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Advancing the American Manufacturing Ecosystem

Through an innovative approach to developing a robust flexible hybrid electronics ecosystem, NextFlex has not only established a cost competitive and responsive network of suppliers, but has created a mechanism that helps Agencies move projects through the development pipeline more quickly, at a lower cost and requiring fewer resources to complete. By leveraging NextFlex’s Cooperative Agreement with the Department of Defense (DoD), Agency project work can move through the budget approval process in as little as 30 days, resulting in faster speed to market and lower administrative costs overall.

In addition to a rapid budget approval process and access to NextFlex’s world class electronics design and advanced engineering resources, agency partners also have priority access to the NextFlex Technology Hub where they can fabricate fully integrated printed flexible devices, conduct pilot-scale manufacturing and undertake broader advanced packaging development projects.

Resources

electronics manufacturing

Tech Hub

NextFlex development and manufacturing capabilities.

Tech Hub

NextFlex development and manufacturing capabilities.

flexible electronics design

Agency/Project Support

Helping partners achieve manufacturing goals.

Agency/Project Support

Helping partners achieve manufacturing goals.

Flexible circuits

Project Calls

Calling all tech visionaries and 'big idea' people.

Project Calls

Calling all tech visionaries and 'big idea' people.

Workforce development

Workforce Training Programs

Developing the workforce of the future.

Workforce Training Programs

Developing the workforce of the future.

electronics design flow

Membership

Investing in America's manufacturing ecosystem.

Membership

Investing in America's manufacturing ecosystem.

electronics printing

About NextFlex

Building the next big thing in FHE.

About NextFlex

Building the next big thing in FHE.

Through the Technology Hub, NextFlex has established a proven and reliable mechanism for problem-solving both design and executional challenges facing the DOD and the greater industrial base. In the process, we have facilitated the creation of an efficient system to transfer acquired capabilities to the Institute’s membership, freeing NextFlex to continuously identify and address relevant problem/opportunity areas challenging the DOD, other areas of the Federal Government, and our member companies that support both.

In addition, with all devices produced at the NextFlex Technology Hub now ITAR-compliant, and with both the Army and Air Force Research Laboratories serving important roles on NextFlex’s technical councils, our agency partners can rest assured that all FHE projects are approached with an eye toward meeting the needs and America’s military readiness levels in both the short and longer term.

Similarly, with the NextFlex Technology Hub’s adherence to Quality Standard Requirements (QSR) known as 21 CFR Part 820, all medical device production in NextFlex’s Technology Hub meets FDA regulatory requirements.

Workforce Development Support:

NextFlex’s Learning Programs Division has rapidly established itself as a national leader in workforce development programs. Leveraging the Institute’s strategic position as an intermediary between education, advanced manufacturing, and economic development, NextFlex Learning Programs has developed a robust portfolio of products and programs, including the award-winning FlexFactor, that actively assist in the creation of the talent needed by both the broader commercial sector, and the defense industrial base in particular.

This approach blends the implementation of new programs with existing activities to actively increase awareness of the breadth of education and career pathways associated with advanced manufacturing, while also providing skill-development opportunities for existing engineering talent already working in the advanced manufacturing sector.

Still, while the existing Learning Programs portfolio addresses a broad spectrum of products and programs ranging from awareness and skill building to enterprise training, additional work remains. Leveraging the success flexible hybrid electronics have afforded NextFlex in helping to attract and guide the next generation of advanced manufacturing workers, NextFlex Learning Programs are now beginning to widen their purview to address some of the corresponding societal, business, and further workforce transformation that is required to maintain and grow advanced manufacturing leadership in the U.S.

For more information on how NextFlex Learning Programs can develop a tailored workforce development initiative for your company, click here.

Success Stories

NextFlex Flexible Microcontroller

Overview

The emerging technology field of additive, printed flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) promises to introduce a step change function in how electronics are manufactured and used, creating a product with superior mechanical and environmental properties compared to traditional processes at a lower overall price point.

As part of an FHE design and manufacturing demonstration project, NextFlex, in partnership with Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), translated electronic designs based on Arduino® products from standard PCB circuit boards to printed flex circuits. The effort is currently in its second phase.

NextFlex’s Role

NextFlex developed a process flow for manufacturing a flexible Arduino that reduced the number of process steps by almost two thirds when compared with traditional electronics manufacturing processes. NextFlex replaced the traditional circuit board with a thin, flexible plastic sheet and used digital printing processes for circuit elements. Die attach of a thin bare die eliminated traditional microcontroller packaging while further enabling flexibility of the product. The new process translates to an anticipated savings in manufacturing time and cost, as well as a significant reduction in the end-product weight – the flexible version is only a third of the weight of the rigid Arduino Mini board.Arduino

“The possibilities for FHE technology are virtually limitless,” said Dr. Benjamin Leever, the AFRL Advanced Development Team leader. “Proving the manufacturability of this technology through an open-source platform will expand FHE’s reach even further by providing everyone from industrial product developers to high school students with the opportunity to innovate on new electronics concepts.” He added, “We are pleased to have teamed with NextFlex on this project and look forward to the next steps in the optimization process. This is truly a momentous achievement for the FHE community.”

