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An Interview with Dr. Chris Stoessel, Sr. Manager of Process Development and External Innovation, Eastman Chemical Co.

Q: Chris, tell us about your role at Eastman and the focus of your organization.

I am a Sr. Manager of Process Development and External Innovation at Eastman Chemical Co. I’m based in the San Francisco Bay Area and am a NextFlex Fellow. Eastman Chemical Co. is a specialty materials company and founding member of NextFlex. As a member of Eastman’s Global External Innovation team, I am Eastman’s Point-Of-Contact for all things “NextFlex” and I have coordinated our membership activities from Eastman’s Palo Alto, CA technology center.

Q: You are a very strong supporter and a recognized leader in flexible and hybrid electronics manufacturing. How did you find your passion for this emerging technology?

I have a passion for discovering synergistic innovation opportunities in materials science, combined with a long career in thin film / interface engineering R&D. During a discussion on stretchable electronics, I learned about the “Manufacturing Innovation Institute” (MII) initiative for developing the ecosystem for Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) in the U.S. I was intrigued by the monumental potential of FHE and realized that my work at Eastman positioned us at an important nexus of materials innovation, surface science, and additive manufacturing with attractive markets we were already connected to. I convinced Eastman leadership to support the FlexTech Alliance’s application to stand up the institute that eventually would become NextFlex. It was a proud moment for Eastman to be a Founding Member of the winning team, and I remember the excitement of attending the ceremony at NASA’s Moffett Field wind tunnel when U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced the MII award in 2015.

Q: What is a key innovation that will enable widespread adoption of FHE and related technologies, and what application areas are you working in?

Environmentally responsible material sets are still a big gap on the FHE roadmap. The DoD customers have a strategic interest for biodegradable substrates and encapsulants, but it is a topic the entire community needs to address given the predicted pervasiveness of IoT devices FHE can provide.  There will be significant end of life challenges.

At Eastman, we see ourselves as a provider of innovative substrate and encapsulant materials solutions that meet FHE’s robustness, processing and applications requirements, and ecologically responsible polymer material grades are a big focus of our innovation pipeline. We also offer surface engineering solutions that facilitate effective FHE material set integration with a favorable ecological footprint. For us, the ability to validate the compatibility of our materials and engineering solutions in NextFlex’s project calls that build real devices and demonstrate ruggedness and functionality has been a particular benefit, and active participation in NextFlex’s technology road-mapping efforts has helped guide our innovation investments.

Q: You have been an active as a member for quite some time. What upcoming activities are you most excited about?

Eastman is an actively engaged Tier 2 member, and thus gets to contribute as a voting member in broad aspects of the Institute.  I support governance and strategy at the Governing Council, influence technical decisions and project call recommendations in the Tech Council, and typically have an active presence during Innovation Days and workshops. The networking at those events is invaluable. Eastman has been the technical lead in one Project Call project and an active partner in several others, and even though our role in some projects is rather minor, we actively seek engagements and often provide in-kind support where it is helpful. I look forward to Project Call 8 programs being launched, and the next Innovation Days will be a great opportunity to expand our expert network and discover new collaboration opportunities.

Q: You have been an active member of NextFlex and have participated in a variety of ways. What has the membership experience been like for you?

For me, active project engagements have always been rewarding learning experiences; even when Eastman doesn’t participate in a project, NextFlex’s vast archive of project and workshop documentation is a terrific membership benefit. When I get to talk to new NextFlex members, my recommendation is to engage, engage, engage… the FHE ecosystem relies on innovative partners, the opportunities are real, and NextFlex is the platform that makes FHE “happen” in the U.S.