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When considering the recent past, it can be easy to lose track of all of the ways technology has impacted day-to-day life. Twenty years ago, it would have been absurd to ask the recipient of a phone call, “Where are you?” because that person would undoubtedly be positioned near a stationary device.

Computer scientists have found that the average daily Internet traffic of 20 households today equals the amount of data sent and received worldwide on a daily basis in 1995. Go back an additional ten years to find PCs whose selling points included up to “16 kilobytes of RAM!” – which is insufficient to even display just the text in this article.

advanced flex connectors fig1All of these advances would not have been possible within this timeframe without the development of several components, especially without the rapid innovation within the connector industry. Connector suppliers have to keep pace and develop new products (as well as adapt existing ones) that increase flexibility and speed in the both the manufacturing process and the end-user device itself.

Connectors have aided the acceleration in speed-to-market for several technologies. There have been advances in flex connector technology, enabling additional features that make engineering more efficient. Of course, reduction in size continues to be a driver of component technology, especially in consumer devices, as well as in security and flexibility.

Until now, engineers required a great deal of precision when placing the connector onto the PCB in relation to the flex substrate itself. Any vertical or horizontal movement on the flex cable could cause the connector to become disconnected, shutting off vital functions. With the onset of secure locking technology – initially developed for automotive applications – this level of precision is no longer required during manufacturing.

The locking mechanism actively aids the process of securing the cable into the connector and reduces the emphasis on where it is placed on the board. This means the overall design process is simplified, as the engineer can place the connector onto the PCB where desired, not in a predetermined place, which is often inconvenient. This process ensures that the connector can be positioned where it is easiest to insert the cable, resulting in time savings in the production process as well.

advanced flex connectors image3To further increase the speed of design, engineers have created connectors with the same pitch to accept a similar style of FFC (flat flex cable) or FPC (flexible printed circuit), so that the designer can easily determine which cable needs to be used with what connector. At 0.5-mm pitch, the connectors use an “ear” shape that fits into three different types of connector covering horizontal and vertical connections. Once the pitch is reduced to 0.3 mm, the cable type used is a “notched” version.

For added protection, connections can also be made via the rear of the connector – or a back-lock style. This is normally used with a notched type of cable for extra security. Back lock devices completely negate any pulling on the cable, since the closing mechanism is on the side opposite to the cable entry. Thus, any pressure on the cable has no effect on the opening or closing of the device itself. These are mostly used at extremely fine pitches of 0.2 mm or 0.3 mm.

Other important industry developments include dual contact, staggered contacts and ultra-fine pitch solutions, but it is the secondary security features of flex connectors that really enable hardware designers to shorten the design cycle and simplify and secure placement of components. 
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