Membership is at the core of NextFlex’s mission to build an ecosystem for flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) manufacturing in the United States. By bringing together companies from across the supply chain to work with academic institutions, non-profit organizations, and government, NextFlex is creating a platform for collaborative learning and dissemination of manufacturing technology. A key part of membership is the opportunity to participate in NextFlex-funded projects, and over 40 members are participating in 24 projects funded to date (some members are participating in multiple projects; the total number of organizations on the 24 project teams is 59).
At the same time, the members provide subject matter expertise and application challenges that drive the technical activities, serve on the Technical Working Groups that develop manufacturing roadmaps and identify project call topics, and review proposals and projects in process. Members have also provided valuable support for and inputs to our expanding FlexFactor™ and other workforce development programs. Certain members and/or their delegates also make up the NextFlex Technical and Governing Councils, the key decision-making bodies.
As NextFlex starts its third year of operation, it is a good time to summarize the state of membership. As announced on Innovation Day, NextFlex has welcomed its 80th member – Qualcomm, which joined as a Corporate Tier 2 member, the seventh. Tier 1 and 2 members (both Corporate and Academic/Non-Profit) now account for 24% of total members (Figure 1). As shown in Figure 2, the majority of members are corporate organizations. These corporate entities have capabilities ranging from equipment and materials, to components and subsystems, to manufacturing and assembly.
There is one very important “member” not listed on these charts – the Federal Government. Led by the Department of Defense, but including multiple federal agencies, federal government organizations and their staff are deeply involved in NextFlex, participating in Technical Working Groups, the Technical Council, and Governing Council. In addition, federal agencies are utilizing NextFlex as a partner to achieve their missions, funding projects in addition to those specified by the Cooperative Agreement.
Another group of organizations with which NextFlex is engaged are equipment suppliers. Some companies have expressed interest in supporting NextFlex and its membership by providing their equipment. For this reason, an Equipment Affiliate category has been created, which enables companies that are not members to interact with NextFlex and its members by providing equipment and training. So far there are three Equipment Affiliates. Along with members that have provided equipment to NextFlex or who are developing equipment as part of funded projects, 10 companies participated in briefings to the membership and in hands-on demonstrations in the NextFlex cleanroom in September.
The high level of membership activity and engagement has enabled NextFlex to accomplish a great deal in its first two years, including program definition, project calls, facility construction, and workforce development. Going forward, NextFlex will seek to build on these accomplishments and broaden its influence on the FHE manufacturing ecosystem. As FHE manufacturing technology matures, it will be important to increase the focus on downstream users of FHE technology, including medical, fitness, industrial, military, communications, consumer products, and other areas. As some of these downstream companies may not be candidates for NextFlex membership as currently defined, there may be a need to create additional paths for engaging such companies in NextFlex.
Another aspect of building the ecosystem is engaging small- and medium-size manufacturers, who may not have the visibility into FHE manufacturing technology, or the resources to participate in NextFlex. In order to address this challenge, NextFlex is working with the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program to create an outreach and education program for small and medium manufacturers around the country.
For more information about NextFlex membership, please complete the membership inquiry form.Back to all news