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SCB and SMI: Two stretchable circuit technologies, based on standard printed circuit board processes

: Vanfleteren, Jan; Loeher, Thomas; Gonzalez, Mario; Bossuyt, Frederick; Vervust, Thomas; Wolf, Ingrid de; Jablonski, Michal


Circuit World 38 (2012), Nr.4, S.232-242
ISSN: 0305-6120
European Commission EC
FP7-ICT; 248048; PLACE-IT
European Commission EC
FP7-ICT; 258724; PASTA
Fraunhofer IZM ()

Purpose - In the past 15 years stretchable electronic circuits have emerged as a new technology in the domain of assembly, interconnections and sensor circuits and assembly technologies. In the meantime a wide variety of processes with the use of many different materials have been explored in this new field. The purpose of the current contribution is for the authors to present an approach for stretchable circuits which is inspired by conventional rigid and flexible printed circuit board (PCB) technology. Two variants of this technology are presented: stretchable circuit board (SCB) and stretchable mould interconnect (SMI). Design/methodology/approach - Similarly as in PCB 17 or 35 Am thick sheets of electrodeposited or rolled-annealed Cu are structured to form the conductive tracks, and off-the-shelf, standard packaged, rigid components are assembled on the Cu contact pads using lead-free solder materials and reflow processes. Stretchability is obtained by shaping the Cu tracks not as straight lines, like in normal PCB design, but as horseshoe shaped meanders. Instead of rigid or flexible board materials, elastic materials, predominantly PDMS (polydimethylsiloxane), are used to embed the conductors and the components, thus serving as circuit carrier. The authors include some mechanical modeling and design considerations, aimed at the optimization of the build-up and combination of elastic, flexible and rigid materials towards minimal stress and maximum mechanical reliability in the structures. Furthermore, details on the two production processes are given, reliability findings are summarised, and a number of functional demonstrators, realized with the technologies, are described. Findings - Key conclusions of the work are that: supporting the metal meanders with a flexible carrier prior to embedding in an elastic substrate substantially increases the reliability under mechanical stress (cyclic uniaxial stretching) of the stretchable interconnect and the transition areas between rigid components and stretchable interconnects are the zones which are most sensitive to failure under mechanical stress. Careful design and technology implementation is necessary, providing a gradual transition from rigid to flexible to stretchable parts of the circuit. Originality/value - Technologies for stretchable circuits, with the same level of similarity to standard PCB manufacturing and assembly, and thus with the same high potential for transfer to an industrial environment and for mass production, have not been shown before.