Rigid-flex circuits are a hybrid construction flex circuit consisting of rigid and flexible substrates which are laminated together into a single structure. Rigid-flex circuits should not be confused with rigidized flex constructions are simply flex circuits to which a stiffener is attached to support the weight of the electronic components locally. A rigidized or stiffened flex circuit can have one or more conductor layers. Thus while the two terms may sound similar, they represent products that are quite different.
The layers of a rigid flex are also normally electrically interconnected by means of plated through holes. Over the years, rigid-flex circuits have enjoyed tremendous popularity among military product designer, however the technology has found increased use in commercial products.
While often considered a specialty product for low volume applications because of the challenges, an impressive effort to use the technology was made by Compaq computer in the production of boards for a laptop computer in the 1990s. While the computer’s main rigid-flex PCBA did not flex during use, subsequent designs by Compaq utilized rigid-flex circuits for the hinged display cable, passing 10s of 1000s of flexures during testing.
By 2013, the use of rigid-flex circuits in consumer laptop computers is now common. Rigid-flex boards are typically multilayer structures; however, two metal layer constructions are sometimes used.