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Which Material Is Best For Me?
There are more PCB laminate materials available in the market than days in a year and each with slightly different niche applications. So, how do I choose which type of material to use?
FR4 is the industry standard PCB material. It is made from Flame retardant (FR) epoxy resin impregnated with a woven fiberglass cloth, capable of UL 94V-0 flammability rating. It is very versatile to work with, can be compatible with RoHS assembly cycles (must be a high Td and low CTE material) and has mechanical and electrical properties that satisfy many electronic applications. Even within the FR4 category there are a multitude of varieties of choices. FR4 can often be a good substitute for prototyping your design.Learn more. FR4 advantages: cost effective, versatile, industry proven and very manufacturable. Sunstone offers 2 different Tg rated FR4 laminates for online quoting.
High Speed / low loss materials: As signal speeds increase (> 10Gb/s) the PCB material becomes more and more critical to prevent signal distortion and /or signal loss. These medium to low loss laminates have lower and lower Df (dissipation factors) that are required to maintain the signal integrity of these high speed digital and RF application designs. In order to produce these results, fiberglass and epoxy are replaced with ceramics, thermoplastics and PTFEs. These are great for their electrical signal integrity but are much more expensive materials, with longer lead times that also do present challenges for manufacturing, more so than FR4. Sunstone offers several Rogers®, Arlon, Taconic and Polyflon materials.
High Power materials: For applications that are using high voltages and high temperatures (power conversion, IGBT systems and HVDC applications) the classic epoxy or PTFE materials are not always suitable. For best performance, ceramics of various types (with high capacity and conductivity) are bonded to copper. These ceramic substrates exhibit very little expansion due to the elevated temperatures and as a result have very little mechanical stress on the mounted components. Typically the copper weights (thicknesses) are also increased to accommodate the higher voltages, currents and thermal spreading required for these applications. The ceramics and heavy copper weights do also have significantly higher costs and lead times and different challenges for manufacturing.
At the end of the day, the specific material required will dictate your design or be dictated by your design. There are a variety of materials within each major category each with different thermal, mechanical and electrical properties. The material properties and requirements should be a major factor (up front) in the design process.
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