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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.

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