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NextFlex’s FHE Applications for Aerospace Workshop a Resounding Success

By Scott Miller, Director of Strategic Programs, NextFlex

The latest NextFlex workshop was a deemed a tremendous success in terms of the diversity of attendance, the high-quality presentations, and the activities surrounding the workshop. Held April 1-4 at several Boeing facilities in the Seattle area and attended by 145 industry, academic, and government partners, NextFlex members and guests participated in FHE PRO, a new NextFlex workforce development program, a dinner at the Boeing Museum of Flight, a tour of Boeing’s Everett manufacturing center, two days of workshop, a tour of the University of Washington’s Roll-to-Roll Printing Center, and a members-only session where topics for Project Call 5.0 were developed.

The workshop began with a one-day session of FHE PRO, the new workforce development program from NextFlex that is designed to build FHE awareness, foster creativity, and cross-functional collaborationthrough immersion into FHE manufacturing processes and applications. The program, which is based on experiential and team-based learning techniques, helps companies deepen the knowledge base of their employees through a series of lectures, hands-on technical activities and a design challenge. Participants gain valuable information on FHE materials and applications, how to improve system design and manufacturing efficiencies, and discover the potential of this technology to transform the design, production, and function of advanced products.

Workshop attendees were then treated to a special evening at the Boeing Museum of Flight, the largest independent, non-profit air and space museum in the world. Keynote speaker Leo Christodoulou, Senior Director for Enterprise Test and Technology and Chief Technologist for Additive Manufacturing at Boeing gave a fascinating talk about innovation and credited the work of many in the room for helping Boeing to achieve many of their technological advances. Trends in flexible electronics, AI/Machine Learning, power and energy, and neuroscience have led Boeing to developments that they could not make by themselves. He credited NextFlex as an aggregator of “Interfaces,” that have helped Boeing be successful.

The second day started early with a bus ride north to Everett, WA, where one of Boeing’s key manufacturing centers is located. This is the facility where the 747, 777 and 787 commercial jetliners and the USAF KC-46 are built. Attendees were treated to an in-depth tour of the facility and were able get an insider’s view of manufacturing that few people ever see. Following the tour, workshop attendees participated in breakout sessions to brainstorm how FHE can improve supply chain operations and manufacturing efficiency.

Workshop technical sessions began on the morning of the third day, with a session on FHE for Future Factory. This session included talks addressing the Internet of Things applications in the factory, use of FHE sensors on equipment and people to improve lean manufacturing and maintenance operations, data generation for factory optimization analytics, simplifying test setup and execution, and improving quality and safety. The session also addressed how FHE can provide the sensors to achieve the IoT’s potential, future FHE manufacturing capabilities, and the importance of in-line inspection and defect detection.

The workshop featured two keynote speakers. Meyya Meyyappan, Chief Scientist for Exploration Technology at NASA’s Ames Research Center spoke about manufacturing in space, plasma jet printing, and devices for in-space applications. Beth Paquette, Aerospace Engineer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, discussed using FHE manufacturing methods for production of high precision satellite components and associated challenges and solutions.

The second session focused on FHE for Next Generation Space. Talks addressed unique requirements associated with the exoatmospheric environment, materials challenges (and solutions), mixed-material additive manufacturing and novel materials for additive manufacturing of advanced FHE substrates, and the benefits of FHE for in-space systems.  Other talks addressed mechanically or optically reconfigurable antennas and RF structures, and advanced carbon nanotube electronics.

The day concluded with a tour of the University of Washington’s Roll-to-Roll Print Center, part of the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds, where workshop attendees saw shared user facilities with advanced printing capabilities (including tools for flexo, screen, ink jet, and a new electrohydrodynamic ink jet printing), metrology, and testing, and a relaxing dinner at local favorite Ivar’s Salmon House.

The second day of the workshop featured a technical session on Conformal/Flexible Electronics and Antennas for Aircraft. Speakers discussed topics ranging from integrating sensors into commercial aircraft, reduction of dead-weight by replacement of wire harnesses with flex circuits and FHE, new material sets for in-mold electronics, and production of printed copper for strain tolerant applications.  Finally, talks addressed new printing techniques for fine-line conductors and direct printing of dense metal from the melt.

After the technical sessions ended, NextFlex members and government partners participated in breakout sessions addressing the topics of the three workshop sessions.  In these breakouts, the participants discussed scenarios to explore use of FHE technologies and manufacturing to solve current challenges and improve systems.  In doing so, they began to identify and prioritize roadmap gaps that may be topics for future project calls.

This workshop explored topic areas that NextFlex had not previously covered, revealing a large interest in focusing Project Call topics in aerospace. This workshop addressed industry-specific challenges that FHE can address, and the requirements of applying FHE in the aerospace sector.

Click HERE for more information about Nextflex’s upcoming FHE for Defense Applications workshop, held at Lockheed Martin’s Global Vision Center in Arlington, VA, June 12-13, 2019.