FR-4 (or FR4) is a grade designation assigned to glass-reinforced epoxy laminate sheets, tubes, rods and printed circuit boards (PCB). FR-4 is a composite material composed of woven fiberglass cloth with an epoxy resin binder that is flame resistant (self-extinguishing).
"FR" stands for flame retardant, and denotes that safety of flammability of FR-4 is in compliance with the standard UL94V-0. FR-4 was created from the constituent materials (epoxy resin, woven glass fabric reinforcement, brominated flame retardant, etc.) by NEMA in 1968.
FR-4 glass epoxy is a popular and versatile high-pressure thermoset plastic laminate grade with good strength to weight ratios. With near zero water absorption, FR-4 is most commonly used as an electrical insulator possessing considerable mechanical strength. The material is known to retain its high mechanical values and electrical insulating qualities in both dry and humid conditions. These attributes, along with good fabrication characteristics, lend utility to this grade for a wide variety of electrical and mechanical applications.
NEMA is the regulating authority for FR-4 and other insulating laminate grades. Grade designations for glass epoxy laminates are: G10, G11, FR4, FR5 and FR6. Of these, FR4 is the grade most widely in use today. G-10, the predecessor to FR-4, lacks FR-4’s self-extinguishing flammability characteristics. Hence, FR-4 has since[when?] replaced G-10 in most applications.
Printed circuit board
Materials Excluding exotic products using special materials or processes all printed circuit boards manufactured today can be built using the following four materials:
Laminates Copper-clad laminates Resin impregnated B-stage cloth (Pre-preg) Copper foil Laminates Laminates are manufactured by curing under pressure and temperature layers of cloth or paper with thermoset resin to form an integral final piece of uniform thickness. The size can be up to 4 by 8 feet (1.2 by 2.4 m) in width and length. Varying cloth weaves (threads per inch or cm), cloth thickness, and resin percentage are used to achieve the desired final thickness and dielectric characteristics. Available standard laminate thickness are listed in
Table 1 Standard laminate thickness per ANSI/IPC-D-275[Note 1] IPC laminate number Thickness in inches Thickness in millimeters IPC laminate number Thickness in inches Thickness in millimeters L1 0.002 0.05 L9 0.028 0.70 L2 0.004 0.10 L10 0.035 0.90 L3 0.006 0.15 L11 0.043 1.10 L4 0.008 0.20 L12 0.055 1.40 L5 0.010 0.25 L13 0.059 1.50 L6 0.012 0.30 L14 0.075 1.90 L7 0.016 0.40 L15 0.090 2.30 L8 0.020 0.50 L16 0.122 3.10 Notes:
Jump up ^ Although this specification has been superseded and the new specification does not list standard sizes, these are still the most common sizes stocked and ordered for manufacturer. The cloth or fiber material used, resin material, and the cloth to resin ratio determine the laminate’s type designation (FR-4, CEM-1, G-10, etc.) and therefore the characteristics of the laminate produced. Important characteristics are the level to which the laminate is fire retardant, the dielectric constant (er), the loss factor (tδ), the tensile strength, the shear strength, the glass transition temperature (Tg), and the Z-axis expansion coefficient (how much the thickness changes with temperature).
There are quite a few different dielectrics that can be chosen to provide different insulating values depending on the requirements of the circuit. Some of these dielectrics are polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon), FR-4, FR-1, CEM-1 or CEM-3. Well known pre-preg materials used in the PCB industry are FR-2 (phenolic cotton paper), FR-3 (cotton paper and epoxy), FR-4 (woven glass and epoxy), FR-5 (woven glass and epoxy), FR-6 (matte glass and polyester), G-10 (woven glass and epoxy), CEM-1 (cotton paper and epoxy), CEM-2 (cotton paper and epoxy), CEM-3 (non-woven glass and epoxy), CEM-4 (woven glass and epoxy), CEM-5 (woven glass and polyester). Thermal expansion is an important consideration especially with ball grid array (BGA) and naked die technologies, and glass fiber offers the best dimensional stability.
FR-4 is by far the most common material used today. The board with copper on it is called "copper-clad laminate".
With decreasing size of board features and increasing frequencies, small nonhomogeneities like uneven distribution of fiberglass or other filler, thickness variations, and bubbles in the resin matrix, and the associated local variations in the dielectric constant, are gaining importance.