The NextFlex Flexible Microcontroller is now designed in as the base circuitry for several functional products for defense applications.

Benefits

With the design and manufacture of the NextFlex Flexible Microcontroller, several milestones in the additive manufacturing of printed electronics were achieved including:

  • Development of design rules for the creation of printed FHE circuits
  • Creation of high precision traces using a printing process for mounting of bare die ICs
  • Development of a process for attachment of a bare die IC to a flexible substrate
  • Integration of a 2.4GHz radio and printed RF antenna

Additionally, the  automated manufacturing process for the flexible version both reduced the overall weight and the number of process steps by about two-thirds when compared to traditional board manufacturing. This demonstration project showed the suitability of additive printed circuit and FHE technology for the manufacture of basic embedded systems.

For more information, contact NextFlex at info@nextflex.us.

AFRL Confined Space Monitoring Armband

Overview

Every year, workers are injured and killed due to the build up carbon monoxide/dioxide and the high prevalence of volatile organic compounds while working in confined spaces. These problems are further compounded by the narrow entry and exit points from these spaces.

Current methods of monitoring worker health and safety in confined spaces rely on bulky atmospheric monitors and continuous visual observation. These methods are labor intensive and inaccurate, as they cannot monitor the atmosphere directly around the workers or indicate when workers are in a dangerous situation.

This problem has long been recognized by aircraft maintenance teams working on fuel tanks at Warner-Robbins Air Force Base. The team came to NextFlex for assistance in developing a wearable device to monitor the atmospheric levels surrounding workers in confined spaces.

NextFlex’s Role

CSMAWith funding from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and support from the maintenance team at Warner-Robbins Air Force Base, NextFlex developed a next generation Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) confined space monitoring device. The device is designed as a flexible conformal armband capable of monitoring volatile organic compound concentrations, oxygen levels, temperature and humidity. Processing and communication are provided by a Bluetooth radio that can connect to a cell phone and allows for remote monitoring of the worker from a central control station. The design is powered by an onboard battery which can be wirelessly recharged using an embedded Qi charging circuit and brings together an incredibly dense array of features into a highly flexible, wearable and robust additively manufactured electronics format.

In addition to the high complexity of the design, significant effort has been placed into optimizing the antennas to maximize wireless range. Furthermore, the design was created to be highly secure, meeting FIPS 140-2 requirements, as well as meeting intrinsic safety requirements for explosion proofing in gaseous atmospheres.

“NextFlex has been highly innovative and responsive in working to advance the state-of-the-art in FHE in support of Air Force confined space maintenance requirements for an intrinsically safe, truly wearable atmospheric sensing capability which has been lacking to date. This AFRL-funded project builds on prior FHE advancements at NextFlex which enabled a flexible ‘Arduino®-like’ microcontroller and applies it to a real-world Air Force problem. They’ve refined this FHE microcontroller to operate CMOS gas sensors and added necessary power and comms to enable wearable chemical sensing in hazardous maintenance environments and replace handheld systems,” said Mathew Dalton, Research Chemist and Program Manager with Air Force Research Laboratory, Materials and Manufacturing Directorate. “Ultimately this will help keep maintainers safe while reducing costs and improving productivity!”

Benefits

When deployed, the FHE confined space monitoring armband designed by NextFlex will directly integrate into a framework already being deployed for the Air Force by Aptima Technologies. The armband will provide accurate and continuous monitoring of workers in highly confined spaces remotely. This new technology will reduce the number of personnel required to perform routine maintenance tasks, while simultaneously increasing the safety of the workers through monitoring of their working environment. By enabling unique monitoring wearables, FHE is helping NextFlex’s partners in the Air Force make the job safer for its personnel.

For more information, please contact info@nextflex.us

GE’s Wearable Sensor Platform for Medical Devices

Overview

GE PlatformGeneral Electric quickly recognized that wearables are increasingly becoming the future of both the technology and health sectors. With this forethought in mind, GE Global Research partnered with Binghamton University, the Rochester Institute of Technology, Infinite Corridor Technologies and NextFlex to develop a revolutionary, ubiquitous sensor systems for medical devices and to help combat the key fundamental challenges of integrating stretchable printed leads in wearables.

