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Workshop Recap: Scalable Manufacturing Methods for Flexible Hybrid Electronics

The field of flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) has seen a great increase in activity in the three years since NextFlex was established, as capabilities at both the laboratory and manufacturing level have steadily come online. There are still, however, pockets of information about the current state of FHE manufacturing, as well as many different and sometimes competing ideas for what it means to scale-up FHE device production. To address these gaps, NextFlex held its fall workshop October 16 – 18, 2018, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst focused on Scalable Manufacturing Methods for FHE.

UMass Capabilities

When workshop attendees arrived on Tuesday, they toured the new UMass Life Sciences Labs. The first tour stop was the Advanced Print and Roll-to-Roll Manufacturing Demonstration Facility that features extensive FHE and nanostructure fabrication capabilities including roll-to-roll processing. The next stop was the Advanced Digital Design and Fabrication Facility, with several industrial 3D printing tools used for additively manufacturing parts in plastic or metal. And, finally, attendees visited the Human Test Center with motion capture, room calorimeters, exercise intervention and sleep labs.

FHE Application Domains: Wearables/Human Health and IOT/Asset Monitoring

After a welcome from host UMass, the workshop opened on Wednesday with two sessions exploring application domains – Wearable Devices & Human Health Monitoring, and IOT & Asset Monitoring. Given the theme of manufacturing scale-up, these sessions grounded the discussion on specific products and the challenges developers have encountered to date, as well as to raise topics that may be emblematic of entire classes of products through exploration of specific examples.

NextFlex Scalable Manufacturing Methods for FHE Workshop Oct 2018 UMass Amherst Peter Reinhart

Dr. Peter H. Reinhart, Founding Director of the Institute for Applied Life Sciences at UMass Amherst, welcomes a full house.

In the first session, speakers from Epicore Biosystems, Profusa, and GE spoke about devices that they are designing, building, and testing that will be worn by people to monitor performance and health parameters. Considerations of biocompatibility, manufacturing quality control and certifications, cost and reliability were discussed. This session featured the first discussion of the process decision between roll-to-roll and sheet-to-sheet manufacturing. The second session, focused on IOT and Asset Monitoring, featured speakers from United Technologies, SI2 Technologies, and NextFlex. This session explored applications ranging from sensors that enable condition-based maintenance of elevators to turbofan aircraft engines, array antennas for communication, to small asset tracking. Requirements for communication protocols for extreme service environments were explored, as well as strengths and weaknesses of roll-to-roll vs sheet-to-sheet and parallel printing vs serial direct-write.

NextFlex Workshop Clockwise from top left: Natalie Wisniewski, Profusa; Azar Alizadeh, GE Global Research; Aaron Rathmell, SI2; Sameh Dardona, UTRC; Milan Raj, Epicore Biosystems.

Clockwise from top left: Natalie Wisniewski, Profusa; Azar Alizadeh, GE Global Research; Aaron Rathmell, SI2; Sameh Dardona, UTRC; Milan Raj, Epicore Biosystems.

Linda Molnar from the National Science Foundation, Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships, concluded the morning session with a presentation on opportunities for high-tech small businesses to receive funding to transform discoveries into commercial technologies. This division is unique at NSF for working with industry, and provides funding opportunities including the Innovation Corps (iCorp) to train entrepreneurs and America’s Seed Fund.

A highly engaging keynote talk was given over lunch by Doug Casa, Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut and CEO of the Korey Stringer Institute, about an interesting application area for FHE devices. His talk on “The Tech Holy Grail for Exercise in the Heat – Safety/Performance Relevance for the Warfighter, Laborer and Athlete” addressed heat injuries among high-exertion populations in hot and humid environments, the relationship between hydration and heat injuries, current state-of-the-art care (rapid cold water immersion to lower core temperature) and technologies that are needed to save lives.

NextFlex Scalable Manufacturing Methods for FHE - Doug Casa, UCONN Korey Stringer Institute

Professor Doug Casa presents challenge points for innovators to build wireless, conformable, continuous monitoring, low-cost devices to prevent heatstroke deaths.

Materials and Manufacturing Technologies: From Lab to Production

The afternoon sessions transitioned to a direct discussion of materials and manufacturing technologies at maturity levels ranging from the lab to production. Three important contingencies were represented including speakers from academia (Purdue University, University of Minnesota, University of Washington, and UMass Amherst), an equipment supplier (Carpe Diem Technologies), and contract manufacturers (FLEXcon, Tapecon, and Molex). They shared valuable insights on the current state of manufacturing capability, challenges, and exciting possibilities for what may soon be available.

The final session of the day featured a panel discussion with Fujifilm Dimatix, Flex, NovaCentrix, Eastman Chemical, and Butler Technologies. Panelists discussed gaps viewed from their perspectives in the equipment, materials, and contract manufacturing sectors. Panelists addressed questions about customers bringing not only product requirements but also directions for how they want a product made and delved back in to the roll-to-roll vs sheet-to-sheet topic by presenting examples of the ways each is used.

Thursday opened with a keynote lecture from UMass Professor Trisha Andrew, Director of the Wearable Electronics Lab, on “Monolithically-Integrated Wearable Electronics.” She discussed a process her group has spearheaded to reactively coat fibers and fabrics with conductive polymers and ways to build circuits and devices using this process.

Following the talk were two sets of breakouts for NextFlex members and government partners to discuss topics from the first day, identify potential information to add to the NextFlex technology roadmaps, and prioritize future areas.

Overall, the workshop was engaging and informative and enabled a great exchange of ideas. The opportunities for scaling up FHE devices are strong and numerous, and NextFlex members are at the center of these rapidly evolving dynamics.

We thank all the participants and organizers, and a special thanks to the UMass Amherst and the hospitality and use of their wonderful Life Sciences Lab.

For more information, contact NextFlex Director of Special Programs, Dr. Scott Miller.