Wearable Devices and Flex v. Rigid Circuits

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With the trending and rapidly expanding wearable devices market, technologies and processes in the EMS industries have seen changes and increased demand for different types of products. One of these products that has experienced changing demands is the printed circuit board.

Flexible electronics, commonly known as flex circuits, are electronic circuits that are mounted on flexible substrates made from plastics such as polyether ether ketone (PEEK), polyimide, and transparent conductive polyester film. The primary advantages of these circuits are that they can be conformed to a particular shape during manufacture or able to flex during use. Flex circuits are available in a variety of specific types, with single-sided flex circuits and rigid-flex circuits being some of the most common types.

Flex circuits are most often used in applications where the usefulness of a rigid circuit board is limited due to requirements for flexibility, production constraints, or space savings. For example, the switch matrix in a modern keyboard is almost always a flex circuit. These circuits typically connect electronic components such as capacitors, integrated circuits, and resistors with passive wiring structures.  One of the more common uses for flex circuits in recent years is the use of them in wearable devices.

Flex-Circuits History

Japanese electronics manufacturers are credited with much of the advancement in flex circuits through their widespread use of this technology in a variety of products. Flex circuits have consistently remained one of the fastest-growing segments in the electronic interconnection market throughout the last decade. The most recent developments in flex circuit technology include the integration of passive and active circuits in the same device.

Most commonly found in wearable devices, especially as SMS marketing has become so pervasive, is the single-sided flex circuit, which are composed of a single conductor layer on one side of a flexible dielectric film, such that component termination is only available on that side. The base film has holes in it so that component leads can pass through the film for interconnection with other components. Single-sided flex circuits typically have a protective coating over the circuits, although this is not a required feature.

These circuits are often found in transparent LED films, which are used to make automotive lights and curved TVs. Applications requiring many interconnections in a small package, such as medical devices and cell phones also benefit from single-sided flex circuits. Additional applications for this type of flex circuit include electronic devices sewn into clothing or worn on the body, nicknamed “wearables”.

Wearables History

The first wearable devices traced through history were eye glasses and the pocket/wrist watch, and with the immense changes in technology since their invention. Wearable devices had previously been looked at as something futuristic.   With the invention of the smartphone, technology has rapidly gained momentum and products are practically becoming obsolete at the moment of purchase.  Bluetooth headsets, introduced to the market in 2000, provide the ability to connect machine to machine (M2M), allowing hands-free operation. This was the lead into devices not being monitored and viewed by the person wearing the device, having products interact and communicate with one another.  An entire new market has been generated, and is expected to produce revenues nearing $8 billion dollars by 2018. Wearable devices range in form and function and are found in various industries such as healthcare and medical, fitness and sporting activities, and entertainment.

The top two industries that are currently experiencing a major increase in the adoption of wearable devices are the healthcare and medical industries. One reason for the increase in these areas is the strong focus on healthcare and associated costs for employers and users related to the recent involvement of the government in medical care. The second major factor involved in this increase is related to the ability to access data in real-time, which can be critical when discussing health and medical care.

 The Future of Wearables

 As we continue to integrate technology into all aspects of our lives, also commonly referred to as “the internet of things”, it is likely that we will continue to see an increase in consumer adoption of these types of devices. Along with increases in the types of uses and functionality, companies will likely begin placing more emphasis on the appearance of these devices to assist in easier adoption from consumers. As certain electronic devices become obsolete, wearables provides yet another market for EMS providers to support, keeping the industry strong.

Source: https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2014/09/19/667176/10099303/en/Global-Wearable-Technology-Market-to-Be-Worth-USD-5-8-billion-by-2018-Transparency-Market-Research.html

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