NextFlex’s Role

To accomplish this mission, GE Global Research and its partners came to America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) Manufacturing Innovation Institute, NextFlex, to craft FHE platform technologies for the fabrication of wireless, pervasive, and low-cost medical devices. With NextFlex’s support, they helped solve a major fundamental challenge of keeping device design and costs low through the implementation of FHE technology. The design approach addresses system partitioning between printed and standard flex, decreasing the wearable hardware size through FHE capability and addressing cost pressures. With flexible ECG electronics embedded deep within the printed sensor boards, the design is able to bend and move with the body while monitoring internal vital signs – critical to making a wearable functional for everyday use.

Key deliverables of this NextFlex funded project also included reporting on printing and characterization of RF components, reliability assessment of printed interconnections on various materials, including polyimide and thermoplastic polyurethane substrates, and interconnection methods for ball grid array devices to flex.

Benefits

With the assistance of NextFlex’s FHE expertise, GE Global Research is propelling the future of wearable tech through seamless integration, and has two prototype designs of wearable, wireless 3-lead ECG modules for clinical use. The combination of a flexible substrate with a health monitoring platform will accelerate the adoption of wireless and FHE technologies in the digital health era and pave way for more miniaturized, low cost wearables in the future.

For more information, please contact info@nextflex.us

NASA AstroSense (In-Space Manufacturing, Multi Material Fabrication with Printed Electronics)

Overview

Nasa 1 scaled e1602189607833

NASA developed a next-generation wearable flexible sensor array for astronaut crew health monitoring, also known as “AstroSense”. Multi-disciplinary teams from Marshall Space Flight Center, Ames Research Center, and Flight Surgeons at Johnson Space Center all collaborated with NextFlex to design a wearable sensor array aimed at monitoring astronaut’s health and vital levels in space.

NextFlex’s Role

In the span of four months, the NextFlex team contributed to the development efforts of the next generation sensor for astronaut crew health monitoring by building and delivering a specific piece of hardware called a potentiostat for performing electrochemical analysis and printed disposable electrodes for use with artificial sweat samples. The team also performed biocompatibility tests, designed an encapsulating enclosure for moisture and dust ingress protection, and delivered several mock-up prototypes for demonstration purposes.

Benefits

With the support of NextFlex, the AstroSense device consists of two main components: a reusable electronic reader and a disposable electrode sensor. The reusable reader contains an antenna for wireless communication, electronic circuitry for data collection, processing and transmission for astronaut crew health monitoring, a coin battery and silicone encapsulant. The disposable electrode sensor consists of a flexible substrate with conductive electrodes and a stack of adhesives. The disposable sensor is attached to a reusable reader on one side and to human skin on other side. This next-generation wearable health monitor will allow NASA’s flight surgeons and health professionals to gain valuable data on the effect of stress upon the astronaut’s performance. This will lead to long-term improvements in the astronaut’s performance and overall health.

For more information, please contact info@nextflex.us

Profusa’s Skin-worn Reader for Continuous Oxygen Monitoring

Overview

Profusa New 1 croppedProfusa had a vision for its Lumee™ Oxygen Platform to be used in patients with potential acute and/or chronic changes in tissue oxygen levels who may benefit from continuous monitoring. Before it could be commercially available, Profusa had a key issue to resolve with the wearable reader of its injectable hydrogel sensor.

“Ten years ago, you couldn’t build a reader that could sense multiple signals and filter out the ‘noise’ of the body’s other signals, all while being small and skin-worn,” explains Ben Hwang, CEO of Profusa. “With the latest advancements in flexible hybrid electronics technology, it’s just mature enough to work the way we want — primarily because we selected the right domain expertise partner to work with, namely NextFlex.”

NextFlex’s Role

Rather than try and balance a complex development cycle across multiple R&D and manufacturing facilities, Profusa found a one-stop­-shop solution at NextFlex’s Technology Hub in San Jose, which is also an FDA compliant manufacturing facility. Here, Profusa found it could develop its solution with NextFlex’s assistance in just four months while having the right conversations to move its reader design toward production at scale.

By combining expertise in flexible hybrid electronics, engineering, materials science and optics, NextFlex took Profusa’s design work and design criteria, and pushed them toward a smaller, flexible form that works in harmony with Profusa’s tissue sensors. In the end, improvements to durability, flexibility and performance were all achieved. NextFlex went on to manufacture over 1000 wearable units with increasing yield and productivity by the end of 2019.

Benefits

Through NextFlex’s aid, Profusa was able to take technology that could previously only be deployed in a hospital setting and move toward having a device with clinical-grade information in a wearable and flexible form that’s attractive to consumers. Profusa has been able to respond to the accelerated adoption of wireless and flexible hybrid electronics technologies in the digital health era, moving towards the launch of a wearable device that generates data that medical doctors and consumers can get the most out of.