Key substrate parameters The circuitboard substrates are usually dielectric composite materials. The composites contain a matrix (usually an epoxy resin), a reinforcement (usually a woven, sometimes nonwoven, glass fibers, sometimes even paper), and in some cases a filler is added to the resin (e.g. ceramics; titanate ceramics can be used to increase the dielectric constant).
The reinforcement type defines two major classes of materials - woven and non-woven. Woven reinforcements are cheaper, but the high dielectric constant of glass may not be favorable for many higher-frequency applications. The spatially nonhomogeneous structure also introduces local variations in electrical parameters, due to different resin/glass ratio at different areas of the weave pattern. Nonwoven reinforcements, or materials with low or no reinforcement, are more expensive but more suitable for some RF/analog applications.
The substrates are characterized by several key parameters, chiefly thermomechanical (glass transition temperature, tensile strength, shear strength, thermal expansion), electrical (dielectric constant, loss tangent, dielectric breakdown voltage, leakage current, tracking resistance…), and others (e.g. moisture absorption).
At the glass transition temperature the resin in the composite softens and significantly increases thermal expansion; exceeding Tg then exerts mechanical overload on the board components - e.g. the joints and the vias. Below Tg the thermal expansion of the resin roughly matches copper and glass, above it gets significantly higher. As the reinforcement and copper confine the board along the plane, virtually all volume expansion projects to the thickness and stresses the plated-through holes. Repeated soldering or other exposition to higher temperatures can cause failure of the plating, especially with thicker boards; thick boards therefore require high Tg matrix.
The materials used determine the substrate’s dielectric constant. This constant is also dependent on frequency, usually decreasing with frequency. As this constant determines the signal propagation speed, frequency dependence introduces phase distortion in wideband applications; as flat dielectric constant vs frequency characteristics as achievable is important here. The impedance of transmission lines decreases with frequency, therefore faster edges of signals reflect more than slower ones.
Dielectric breakdown voltage determines the maximum voltage gradient the material can be subjected to before suffering a breakdown.
Tracking resistance determines how the material resists high voltage electrical discharges creeping over the board surface.
Loss tangent determines how much of the electromagnetic energy from the signals in the conductors is absorbed in the board material. This factor is important for high frequencies. Low-loss materials are more expensive. Choosing unnecessarily low-loss material is a common error in high-frequency digital design; it increases the cost of the boards without a corresponding benefit. Signal degradation by loss tangent and dielectric constant can be easily assessed by an eye pattern.
Moisture absorption occurs when the material is exposed to high humidity or water. Both the resin and the reinforcement may absorb water; water may be also soaked by capillary forces through voids in the materials and along the reinforcement. Epoxies of the FR-4 materials aren’t too susceptible, with absorption of only 0.15%. Teflon has very low absorption of 0.01%. Polyimides and cyanate esters, on the other side, suffer from high water absorption. Absorbed water can lead to significant degradation of key parameters; it impairs tracking resistance, breakdown voltage, and dielectric parameters. Relative dielectric constant of water is about 73, compared to about 4 for common circuitboard materials. Absorbed moisture can also vaporize on heating and cause cracking and delamination, the same effect responsible for "popcorning" damage on wet packaging of electronic parts. Careful baking of the substrates may be required.
