Advantages of Rigid-Flex PCBs in Medical Devices

Advantages of Rigid-Flex PCBs in Medical Devices

Printed Circuit Board (PCB) with rigid-flex construction offer compact electronic packaging, making miniaturization increasingly crucial in the medical device industry. PCBs are indispensable components of modern electronic devices, composed of conductive materials that facilitate connections between electronic components. Particularly, rigid-flex PCBs boast additional advantages, rendering them an ideal choice for numerous medical applications.

As a leading manufacturer of rigid-flex PCBs, we possess the experience and expertise required to develop the right solutions for clients in the medical device industry. Furthermore, the majority of our printed circuit boards are manufactured to IPC 6013 Class 3 standards, ensuring utmost reliability—critical for never-fail packaging essential to medical equipment performance.

 

Rigid-Flex PCBs offer several advantages in medical devices:

 

Medical devices typically utilize one of three types of PCBs, each with unique benefits. These three PCB types include:

  1. Rigid: Rigid PCBs provide the most cost-effective solution for electronic packaging. However, their rigidity may not be suitable for applications requiring greater flexibility or when designers aim to fit electronic products into very small, thin, or narrow mechanical forms. While rigid PCBs are inexpensive, they sometimes fail to meet the requirements of these types of applications.
  2. Flex: Flex PCBs help save space in applications with tight space requirements. They can also survive hundreds of thousands of flex cycles without failure. Their optimal flexibility makes them suitable for various types of wearable electronic devices and medical equipment. Additionally, they offer excellent connectivity and provide multiple packaging options for other types of electronic products.
  3. Rigid-Flex: Rigid-flex PCBs consist of both flexible and rigid components. While rigid components aid in connecting and installing electronic components with a density similar to rigid PCBs, flexible components can bend or fold, making the circuit board small enough to fit in tight spaces. The flexible nature of rigid-flex PCBs also eliminates the need for any flexible cables and their associated connectors to provide electrical interconnects between rigid boards.

Another key advantage of rigid-flex PCBs is their thickness. These circuit boards typically feature thin dielectrics ranging from 0.001 to 0.002 inches. This slim profile makes rigid-flex boards an excellent choice for ultra-lightweight and ultra-thin packaging applications. Thin copper layers, HDI, and non-adhesive laminates further facilitate these compact, lightweight, and thin solutions. Excellent examples of hard-flex PCBs used in these applications include pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, drug delivery systems, and micro health diagnostic and monitoring systems.

rigid-flex construction

Applications of Rigid-Flex PCBs:

 

  1. Bionic Skin for Prosthetics: Engineers at Stanford University have created a synthetic skin capable of detecting pressure and other sensations. Researchers envision this “plastic skin” to eventually be used in prosthetics, enabling users to differentiate between different textures, levels of pressure, and temperature. Its surface area employs a hybrid system, with an upper layer capable of sensing and a lower layer equipped with circuits that transmit electrical signals and convert them into stimuli mimicking biological responses. While still in the experimental stage, researchers hope to validate this concept and eventually realize it as a functional artificial skin for prosthetics and for individuals requiring skin grafts due to severe burns or injuries.
  2. Rigid-Flex Circuits in Implantable Medical Devices: Advanced medical devices like cochlear implants or retinal implants need to incorporate powerful processing capabilities within flexible shapes. Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have found a new method to place robust silicon circuits onto flexible materials, which are then encapsulated in durable polymers with biocompatibility suitable for the physiological environment of prosthetics. Implantable devices such as cochlear implants, retinal implants, and pacemakers require high reliability and biocompatibility. For such devices, hybrid circuits leverage their compactness and lightweight advantages while maintaining the durability and longevity of rigid circuit board structures, along with robust computational capabilities.
  3. Surgical Instruments and Patient Monitoring Devices with Rigid-Flex Circuits: Apart from using rigid-flex circuits in surgical instruments like cautery pens or electronic saws, rigid-flex technology is also employed in wearable technologies for patient monitoring. These products include devices monitoring blood pressure, heart rate, pulse, and other vital signs. Rigid-flex circuits can also provide processing solutions in other external medical devices such as insulin pumps, portable defibrillators, and CPAP machines for sleep apnea patients. Combining rigid and flexible elements in one structure allows for more compact circuits in devices while still maintaining their durability. Additionally, the structure of rigid-flex technology enables the separation of digital and analog circuits.

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