Designing Flexible Circuits for Aerospace Using Altium Designer
Designing electronic circuits can be challenging, especially when boards are complex, multifunctional or are part of critical systems, such as medical devices, automotive vehicles, or military and aerospace platforms. Aerospace circuits are unique in that service and maintenance is not possible and space systems typically are deployed for extended periods of time. Space is also a harsh environment and electronics must contend with temperature extremes and strong vibrations; therefore, aerospace systems may also utilize flexible and stretchable electronics. These boards can be best designed with advanced stackup and visual tools as standard with Altium Designer.
TOPICS IN THIS SOLUTION
Advanced unified PCB development software that simplifies the designing of flexible circuits for aerospace.
Developing electronic circuits that will be used in aerospace systems necessitates that designers incorporate a higher bar for quality than is typically required for commercial products. This includes ensuring that printed circuit boards (PCBs) and electronics are able to withstand extreme temperature swings and atmospheric entries and exits. Additionally, it is common for aerospace systems to have operational lifetimes of well over a decade. To ensure these demands are met, there are a number of regulatory standards to which aerospace PCBs, electronics and systems must adhere. Designing to these levels of quality and reliability are simplified with a PCB design tool that contains advanced PCB layout, layer stackup and 3D visualization as is included in Altium Designer 19.
Interplanetary Space Station
Man first ventured into space in 1961. On April 12, a Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, made a 108-minute flight that heralded a new era for humanity. Alan Shepard followed this initial flight up quickly bringing the United States, which would later lead man’s exploratory missions into space, into what has been called the space race. And virtually everyone witnessed the the Apollo 11 landing on the moon in 1969. Now, we even have a permanent presence in space with the Internationational Space Station (ISS).
Today, space (at least near space to the earth) is no longer an unknown frontier but an extension of the earth that we utilize daily. For example, the US Air Force maintains a constellation of satellites that provide us with weather data and enable precise navigation on the earth. This network, the Global Positioning System (GPS), can be accessed from virtually any mobile phone. There are thousands of other satellites orbiting the earth that deliver communications and entertainment services to customers all other the globe.
Although, the future is exciting with near term goals for space that include additional trips to the moon and missions to Mars, producing systems to meet the requirements of space deployment and travel are considerable. Most formidable is the harsh environment of space where temperatures can range from thousands of degrees to as low as -455 °F. Even temperatures near the earth can range from 248 °F to -148 °F.
Incorporating Space Environmental Considerations into Printed Circuit Board Design
Wide swings in temperature are only one of the environmental considerations for space systems. Additionally, there vibrational forces and radiation to consider. These factors must be incorporated into the design of space systems and the devices that comprise them. To do so means understanding the potential effects and incorporating solutions into the design steps for your boards, such that they will meet the mandatory regulatory requirements for quality according to AS9100D, and reliability as stipulated by IPC-6011.
- PCB design can be subdivided into a series of well-defined steps. Understanding these can aid in determining where in the process to incorporate methods and solutions for aerospace deployment.
- Following good guidelines or tips is essential for designing aerospace electronics.
- Just as important as knowing what to do is knowing what not to do when it comes to designing aerospace circuit boards.
Throughout most of the time since we first broke the bounds of earth space has been dominated by governments and militaries. Well, times they are a changing and now we are well into what is known as the new space race, where commercial entities are encouraged to build their own space vehicles and venture beyond the earth. A number of companies are taking advantage of this opportunity and aggressively pursuing commercial and scientific objectives.
One effort that has captured the imagination of the public is the Mars Oneproject that plans to establish a colony on the red planet. Already, astronauts for the one-way flight has been selected. Not to be outdone, the US President Donald Trump issued a mandate for NASA to land people on the moon by 2033. As this has been a long term goal for NASA for decades, the agency has responded quickly and has a detailed planin place to achieve this goal.
It is a good bet that the indomitable human spirit will enable us to accomplish these space establishments. However, these challenges will require technological advancements in aerospace systems and the electronic devices and PCBs that comprise them.
What Are Flex Circuits?
PCBs are built to be rigid, rigid-flex or flex according to their implementation and application. By far rigid boards are utilized the most as the primary structural or mechanical concern is that the boards will not break during manufacturing or handling, which may be more structurally challenging than at any time during normal operation. For other boards; including some that may be utilized in aerospace systems, some degree of flexibility or rigidity is required.
A well-known commercial example is for wearable electronics that include fitness and health monitors. In aerospace systems flex circuits are used to provide thermal stability, increase reliability, simplify assembly and lower costs. Another usage that may find application for space travelers is electronic skin where electronic impulses are sensed and can then be transferred for interpretation to the brain. Whether rigid-flex or flex, PCBs must adhere to IPC 6013-D.
- Rigid and rigid-flex stackups have similar and differing considerations.
Rigid-flex PCB design in Altium Designer
- Flex PCB stackups can be challenging, but do share some similarities with rigid-flex stackups.
- When designing stackups it is advantageous to be able to visualize them prior to manufacturing. visualize
The additional design considerations for flex circuits that affect may include board materials, vias and thermal management can test the limits of some PCB design programs. However, with Altium’s advanced comprehensive PCB development package, Altium Designer, designing flex boards is easy.
Easily Define Your Materials and Stackup for Rigid-Flex, Rigid and Flexible Circuit Boards
Altium Designer is designed to simplify the creation of PCB layout stackups for rigid-flex, rigid and flex circuit boards. In fact, the advanced Layer Stack Manager allows you to choose and edit layer and stackup attributes within the same window. Of course, these parameters can also be manipulated vis other menus, as well, allowing for customization to your design environment preferences.
- Altium Designer was created with easing the design of rigid-flex circuits in mind.
- Build, edit and view your stackup from a single window.
Defining stack properties with Altium’s Layer Stack Manager
- The ability to view your board layout is even more important when the design is flex or rigid-flex. With Altium Designer’s 3D viewing you can virtually bring your design to life before manufacturing.
Paraphrasing an astrophysicist that I follow, space is at once fascinating and daunting. Fascinating because of the awe is inspires and excitement it stimulates. Daunting because of the technical expertise required to venture out and truly explore it. For those of us with the opportunity to build aerospace systems, electronics and PCBs having the advanced tools that enable us to design boards, such as flex circuits, that are able to endure the harsh space environment is paramount. The best PCB design tool is Altium Designer.