For more information, please contact info@nextflex.us

The Boeing Company and Georgia Institute of Technology’s Flexible Antenna Array Technology (FAAT)

Overview

Picture1The Boeing Company and its partners the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), had a vision to build flexible antenna arrays using advanced flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) manufacturing. They partnered with NextFlex, a Manufacturing Innovation Institute with the shared goal of advancing U.S. manufacturing of FHE, to help develop mature multilayer patterning technologies for array antennas.

NextFlex’s Role

NextFlex provided funding support, technology insight and guidance to Boeing and Georgia Tech to produce printed carbon nanotubes and flexible ferrites, an array with surface adherence, flexible electronic packaging and low crosstalk feed technology. Picture2The partners tested the performance of antennas at various bends and environmental conditions to generate radio frequency (RF) data on printed transmission lines, a printed assembly of packaged low-noise amplifier (LNA) and printed magnetic film to ensure optimal coverage.

By combining expertise in FHE and advanced manufacturing, the partners developed a process to print antenna elements and a microstrip feed network on flexible hybrid substrates without vertical interconnect access greatly reducing fabrication time and costs. Picture3These multilayer antenna arrays include positive, negative, positive sourcing (PnP) electronics, patterned ferrites, environmental coatings to protect the arrays from harsh conditions and flex diodes and interconnects (ICs) to help the antennas transmit and receive signals from various angles. Collaboration between these companies initiated a fundamental foundation for advancement in FHE.

Benefits

With NextFlex’s support, Boeing and Georgia Tech were able to collaborate to take the developed FHE antenna design and fabrication methods and create 2×2, 4×4 and 8×8 printed panel antenna arrays. They have been able to respond to the accelerated adoption of wireless and FHE technologies in the digital aerial navigation era, moving towards the launch of FHE “skins” for UAVs to be used in advanced commercial and military applications.

For more information, please contact info@nextflex.us.

Aionx CleanSURFACES® Antimicrobial Mats

Overview

Hospital Acquired Infections (HAI) have always been and continue to be a tremendous cost burden to hospitals and our healthcare system.  Covid-19 and the variants going forward have intensified the need to keep surfaces clean. Hospitals are focused on keeping high touch surfaces clean to build public trust and maintain safety. It has been shown that despite best efforts surface contact infections remain high for viruses and bacteria.  These pathogens often remain between surface cleanings even if proper episodic procedures are followed. Aionx CleanSURFACES® is the only effective continuous cleaning product available.  NextFlex has been instrumental with research, development, and manufacturing assistance to help create this novel continuous cleaning product to reduce and eliminate deadly pathogens that impact our healthcare system daily, including COVID-19 and future variants.

NextFlex’s Role

AIONX Success StoryNextFlex worked in partnership with Aionx to utilize novel RNA sequencing technology from CSI which allowed them to prove environmental contamination existence and transmission pathways. They also worked together to refine and expand production capacity of antimicrobial mats called cleanSURFACES®.  The continuous cleaning of high touch surfaces significantly reduces the transmission to other surfaces by significantly decreasing the number of living pathogens with the goal of decreasing the resultant infection rate.

Any time microbes contact a mat’s surface, an embedded circuit board sends a micro-electric impulse along printed conductive traces to that location to activate antimicrobial silver and copper ions that quickly eradicate the contaminants. NextFlex played an integral role in helping to secure funding for the project through the CARES Act, approved by Congress in March of 2020, specifically to fight COVID-19, as well as fostering other relationships to achieve Aionx’s long-term manufacturing goals.

“With this technology, we’re addressing a critical weakness in healthcare facilities’ arsenal against surface contamination,” explains Gary Shope, CEO of Aionx. “Episodic cleaners, like UV lights and other common disinfectants, will work in the moment, but surfaces are quickly re-contaminated. You need a continuous killer of the microbial load. Working with partners like NextFlex has allowed us to field this technology that will kill more bioburden for a greater impact of infection rate.”

Benefits

This technology can be used to fight hospital-acquired microbial infections, including COVID-19 in the short-term, and guard against potential variants of COVID-19 that arise in the future. The application of this innovation to public, medical and retail infrastructure in the long-term could impact how future outbreaks are controlled, especially during flu seasons. Recognizing this, Aionx reached out to the neighboring University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Pinnacle, to bring the technology onboard for a successful validation study. Thanks to the support from NextFlex this effort demonstrated the profound impact of the Aionx product on a hospital unit’s surface microbiome. These results have been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal for publication. Together, Aionx (a member of NextFlex) and UPMC Pinnacle are expanding installation to seven hospital ICUs for a six-month experiment to measure pre- and post hospital-acquired infection rates.

For more information, contact NextFlex at info@nextflex.us.

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