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Defining Flexible Hybrid Electronics

FHE Technology & Markets

NextFlex’s mission is to advance U.S. manufacturing of Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE). NextFlex delivers on this mission through public-private partnerships that facilitate technology innovation and commercialization, accelerate manufacturing workforce development, and promote a sustainable ecosystem for advanced manufacturing.

Taking advantage of the ability to conform to organic shapes, electronic capability can now be incorporated into new and emerging consumer and industrial products that when combined with rapid advancements in data analytics and artificial intelligence, enable real-time decisions. FHE and printed electronics also deliver on the promise of manufacturing electronics in higher volume, at lower costs.

The term “hybrid” refers to designs that have both printed and advanced CMOS-based components, allowing the device to process data and utilize the most cost effective componentry. The diagram below illustrates this concept where some devices are printed onto the flexible substrate, and some are placed.

Although many advancements have been made in FHE, new materials, processing, equipment, and design are needed to bring today’s product concepts to reality.  Interestingly, many of these advancements span previously unrelated industry segments. For example, electronic printing inks bring together techniques from traditional paper printing, chemical formulations from the paint industry, and micro- and even nano-scale lithography from IC manufacturing.

At NextFlex, we help our members optimize these techniques through technology roadmapping activities and via our pilot line where manufacturing and electronics assembly processes can be tested and proven.

Flexible, hybrid, and printed electronics are now being designed into a wide range of products entering the market today, in both consumer and industrial segments. These products include human health and performance monitoring systems, structural health monitoring (roads, bridges, buildings, etc.) soft robotics, and array antennas, just to name a few.

Definitions:

Flexible Electronics – electronic devices built on conformable or stretchable substrates, usually plastic, but also metal foil, paper, and flexible glass.

Flexible Hybrid Electronics – devices that combine the flexibility and low cost of printed plastic film substrates with the performance of semiconductor devices to create a new category of electronics. Substrates are stretchable, conformable, and flexible.

Organic Electronics – a field of material science concerning the design, synthesis, characterization, and application of organic small molecules or polymers that show desirable electronic properties such as conductivity.

Printed Electronics – functional electronics fabricated by laying conductive lines using one of several printing methods, including screen, ink jet, gravure, flexography, and others.  Printed electronics is sometimes confused with printed circuit boards, which also use printing methods to connect discrete active and passive components.

Plastic Electronics – electronic devices built on plastic (polymer) substrates, as opposed to silicon or glass.

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