Flexible Hybrid Electronics 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 technological innovation and commercialization, accelerate advanced manufacturing workforce development, and promote a sustainable manufacturing ecosystem.
Taking advantage of the ability to conform to organic shapes, flexible electronics can incorporate capability into new and emerging consumer, medical 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 additively manufacturing electronics in higher volume, at lower costs.
The term “hybrid” refers to electronic designs that have both printed technology and advanced CMOS-based components, allowing the device to process data while utilizing 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 to bring today’s product concepts forward, the need for new materials, processing, equipment, and design remains. Many of these advancements incorporate previously unrelated industry segments. For example, electronic printing inks bring together techniques from traditional paper printing, chemical formulations from the paint industry, and micro-scale and even nano-scale lithography from integrated circuit (IC) manufacturing.
At NextFlex, we help our members optimize these techniques through technology roadmapping activities and via our pilot line where printed electronics manufacturing and flexible electronics assembly processes can be tested and proven.
Printed flexible electronics are now being designed into a wide range of products entering the market today, in the consumer, medical and industrial segments. These products include wearable electronics for human health and performance monitoring systems, structural health monitoring (roads, bridges, buildings, etc.) soft robotics, and array antennas, just to name a few.
Flexible Electronics – electronic devices built on conformable or stretchable substrates, usually plastic, but also metal foil, paper, and flexible glass. Flexible electronics can be used for a wide range of applications and use cases, offering form factor and convenience.
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. By finding and creating new materials with high conductivity, we can expand the use of various materials for organic electronic devices.
Printed Electronics – functional electronics fabricated through additive manufacturing – laying conductive lines using one of several printing methods, including screen, ink jet, gravure printing, flexography, and others. Printed electronics are 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. Plastic electronics are a part of organic electronics, with a similar goal of finding new ways of providing high conductivity.