Tooling - NRE image of flex circuitNon-recurring engineering (NRE) refers to the one-time cost to research, develop, design and test a new product.

Manufacturing flex circuits, rigid flex and flex assemblies involves the development of different types of items that will require a one-time charge.

On your initial quotation from PFC, you will see NRE charges.

PFC offers its customers:

  • soft/basic tooling for low volume and prototype runs, and
  • hard tooling for larger production runs that require longer tool life or precision tolerances

The cost of the tooling is dependent on the type and the design of the tooling so careful assessment is very important to prevent quality issues and to minimize the costs.

Below are descriptions of potential charges you may see on your quotation. Not all apply to every circuit.

NRE for Flex Circuit or Rigid FlexNRE Tooling for a flexible circuit

Phototool: A phototool is developed from gerber files and is the “film” that puts the image on the copper to create the circuit.

Artwork: There may be a need to make changes to the gerber files in order to process the circuit. If this is done by PFC’s CAD/CAM team, there may be a small charge.

Routing Program: The routing program is software that is developed to route the completed parts out of a panel. During prototypes PFC may route the parts out of the panel, but once the part is in production, PFC will use an outline die

Outline die: The highest cost tooling item is, in most cases, the outline die, which cuts the individual circuits from the fabricated panel of circuits. Routing is used in lower volume applications. There are different types of outline dies depending on the tolerances required and the volumes that the tool must endure. The outline die choice is also dependent on the assembly of the circuit. Is the circuit assembled in full panel form, partial panel form or individual circuits? PFC will recommend the appropriate tool for your application.

Stiffener tooling: Another ”outline tool” that may need to be developed would be for any stiffener that may need to be added to the circuit.

Drilling Program: When a circuit requires vias or through-hole components, a drilling program is developed for PFC’s automated drilling machines.

Continuity Test: At PFC we test all flex circuits during the manufacturing process (AOI, cross sections, coupon testing) and after the circuit is complete with an additional 100% complete electrical test. For low volume circuits we will use a flying probe test fixture. For higher volume circuits we will create a custom continuity test program. If PFC does the assembly of the circuits, we will provide a full functional test of the assembly.

Fixtures: Depending on the complexity of the circuit, there may be cases where PFC has to develop jigs and fixtures to manufacture or test the circuits.

NRE for Flex AssemblyNRE Tooling

Stencil: If PFC is providing surface mount components (smt) placed on a circuit, we will need to develop a stencil for applying the solder paste on the circuit.

Assembly Fixtures: In some instances, PFC may be required to create a fixture to complete an assembly process.

Functional tester: If the customer requests, PFC can provide a full functional test unit for an assembled circuit.

Examples of Flex Circuit NRE

Soft / Basic

  • Artwork
  • Drill and routing programs
  • Steel rule die for the outline
    + or – 0.010”, life 10k punches, min radii 0.030”
  • Flying probe test program

Hard or High Precision Tooling

  • High definition artwork
  • Chemically milled dies
    + or – 0.003”, life 40k punches, min radii 0.020”
  • Male / female hard dies
    + or – 0.002”, life 100K, min radii 0.010”, High cost
  • Electrical test fixtures
  • Forming fixtures
  • Assembly fixtures
  • Functional test fixtures