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NextFlex Ramps Pilot Manufacturing Line for Flexible Hybrid Electronics

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San Jose, Calif. — NextFlex®, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) Manufacturing Institute, today announced that it has begun the ramp-up of its Technology Hub’s pilot manufacturing line with the installation of several state-of-the-art pieces of production equipment. The NextFlex Technology Hub, currently the only single-source FHE processing production line in the US, will be used primarily by NextFlex and its members to prove new technology, develop new manufacturing processes, and to test new materials on equipment in a live manufacturing environment.

At the NextFlex Technology Hub, members will scale new production capabilities by reducing investment risk through access to tested processes and tools that that prove low-volume, high-mix production manufacturing and the ability to ramp to volume-manufacturing are viable. The Hub is also supporting Department of Defense goals by providing access to engineering support for low-volume requirements.

Traditionally, electronics assembled with lead-free solder processes are performed by a number of separate suppliers: IC packaging, component assembly, PCB manufacturing, and box-build providers. But, due to the intricate form factor requirements of working with ultra-thin and flexible die, it is more advantageous to co-locate process steps such as die bond, functional printing, encapsulation, and passive printing at a single location – key capabilities that the new Technology Hub addresses.

“This equipment significantly increases our capability and we’re already running samples in the cleanroom,” said Jason Marsh, director of technology at NextFlex. “We’re very excited to see the Technology Hub come on line and expect to have a full end-to-end process in place by the end of 2017.”

Some of the new equipment recently received at the NextFlex Technology Hub includes:

  • A Meyer Burger PiXDRO Printer, for digital printing of conductive inks on flexible substrates. This equipment was placed at the Technology Hub to support funded project work with partners DuPont, Eastman Chemical, and Intrinsiq Materials, to enable materials and process prototyping for processing extremely small FHE device features.
  • A BTU International Pyramax high-throughput reflow oven that features optimized lead-free solder curing for packaging, assembly, and printed conductors. This machine is on loan to NextFlex from BTU.
  • A Universal Instruments Corporation Fusion SC1-07, for surface mount, pick-and-place of discrete components and final assembly processes, which includes a multiple-wafer feeder that enables bare-die placement. This equipment supports funded project work with partners Binghamton University, GE Global Research, i3 Electronics, and Lockheed Martin, to perfect handling and attach processes for ultra-thin die.
  • A Nanotronics nSpec®, for optical inspection of substrates and surface morphology for other materials. This machine is on loan to NextFlex from Nanotronics.

NextFlex Technology Hub

NextFlex’s Technology Hub is an open innovation facility where members can collaborate on projects and interested observers can witness project work on purchased and loaned manufacturing equipment. This, coupled with early visibility into new materials, new processes, and new products, and access to technologists that will build technical competency with the equipment, are providing further benefit to the U.S. Government and NextFlex members.

About Flexible Hybrid Electronics
FHE gives everyday products the power of silicon ICs by combining them with new and unique printing processes and new materials. The result: lightweight, low-cost, flexible, conformable, stretchable, and highly efficient smart products with innumerable uses for consumer, commercial, and military applications.

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 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, follow NextFlex on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

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