How Automated Assembly is reshaping the flex circuit industry

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Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 9.30.56 AMBy Michael P. Kassner,

Automated Assembly Corporation (AAC) has a unique connection to James Bond: the Aston Martin, 007’s car of choice, has been using tail lights made by this Lakeville company since 2007.

In fact, their tail-light assemblies were still fully functioning after Bond’s Aston Martin was totalled in the 2012 movie Skyfall.

Founding CEO Scott Lindblad started AAC as a contract manufacturer in 1991 with a single patent for flexible electronic-circuit design.  Since then, he has grown the company to a 25,000 sq. ft. facility that employs 25 people.

Much of that success comes from Automated Assembly’s unique ability to use polyester as the flexible substrate material — instead of polyimide which has a higher melting point. The ability to solder LEDs and other electronic components directly onto the much-cheaper polyester without causing damage garners AAC’s customers cost savings upwards of 30 percent and provides expanded applications.

Thanks to termites, Automated Assembly has another one-of-a-kind, patent-pending capability.

Engineers at Automated Assembly designed an RFID sensor that when scanned would signal whether a termite trap was full or not. They were having an issue though. Roger Ritten, Sales Engineer for Automated Assembly, explains the sensor’s antenna, etched into the flexible circuit, was not providing enough signal strength. “After some head-scratching, our engineers came up with a new process called “wire winding” — embedding wire (44-gauge copper) on the flexible polyester instead of etching circuit traces,” mentions Ritten. “This accomplishes two things, increases the range of the antenna and reduces the overall cost of the part by 25 percent.”

Wire winding has worked so well, AAC now incorporates it in their best seller — RFID tollway access cards. Ritten says his company has 50 percent of the global market, or more than 100 million assemblies in use.

Lindblad feels being in the right place at the right time got the company to where it is today. To stay in the right place, Automated Assembly uses “state-of-the-art” roll-to-roll manufacturing and robotic cells for automatic placement of components.

Companies are realizing electronics need not be limited to stiff printed-circuit boards. Flexible circuits enable new design possibilities and functionality previously unknown. Lindblad mentions, “Companies who find us are looking for a speciality item, and we are the number-one specialist in flexible-circuit design.”

He hesitated to be specific about revenue, but will finish 2014 with a “sales increase of 20 percent and plans to double business next year.”

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