Flexible cables and flex PCBs are wonderful. You could choose to carefully make a cable bundle out of ten wires and try to squish them to have a thin footprint – or you could put an FFC connector onto your board and save yourself a world of trouble. If you want to have a lot of components within a cramped non-flat area, you could carefully design a multitude of stuff FR4 boards and connect them together – or you could make an FPC.
Flexible cables in particular can be pretty wonderful for all sorts of moving parts. They transfer power and data to the scanner head in your flat-bed scanner, for instance. But they’re in fixed parts too. If you have a laptop or a widescreen TV, chances are, there’s an flexible cable connecting the motherboard with one or multiple daughterboards – or even a custom-made flexible PCB. Remember all the cool keypad and phones we used to have, the ones that would have the keyboard fold out or slide out, or even folding Nokia phones that had two screens and did cool things with those? All thanks to flexible circuits! Let’s learn a little more about what we’re working with here.
FFC and FPC, how are these two different? FFC (Flexible Flat Cable) is a pre-made cable. You’ve typically seen them as white plastic cables with blue pieces on both ends, they’re found in a large number of devices that you could disassemble, and many things use them, like the Raspberry Pi Camera. They are pretty simple to produce – all in all, they’re just flat straight conductors packaged nicely into a very thin cable, and that’s why you can buy them pre-made in tons of different pin pitches and sizes. If you need one board to interface with another board, putting an FFC connector on your board is a pretty good idea.
In the beginning, there was hot glue. Plus some tape, and a not inconsiderable amount of Bondo. In general, building custom portable game consoles a decade or so in the past was just a bit…messier than it is today. But with all the incredible tools and techniques the individual hardware hacker now has at their disposal, modern examples are pushing the boundaries of DIY.
This Zelda: Ocarina of Time themed portable N64 by [Chris Downing] is a perfect example. While the device is using a legitimate N64 motherboard, nearly every other component has been designed and manufactured specifically for this application. The case has been FDM 3D printed on a Prusa i3, the highly-detailed buttons were printed in resin on a Form 3, and several support PCBs and interface components made the leap from digital designs to physical objects thanks to the services of OSH Park.
Today, those details are becoming increasingly commonplace in the projects we see. But that’s sort of the point. In the video after the break, [Chris] breaks down the evolution of his portable consoles from hacked and glued together monstrosities (we mean that in the nicest way possible) to the sleek and professional examples like his latest N64 commission. But this isn’t a story of one maker’s personal journey through the ranks, it’s about the sort of techniques that have become available to the individual over the last decade.
Case in point, custom flexible flat cables (FFC). As [Chris] explains, when you wanted to relocate the cartridge slot on a portable console in the past, it usually involved tedious point-to-point wiring. Now, with the low-volume production capabilities offered by companies like OSH Park, you can have your own flexible cables made that are neater, faster to install, and far more reliable.