Unique Solutions Proposed for Human Performance Monitoring and Materials and Inventory Management – Ideal Applications for Flexible Hybrid Electronics
San Jose, Calif. — NextFlex®, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) Manufacturing Institute, today announced a group of four projects selected from the more than 131 submitted in response to the institute’s first two project calls issued in August 2015 and May 2016. The value of the four contracts is $8.6 million, $5.6 million of which is being cost-shared by the recipients. Further project awards in other categories will be announced soon.
The projects focus on two key, and growing, application areas for FHE: human monitoring systems and asset monitoring systems. Both areas aid in tracking and optimizing the performance of people and high-value materials and products, and showcase the technology’s capability to enhance our lives. The recipients of the project awards are University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Massachusetts Lowell, American Semiconductor, Inc., and Binghamton University – three of which are NextFlex founding members.
“Reviewing and selecting the projects to be awarded development agreements has been a task, both challenging from the caliber of submissions, yet exhilarating,” said Dr. Malcolm Thompson, executive director of NextFlex. “The amount of creativity and dedication to furthering the commercialization of FHE in these project proposals is exciting, as it shows that we have hit on a technology, application, and supply-chain target that resonates with many organizations, and has real potential for breathing new life into U.S. manufacturing.”
NextFlex was formed to develop the United States’ manufacturing ecosystem for FHE, with corporate, university and government members collaborating to commercialize FHE-based products. Projects submitted for funding consideration must be deemed by the review panel to have viable potential for advancing these goals. FHE combines the power of silicon ICs with new materials to create smart, lightweight, low-cost, conformable products that solve everyday problems in unique ways.
The UMass Amherst project seeks to establish a pathway to integration and manufacture for a conformal, wearable human performance monitoring (HPM) sensor platform. To this end, the project entails development of a demonstrator personal area sensor network that can monitor pulse oximetry, pulse/heart rate and temperature, with wireless reporting capability. By leveraging a wide range of resources, the project aims to reduce or eliminate key manufacturing gaps and address technical challenges, with a particular emphasis on scalable roll-to-roll (R2R) and print processes for system integration. Other possible considerations to optimize the platform will include energy harvesting storage and wireless communication options.
Focused on asset monitoring, the UMass Lowell project will create scaled processes for dielectric substrates and conductive patterning in order to advance the manufacturability of printed radio-frequency (RF) electronics essential to wireless monitoring and communications. A leader in plastics engineering, UMass Lowell will team with Raytheon Corp to accelerate adoption of multi-functional substrates that are compatible with a broad range of inks and printing processes. The project will leverage advanced RF component and manufacturing technologies to develop two manufacturing processes – one to scale creation of these substrates, and one to scale printing on them. Once fully characterized, these multi-functional substrates will be integrated into conformal antennas and tunable conformal-frequency selective surfaces as initial demonstration vehicles.
American Semiconductor will develop and deliver low-profile, physically flexible Smart-Tags that can automatically log and wirelessly transmit environmental data using an industry-standard RFID protocol. Environmental exposure history, especially temperature, is crucial for assessing and maintaining viability of pharmaceuticals, life science materials, industrial supplies, food and other perishables during shipment and storage. The low-cost FHE system will include a flexible antenna, battery, complex IC and wireless communications. Partner Boise State University will provide workforce development, education and training for FHE design and manufacture. The Smart-Tags and a reader infrastructure will be installed at NextFlex to encourage incorporation of FHE into future products.
For its project focused on wearable performance monitors, Binghamton University is again partnering with General Electric, as well as DuPont and Georgia Tech (all NextFlex members), to develop an infrastructure for testing and understanding the physics of failure in state-of-the-art wearable human health/performance monitoring devices. The project will take into account a variety of use conditions – in particular, those associated with military applications. The proposed failure analysis facilities and infrastructure will be suitable for assessment of diverse wearable systems, ranging from commercial off-the-shelf devices (such as heart rate monitor straps), to novel, stretchable devices that can be embedded in clothing/fabric or be used as tattoos, to devices that incorporate flexible microfluidics for body fluid analysis (e.g., sweat electrolytes or proteins). The findings will help enable development of robust, low-cost, high-performance wireless sensor systems.
NextFlex®, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute, is a leading force in the Manufacturing USA network of Institutes. Formed through a cooperative agreement between the US 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 and Twitter.