Wearables and medical devices, logistics and infrastructure monitoring, and soft robotics for advanced prosthetics and augmented warfighter performance stand to be revolutionized by Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE). In each of these spaces there are specific civilian, military, and dual-use applications. To explore and refine these applications concepts and broaden the awareness of FHE technologies throughout the DoD, 114 participants from the from the NextFlex member community – industry, academia, and government partners – and DoD staff from outside the organizations with whom NextFlex often works, met for a transformational workshop at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Crystal City, VA, May 15-16. Technology requirements and capabilities were exchanged, and ideas on how to utilize FHE solutions to enable electronics safety and support systems for the warfighter of tomorrow were developed.
One power of a manufacturing institute like NextFlex is to convene a community to work together around a shared set of objectives. In line with this idea, the workshop was organized to bring together government and private sector participants with the goals to: 1) educate DoD user, requirements, and acquisition communities and DOD prime contractor business units on the status of FHE technology and manufacturing; and 2) describe current DoD challenges and needs that FHE solutions may help address. This two-way communication is directly aimed at accelerating FHE adoption for applications that will improve warfighter capabilities and defense outcomes by helping the FHE ecosystem focus on high priority needs and helping the DoD anticipate and plan for these solutions.
The workshop scope covered Warfighter Health and Performance Monitoring, Structural Health and Asset Management, and Antennas and Wireless Communication, with presentations and panel discussions with subject matter experts on both FHE technology and manufacturing, and Defense requirements and priorities. The workshop began with welcome from host Dr. Jeff Stuart, Principal Member, Engineering Staff, Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Laboratories, followed by a keynote by Dr. Robert Irie, DoD OSD AT&L Manufacturing & Industrial Base Policy Office (MIBP). Dr. Irie spoke about the value of the public-private partnership model, citing that throughout the US, companies both large and small, academia, and government partners are engaging, technology development is in progress, and the workforce is waking up to education and career pathways that lead to opportunities in advanced manufacturing. And the data bears this out: across the Institutes, membership now tops 1300, 273 technology projects are underway, and education programs leading to careers in advanced manufacturing are approaching 200,000 touch points.
With that vote of confidence, the first session started. Under the guidance of Session Chair LTC Melinda Eaton, USAF Biomedical Sciences Corps Deputy Project Manager, TIRM/USAMMDA, the first session featured presentations on requirements from DOD on military medicine, wearable integration for the dismounted warfighter, and Health, Readiness, and Performance Systems (HRAPS). Opportunities in the areas of physiological strain and physical readiness, alertness and neuro-psychological status, and immunological wellness were discussed; in addition, opportunities for leveraging and influencing DoD basic research and the regulatory considerations and pathways were explored. The session concluded by highlighting NextFlex project presentations from Lockheed Martin on conformal exoskeletons and their control methods, GE Global Research on warfighter hydration monitoring, AFRL and Human Systems Integration on a Garment Platform for Advanced Physiological Monitoring, and FLEX on Vital Signs and Electromyography Monitoring Capability for the Warfighter.
The second session on Structural Health and Asset Management, chaired by Kenneth Blecker, Engineer, ARDEC, addressed both large platforms and small assets that must be managed in large numbers. The session featured presentations on structural health monitoring in rotorcraft from Sikorsky, fabrication challenges and opportunities for active protective soldier eyewear from the Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC), and approaches applying FHE to increase effectiveness of munition asset monitoring from US Army Armament Research Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC), which directly addresses Army modernization priorities.
The third session on Antennas and Wireless Communication, chaired by Joe Kunze, CEO of SI2 Technologies, featured presentations on requirements and opportunities by the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane on novel uses of FHE manufacturing technologies for T/R modules, PEO C4I on integrating antennas directly onto radomes to add capability to existing naval platforms, and NSRDEC on opportunities for form-factor improvement for sensor systems in development and novel materials for optical communication and power delivery. Following the presentations a lively panel featured four prime defense contractors: Boeing, Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, and Lockheed Martin. The moderated discussion included questions from the audience and touched on FHE applications for wireless communications, what Primes would like from small businesses, and roadblocks and challenges for deploying additive manufacturing, among other topics.
The day concluded with a high-level summary by NextFlex Director of Technology, Jason Marsh, comments by Dr. Ben Leever, NextFlex Government CTO, who noted that the participation throughout the day was energetic and contributed to a great experience for all attendees, and warm words of thanks to all attendees from Malcolm Thompson, NextFlex Executive Director. However, as we all know, in addition to the value delivered in the planned sessions, another real benefit in attending workshops is the networking done over lunch and during breaks, and this workshop was no different. Participants gathered for a networking reception in the Space Experience Center, which featured a fascinating collection of artifacts and memorabilia of Lockheed Martin’s storied history in aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies.
The second day opened with a keynote by Michael Doctor, Director of Systems Engineering, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy RDT&E, who spoke about requirements of the Navy and the need for technology improvements at an increasing pace. Attendees then divided into three groups for government and NextFlex members-only breakout sessions on topics aligned to the three workshop sessions. They assessed inputs from the previous day, and then dove deeply into scenarios to explore how they are handled currently and how FHE technologies could help to improve outcomes. These discussions were documented so that they can be reviewed and shared. NextFlex welcomes recommendations and intends to use them to augment the technology roadmaps in their upcoming revision, prioritize areas for investment, and focus project development activities at the Institute.
Overall the event was a highly interactive and informative gathering that demonstrated the great future that FHE has to impact the DoD mission. Moving forward, NextFlex will work with its members and Government partners and consider the frequency with which follow-on workshops on FHE and Defense applications should be organized to keep the momentum going.
Finally, thanks to all the participants, organizers and session chairs, and to Lockheed Martin for their hospitality and the use of their wonderful facility.Back to all news