With the increasing demand for high-performance I/Os and the miniaturization of devices and packaging, flex technology just makes sense. These sophisticated circuit assemblies represent an alternative to the traditional wire harness, allowing for better current carrying capacity and heat dissipation due to their flat design. Thanks to their pliability, a flex circuit can also be molded around tight areas and rigid circuit boards while reducing the need for bulky wires, thus enabling product teams to work more easily around spatial constraints.
They’re easy to assemble, provide long duty cycles, and perform well in high vibration applications. What’s not to love? However, despite the fact that a single flex circuit can eliminate several hardboards, cables, and connectors, they still must connect to something. This is where these connectors come into play.
Choosing the Right Flex Circuit Connector
When planning circuit designs, product teams often find themselves up against the challenge of balancing smaller size and weight with portability, flexibility, and ruggedness. Flexible printed circuit connectors feature a smaller centerline or pitch spacing, low profile, and lightweight design to accommodate these challenges. Furthermore, numerous types of connectors exist to align with the various pitches, connection angles, number of contact points, and other design details of a circuit, including customized connectors that meet the exact needs of a specific application.
Popular Flex Circuit Connector Styles
Zero Insertion Force (ZIF): As the name suggests, these connectors require minimal force, allowing a circuit to be mated and unmated numerous times without excessive mechanical wear. ZIF connectors typically involve a latch mechanism that clamps down onto exposed traces, resulting in a sustainable, reliable connection. However, when designing circuit technologies with ZIF connectors, it’s important to consider the overall thickness of the mating area. In many cases, the flex circuit is thinner and will require a polyamide stiffener in the contact area to increase thickness.
Non-ZIF Connectors: Conversely, a non-ZIF connector uses friction to secure a bond, resulting in a far lower mating cycle count, but greater stiffness, resulting in a stronger mechanical connection.
Card Edge Connectors: This type of connector is embedded into the edge of a PCB and is widely used in the data and communications industry due to its high signal integrity. These connectors feature a smooth mating surface area, which increases the lifespan of the contacts by reducing wear and tear.
SMT Connector: SMT (aka, surface mount technology) connectors are mounted directly onto the surface of a PCB. These connectors are smaller than through-hole designs, creating more real estate for components per unit area and offering a higher density connection.
Crimp Connectors: This type of circuit connector pierces through the dielectric and conductor, forming a connection through compression. On the plus side, crimped contacts create a strong mechanical and electrical connection. They’re also less expensive than other connector types. However, crimp connectors are not as customizable as other options, limiting their versatility in many designs.
iCONN Systems, Inc., offers a wide range of off-the-shelf and customized high-reliability rigid flex circuit connectors, including circular, rectangular, straight, and right-angle designs. If you still aren’t quite sure which connector is best for your product, Check out our Buyer’s Guide or contact one of our knowledgeable engineers for more information and guidance.