Earlier this year we could not have imagined what 2020 held in store for us and what that would mean for member events. Along with an advisory committee comprised of members and government, we decided to convert our annual member meeting to a virtual version due to the pandemic. It’s not what we would have chosen but it’s what we needed to do.
The advisory committee worked hard to transition all event features, including live chat, one-to-one networking, and live Q&A, which were all such an important part of face to face events in the past, into the virtual event.
Attended by over 400 enthusiastic members and government partners, Innovation Days 2020 became a full three-day event held August 4-6. The first day launched with a welcome and highlights overview by Dr. Malcolm Thompson, Executive Director, followed by detailed updates of NextFlex technology programs, engineering and fab operations, and the NextFlex Nodes in Massachusetts and New York. The event featured a keynote by Dr. Robert Irie of OUSD(R&E), 52 member and government FHE demonstrations (via video and GoTo Meeting), and eight Technology Visionary talks. A special “DoD as a Customer” session facilitated by Dr. Ben Leever, Acting Technical Director of the Manufacturing & Industrial Division at AFRL featured Dr. Thomas Cooley, Space Vehicles Directorate, AFRL, Mr. Michael White, Principal Director for Hypersonics in OUSD(R&E), and Dr. Michelle Rozo, Assistant Director for Biotechnology in OUSD(R&E), all of whom explored opportunities for FHE to have an impact in their respective application areas. In addition, there were three panel discussions: “The Ultimate Horizon for FHE,” “Women Transforming Innovation,” and “Next Generation Workforce,” and thorough updates of PC 4.0 and 5.0 projects now underway. Finally, a full day of presentations was devoted to the impact of NextFlex’s Workforce Development activities with commendations from Congressman Ro Khanna (CA-17) who recognized outstanding teachers, student teams, and NextFlex for answering the call to transform FlexFactor® into a virtual program amid the pandemic. The virtual FlexFactor pilot was such a success, it will be continued into the Fall to serve more students around the country.
Dr. Thompson highlighted the evolution of NextFlex’s mission since it was initially awarded its first Cooperative Agreement in 2015. At that time, the focus, of course, was on flexible hybrid electronics with an emphasis on flexibility. Today, FHE is much more than flexibility; it’s about low weight, low cost, fast to market digital design and manufacturing, thin and conformal form factors, and low temperature and additive processing that takes electronics “out of the box.” Now that NextFlex has proven low volume manufacture with greater than 90% yields, the NextFlex Flexible Microcontroller Platform has become a base device upon which functional products are now being built. NextFlex views the future, now in its second cooperative agreement, to include unique architectures in advanced packaging, including heterogenous integration and interposers, and potentially, high power devices for specific applications. Our mission is to deliver devices and systems in new, novel form factors for a multitude of applications in collaboration with our members primarily to serve the Modernization Priorities of the DoD, but also for commercial markets as well. The use of processes adapted from traditional semiconductor processing and packaging will broaden the horizon for FHE for years to come.
One of the most appreciated and interactive sessions was a special live tour of the Technology Hub with Q&A from the audience hosted by Dr. Art Wall, Director of Fab Operations and Dr. Janos Veres, Director of Engineering.
Dr. Wall livestreamed from all areas of the fab while Dr. Veres fielded questions from the audience. Several NextFlex engineers spoke about their areas of expertise, demonstrating the breadth of manufacturing operations highlighting design, print, processing, assembly and robotic testing and reliability.
Member feedback about the event has been overwhelmingly positive. While we learned some things about wifi bandwidth limitations, Virtual Innovation Days met the needs of members and government to find new opportunities to advance FHE technology and manufacturing, and to advance the mission of NextFlex and the FHE community. The site will continue to be live so that all attendees can use it as a resource over the coming months. We thank all the participants who, through their contributions, made Virtual Innovation Days a tremendous success. Because the virtual event allowed more people to participate than ever before, we believe that in the future, NextFlex events may always have a virtual component so that we can continue to expand participation.
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