and reliable operation. Their low mass allows fast temperature ramp up and cool down, along with power densities greater than 31 W/cm2or 200 W/in2.

With a low coefficient of thermal expansion due to the presence of the steel alloy base, thick films do not gas when operating with inorganic substances. The steel alloy base allows machining the film into complex forms and shapes.

Manufacturing Thick Films with Steel Alloy Base

Manufacturers screen-print the insulation dielectric material onto the steel alloy base, firing it at 850°C. This produces a robust substrate with high resistance to thermal shock. With normal features of porcelain-enameled steel, these substrates offer the advantages of higher processing and operating temperatures. The insulation offers an ideal area for screen-printing the thick film resistive element.

Manufacturers often incorporate temperature-sensing elements within the heating device using resistive thick film materials with positive temperature coefficient.

Manufacturers use different types of stainless steel for the substrate. For instance, EC regulations mandate the use of at least 12% Cr for the stainless steel for use in the food industry. The heating elements use both austenitic and ferritic steels, with 304 austenitic steel offering higher temperature coefficient of expansion in comparison to the TCE of 430 ferritic stainless steel types.

Conclusion

Utilising a steel alloy base has many advantages in due to its thermal profile and conductivity. To find out if your PCB design and application would benefit from the use of steel alloy as its base, feel free to contact our team at sales@pcbglobal.comto discuss.

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