Manufacturers Get Selective When Soldering Rigid-Flex PCBs
As the miniaturization trend in electronics continues, rigid-flex PCBs grow in popularity. This is because they require up to 60 percent less space than standard PCBs.
Rigid-flex PCBs feature rigid and flexible circuit substrates that are laminated together, but allow for components to be mounted on both sides. Equally important, their integrated circuits electrically connect the system together, eliminating the need for connectors or connecting cables between the sections.
Aerospace companies have used rigid-flex PCBs in spacecraft since the 1960s to replace wiring harnesses. These PCBs were also used in the first commercially available mobile computer, and today can be found in laptop computers, wearable technologies, medical devices, test equipment and satellites.
Teledyne Printed Circuit Technology (TPCT) designed and manufactured rigid-flex PCBs from the mid-1960s until 2016, when the company was sold to Firan Technology Group (FTG) Circuits Inc. PCBs made by TPCT were used extensively in the defense, aerospace, and oil and gas industries for many decades.
In 2014, TPCT looked for a way to improve the manufacturing process of its multi-layer, rigid-flex PCB assemblies at the company’s Hudson, NH, facility. After testing many selective soldering machines, TPCT chose the Ecoselect 1 machine from Kurtz Ersa North America.
The semiautomatic machine requires less than 3 square meters of space and fits optimally into cell production environments. It features a high-precision servo gantry system, and top and bottom infrared heaters that preheat boards to ensure repeatable, high-quality soldering.
The machine’s universal pallet mount allows end-users to process boards up to 424 by 508 millimeters (standard setup) or 508 millimeters square (with optional accessory). Manufacturers can equip the machine with mini-wave, mini-dip wave or area-soldering nozzles, depending on the application. A maintenance-free electromagnetic pump continuously monitors and documents process parameters such as solder level, wave height and temperature.
Dual material pots increase soldering throughput and allow two different alloys to be used in the process. This feature also eliminates extensive downtime of the system due to pot changeover.
Kurtz Ersa recently expanded its Ecoselect line with the model 4, a compact unit for inline or small-to-medium-batch applications. Preheating is done with a convection heater, which is well suited for complex boards. The machine’s fluxer offers programmable spray control for precise and economical flux application in single spots or tracks. A second spray head is optional.
The machine’s two solder pots can be moved as needed in the Y or Z directions, and they let the operator install different-diameter nozzles for difficult-to-reach joints. User-friendly Ersasoft 5 software enables intuitive machine operation.
Individual user interfaces provide the operator with all the key process information and data at a glance. Also standard is PiP (picture in picture) technology, combined with a process monitoring camera.
FTG Circuits, a division of FTG Corp., currently makes rigid-flex PCBs at facilities in Toronto, Canada, and Chatsworth, CA. Brad Bourne, president and CEO of FTG Corp., says that FTG Circuits’ purchase of TPCT has significantly increased FTG’s presence in the defense, aerospace and high-technology markets over the last few years.
For more information on selective soldering machines, call 920-893-1779 or visit www.kurtzersa.com.