Common substrates Often encountered materials:
FR-2 (Flame Retardant 2), phenolic paper or phenolic cotton paper, paper impregnated with a phenol formaldehyde resin. Cheap, common in low-end consumer electronics with single-sided boards. Electrical properties inferior to FR-4. Poor arc resistance. Generally rated to 105 °C. Resin composition varies by supplier. FR-4 (Flame Retardant 4), a woven fiberglass cloth impregnated with an epoxy resin. Low water absorption (up to about 0.15%), good insulation properties, good arc resistance. Well-proven, properties well understood by manufacturers. Very common, workhorse of the industry. Several grades with somewhat different properties are available. Typically rated to 130 °C. Thin FR-4, about 0.1 mm, can be used for bendable circuitboards. Many different grades exist, with varying parameters; versions are with higher Tg, higher tracking resistance, etc. Aluminium, or metal core board or insulated metal substrate (IMS), clad with thermally conductive thin dielectric - used for parts requiring significant cooling - power switches, LEDs. Consists of usually single, sometimes double layer thin circuitboard based on e.g. FR-4, laminated on an aluminium sheetmetal, commonly 0.8, 1, 1.5, 2 or 3 mm thick. The thicker laminates sometimes come also with thicker copper metalization. Flexible substrates - can be a standalone copper-clad foil or can be laminated to a thin stiffener, e.g. 50-130 µm Kapton, a polyimide foil. Used for flexible printed circuits, in this form common in small form-factor consumer electronics or for flexible interconnects. Resistant to high temperatures. Pyralux, a polyimide-fluoropolymer composite foil. Copper layer can delaminate during soldering. Less-often encountered materials:
FR-1 (Flame Retardant 1), like FR-2, typically specified to 105 °C, some grades rated to 130 °C. Room-temperature punchable. Similar to cardboard. Poor moisture resistance. Low arc resistance. FR-3 (Flame Retardant 3), cotton paper impregnated with epoxy. Typically rated to 105 °C. FR-5 (Flame Retardant 5), woven fiberglass and epoxy, high strength at higher temperatures, typically specified to 170 °C. FR-6 (Flame Retardant 6), matte glass and polyester G-10, woven glass and epoxy - high insulation resistance, low moisture absorption, very high bond strength. Typically rated to 130 °C. G-11, woven glass and epoxy - high resistance to solvents, high flexural strength retention at high temperatures. Typically rated to 170 °C. CEM-1, cotton paper and epoxy CEM-2, cotton paper and epoxy CEM-3, non-woven glass and epoxy CEM-4, woven glass and epoxy CEM-5, woven glass and polyester PTFE, pure - expensive, low dielectric loss, for high frequency applications, very low moisture absorption (0.01%), mechanically soft. Difficult to laminate, rarely used in multilayer applications. PTFE, ceramic filled - expensive, low dielectric loss, for high frequency applications. Varying ceramics/PTFE ratio allows adjusting dielectric constant and thermal expansion. RF-35, fiberglass-reinforced ceramics-filled PTFE. Relatively less expensive, good mechanical properties, good high-frequency properties. Alumina, a ceramic. Hard, brittle, very expensive, very high performance, good thermal conductivity. Polyimide, a high-temperature polymer. Expensive, high-performance. Higher water absorption (0.4%). Can be used from cryogenic temperatures to over 260 °C. Copper thickness Copper thickness of PCBs can be specified as units of length (in micrometers or mils) but is often specified as weight of copper per area (in ounce per square foot) which is easier to measure. One ounce per square foot is 1.344 mils or 34 micrometers thickness.
The printed circuit board industry defines heavy copper as layers exceeding three ounces of copper, or approximately 0.0042 inches (4.2 mils, 105 μm) thick. PCB designers and fabricators often use heavy copper when design and manufacturing circuit boards in order to increase current-carrying capacity as well as resistance to thermal strains. Heavy copper-plated vias transfer heat to external heat sinks. IPC 2152 is a standard for determining current-carrying capacity of printed circuit board traces.
On the common FR-4 substrates, 1 oz copper (35 µm) is the usual, most common thickness; 2 oz (70 µm) and 0.5 oz (18 µm) thickness is often an option. Less common are 12 and 105 µm, 9 µm is sometimes available on some substrates. Flexible substrates typically have thinner metalization; 18 and 35 µm seem to be common, with 9 and 70 µm sometimes available. Aluminium or metal-core boards for high power devices commonly use thicker copper; 35 µm is usual but also 140 and 400 µm can be encountered.
Safety certification (US) Safety Standard UL 796 covers component safety requirements for printed wiring boards for use as components in devices or appliances. Testing analyzes characteristics such as flammability, maximum operating temperature, electrical tracking, heat deflection, and direct support of live electrical parts.
Multiwire boards Multiwire is a patented technique of interconnection which uses machine-routed insulated wires embedded in a non-conducting matrix (often plastic resin). It was used during the 1980s and 1990s. (Kollmorgen Technologies Corp, U.S. Patent 4,175,816 filed 1978) Multiwire is still available in 2010 through Hitachi. There are other competitive discrete wiring technologies that have been developed (Jumatech , layered sheets).
Since it was quite easy to stack interconnections (wires) inside the embedding matrix, the approach allowed designers to forget completely about the routing of wires (usually a time-consuming operation of PCB design): Anywhere the designer needs a connection, the machine will draw a wire in straight line from one location/pin to another. This led to very short design times (no complex algorithms to use even for high density designs) as well as reduced crosstalk (which is worse when wires run parallel to each other—which almost never happens in Multiwire), though the cost is too high to compete with cheaper PCB technologies when large quantities are needed.
Corrections can be made to a Multiwire board more easily than to a PCB.