Since their commercialization, flexible printed circuits (FPC) have revolutionized a wide variety of electronic devices including the obvious computing devices such as laptops, smartphones, or cameras and the not so obvious airplane avionic systems, industrial robots, or even the wiring harnesses used on the Mars lander Sojourner. The fundamental function provided by FPCs was enabling electronic connections to be dynamically created in 3D space where the end points need not be fixed. The spatial relationship between those end points could change over time while still preserving the electrical connection without requiring bulky coiled wires or ugly service loops.
Remember how cool the Motorola StarTAC phone seemed when it launched in 1996 or even the Motorola RAZR in 2004? (If you’re too young to understand the reference, you owe it to yourself to check out the links.) FPC not only enabled the pivoting earpiece making possible the compact, folded form factor, their thin film replaced bulky wire harnesses to reduce the housing width for a sleek design.
Beyond the flexible form factor and the simple replacement of traditional electrical wires or complex wiring harnesses, FPCs offer simpler and more cost-effective interconnection methods, easier and faster production methods, improved environmental stability, and greater circuit densities for more complex electronic control systems. Have a look at the following video from the folks at Altium for more on the benefits and applications of printed electronics:
But wait – don’t stop there! Now that your engineering mind is spinning with new ideas about how thin and flexible circuits could enable new innovations in your own product lines, imagine what you could do if they were invisible – or at least transparent. If FPC were transparent enough, you wouldn’t have to run them inside an enclosure. You could hide them in plain sight on the outside of the device enabling even thinner or sleeker enclosures. Smart surfaces or in-mold electronics could have electronic pathways on – or just below the surface while not interfering with the aesthetic appearance of the overall device. For lighting in automotive or architectural applications, LEDs could seemingly “float” amid surface, turning on or off via transparent capacitive touch circuits.
When electronics are both flexible and transparent, engineers and product designers have greater design freedom to put circuits or user interface interactivity where they desire, not just where it can be feasibly hidden. The products they develop can push the envelope in user experience, design simplicity, economy of material and manufacturing efficiency, giving their companies a strategic competitive advantage. This changes everything, clearly.
How could flexible transparent circuits enable innovations in your company’s product line? Tell us about your quest for clearly innovative products. Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.
Unsure about what material is right for your unique product? Join us on November 7th for the State of ITO Alternatives webinar: