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NextFlex Awards Contracts Totaling $45 Million to Date for Developing Flexible Hybrid Electronics Into a Commercially Viable U.S. Industry

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San Jose, Calif.—NextFlex®, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) Manufacturing Institute, today announced it will oversee $10.5 million in funding ($4.26 million cost-share) for five development agreements stemming from Project Call 2.0 from May 2016. This brings the total cost-shared value of contracts from all Project Calls to $45 million—demonstrating the continued confidence of industry leaders to bring FHE to widespread adoption.

FHE exists at the intersection of printed circuitry, passive devices and sensor systems and thin, flexible silicon chips. The result is a new class of lightweight, low cost, flexible, stretchable, conformable and efficient devices for the Internet of Things (IoT), medical, robotics and communication markets. Specifically, Project Call 2.0 focuses on the areas identified in the NextFlex Manufacturing Roadmap that strive to bridge industries such as pharmaceutical, food and agriculture with IoT and wireless communications for real-time data and analysis (e.g., temperature, UV exposure and other environmental conditions for perishable products).

Besides these, FHE can be leveraged in a host of other applications, including automotive, aerospace, robotics, wearables and health and safety monitoring of humans, as well as structures such as bridges and buildings. Cost-effectively delivering efficient and intelligent capabilities applies not only to consumer and commercial uses, but military applications as well. As seen with several of the contract winners announced today and earlier this year, Project Call 2.0 is funding advanced manufacturing processes, equipment, materials and workforce development initiatives needed for production of these versatile FHE devices.

Commenting on the conclusion of the Project Call 2.0 project selection round, Dr. Malcolm Thompson, executive director of NextFlex, noted, “We’ve seen incredible interest from industry, academia and government leaders for bringing FHE to the mainstream, with $45 million in funding as proof of this united commitment. Our mission at NextFlex is clear—to catalyze U.S. manufacturing by accelerating development of a sustainable supply chain, establishing manufacturing excellence and growing the advanced manufacturing workforce, all of which are essential to cost-effective, high-volume manufacture of FHE-based products.”

More details on the five projects chosen for this latest round of awards are below:

Meyer Burger – (NextFlex member partners: DuPont, Eastman Chemical Co. and Intrinsiq Materials)
Project: Microfab multiprocessing R&D and pilot system for FHE applications
Meyer Burger’s fully automated GEN2.5 multi-process tool for manufacturing of FHE devices will leverage key partners’ materials for development and product prototyping. The dual-station dual-head inkjet printing capability enables real-time metrology for advanced process control and world-record sub-15-micron feature-size printing. Maximum flexibility in product prototyping is achieved by quick change-outs of digital image, recipe and print head assembly thereby substantially shortening time-to-market and significantly reducing risk in volume ramp-up.

Georgia Institute of Technology* – (NextFlex member partners: DuPont and Binghamton University)
Project: Development of test methods and standards to assess reliability of FHE systems
Georgia Tech will develop various mechanical test methods that are intended to assess the performance and reliability of FHE. In particular, this proposal will focus on monotonic stretch tests, bending tests of different radii and twisting tests of different angles to assess the mechanical fracture limits as well as fatigue tests under stress/strain conditions. As the test methods mature, the team will regularly interact with standards organizations to ensure that the developed methods and procedures are acceptable, easy to use, adaptable and relevant to the FHE ecosystem. Education courses for workforce development will target personnel training for mechanical tests that assess reliability and performance of FHE materials, components, assemblies and systems.

SI2 Technologies* – (NextFlex member partners: Raytheon and University of Mass. Lowell)
Project: FHE X-Band antenna arrays for next generation deployable antennas
SI2 is teaming with its key partners to develop an FHE X-band antenna array. A flexible FHE array will be manufactured, which will represent a subsection of a full FHE array that can be mounted on a rigid frame for testing. This will open new market applications for phased arrays, and drive the growth of the FHE industry.

Lockheed Martin – (NextFlex member partners: Binghamton University, General Electric Company, Optomec, Intrinsiq Materials and University of Maryland)
Project: Conformal printing of conductor and dielectric materials on complex 3D surfaces
Lockheed, together with its key partners, will enable 3D conformal electronics by advancing tooling, software and processes to deposit functional materials on complex 3D geometries. The company will install pilot lines at the NextFlex Technology Hub and in New York using an aerosol jet print system with 10-micron feature size, 10-micron repeatability and software to generate high-fidelity 3D toolpath from CAD model import and program control of a multi-axis drive motion printer. As a result, Lockheed will deliver conformal sensors, 3D antenna structures and non-planar circuit routing demonstrators.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) – (NextFlex member partners: Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford University and University of California, Santa Barbara)
Project: FHE process design kit
HPE will create an integrated, open-source FHE design and simulation flow process design kit (FHE-PDK) that can be applied to all kinds of FHE technologies and thinned silicon chips to create an application-design-manufacture ecosystem as done by the semiconductor industry today. The FHE-PDK will interact with FHE foundries/fabricators through system design tools, circuit simulators, 3D design and layout and thermal and mechanical multiphysics modules. Once a reliable PDK is developed, various use cases of FHE can be simulated for manufacturability thereby greatly facilitating the application-design-manufacture loop necessary for ensuring successful technology applications.

Project Call topics are generated under the guidance of the NextFlex Technical Council, in concert with the Technical Working Groups tasked to develop technology roadmaps for FHE. Project proposals are reviewed by the Technical Council and then approved by the NextFlex Governing Council. Providing oversight to projects from launch to fruition and, eventually, to commercialization is an exciting prospect for NextFlex and its corporate, academic and non-profit members and government partners. To build on this momentum, NextFlex reports that it will be releasing Project Call 3.0 in May.

*While all award winners are NextFlex members, Georgia Institute of Technology and SI2 Technologies are also founding members of NextFlex.

About NextFlex
NextFlex®, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute, is a leading force in the Manufacturing USA network. Formed through a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and FlexTech Alliance, NextFlex is a consortium of companies, academic institutions, non-profits and state, local and federal governments with a shared goal of advancing U.S. manufacturing of FHE. Since its formation in 2015, NextFlex’s elite team of thought leaders, educators, problem solvers and manufacturers have come together to collectively facilitate innovation, narrow the manufacturing workforce gap and promote sustainable manufacturing ecosystems. For more information, visit www.nextflex.us and follow NextFlex on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

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