About Flex PCB Material
Flex circuits are created from a stackup of flexible substrate material and copper, laminated together with adhesive, heat and pressure.
The most common substrate is polyimide, a strong, yet flexible thermosetting polymer (thermoset). Examples of polyimides often used in the manufacture of flexible circuits include: Apical, Kapton, UPILEX, VTEC PI, Norton TH and Kaptrex. Note that these are registered trade names, owned by their respective trademark holders.
The copper layer is typically rolled and annealed (RA) copper, or sometimes wrought copper. These forms of copper are produced as a foil and offer excellent flexibility. They have an elongated grain, it is important to orient this correctly in a dynamic flex circuit to achieve the maximum flexing lifespan. This is achieved by orienting the dynamic flex circuit along the roll (so the circuit bends in the same way the foil was coiled on the roll). The flex manufacturer normally deals with this during the preparation of fabrication panels, it only becomes an issue if the designer performs their own circuit panelization (referred to as nesting in flex circuit design). The copper foil is typically coated with a photo-sensitive layer, which is then exposed and etched to give the desired pattern of conductors and termination pads.
The adhesive is typically acrylic, and as the softest material in the structure, introduces the greatest number of manufacturing challenges. These include: squeeze-out, where the adhesive is squeezed out into openings cut into the cover layers to access copper layers; Z-axis expansion defects due to the higher CTE (coefficient of thermal expansion) of acrylic adhesive; and moisture out gassing due to the higher rate of moisture absorbance, which can result in resin recession, blow outs and delamination at plated through hole sites. Alternative adhesives and adhesive-less processes are available, these may be more appropriate in less cost-sensitive applications.
About Flex PCB Layer Stackup
There are a number of standard stackups available for flex circuits, referred to as Types. These are summarized below.