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Musings on Life, Aging, and Flexible Hybrid Electronics

by Dalen Keys

Aging is a real bummer! My parents tried to warn me, but I was too busy – or too dumb – to listen. But now, oh my, God… I get it. I’m now best friends with my orthopedic surgeon, cardiologist and, sadly, my urologist. I don’t say any of this to gain any sympathy, because I’m optimistic; not about aging – that still sucks, but rather I’m optimistic about technology and its impact on our lives. I know you’re saying about now, “This guy has moved into a serious level of dementia,” – which may be true – but let me try to explain my optimism about technology, and in this case, specifically about flexible hybrid electronic (FHE) technology.

I spent 35 years with DuPont, first working on printing, then on electronics, and finally serving customers in Silicon Valley. My career gave me a perspective and beliefs on the potential to use printing and additive processes to produce electronics components and devices. I was fortunate enough to see early use of FHE in automotive and apparel applications. They were simplistic, but real. These early uses set a stage which indicates movement toward many novel uses in the future.

While at DuPont, I had the pleasure of being a part of NextFlex as a member company and seeing strong governmental and corporate sponsorship, projects generated in support of roadmaps and, maybe most importantly, the networking of critical partners. This gave me hope for the advancement of FHE. But then came retirement.

Fortunately, NextFlex asked me to lend them a hand in May of this year (2022) to assess the status of the FHE market in the US: its readiness, projected timing, possible applications, etc. So, I had the chance to stay connected to FHE. Yes, certainly, I came into this assessment somewhat skeptical, building from my own experiences. But I came out energized; let me explain.

Companies were willing and excited to participate and confirm their engagement in FHE. We had a very nice mixture of large, well-known companies that provide products and small companies that are developing exciting new technologies. They were pursuing applications that included defense, medical, healthcare, automotive, communications, and many more. Yes, they confirmed there are still technical concerns, but they are also thinking about the quality and reliability of their products. And, as opposed to a few years ago, they are not just throwing money at FHE without thinking about the business, about business models, and about costs. And I found it very interesting that companies are thinking about new product designs that FHE can enable to better fit with use, to better fit with life.

Now, why is all this important to the old guy that kicked this off? FHE has the potential to make my life, my medical treatment, my health monitoring, my mobility, my safety better and easier, because as I age, this becomes increasingly important. But this is applicable to everyone, not just this old guy. We all want products to allow us to live more comfortably and have easy access to services and experts as we need them.

I expect to see tremendous advancement in FHE over the next two years… so stayed tuned! But for now, I’ll grab my heating pad, take a few Advil, and pull on my Depends.

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About the Author

Dalen Keys obtained his B.S. in Chemistry from the University of North Alabama and his Ph.D. from Rice University shortly after the Jurassic Period. He worked for DuPont for 35 years retiring at the end of 2019. He had roles in R&D, marketing, manufacturing, business development, and Site Leadership across the printing, electronics, displays businesses but also in Central Research. Dalen now does some consulting, writing, and podcasting but his primary focus in on gardening (he loves Daffodils, Daylilies and Dahlias) and his grandkids.