NextFlex focuses on five flexible hybrid electronic (FHE)-enabled application areas: human health and performance monitoring, structural health (e.g., bridges, buildings, aircraft wings) and asset monitoring, soft robotics, flexible power, and integrated antenna arrays. NextFlex convenes institute members to collaboratively identify and actively overcome manufacturing challenges in commercializing FHE-enabled systems and devices. Before the institute, there was no comparable facility for FHE anywhere in the world.
NextFlex is advancing the manufacturability of FHE devices and systems and driving manufacturing readiness levels toward commercialization, with emphasis on device integration and packaging, printed flexible components and microfluidics, materials, modeling and design, standards, and testing and reliability. The manufacturing processes at the Technology Hub use production-level tools that, in some cases, deal with unique requirements such as the handling and attachment of ultra-thin die. NextFlex has demonstrated that the FHE manufacturing process, when compared to traditional circuit board production, reduces the number of process steps by two-thirds. Additionally, the process resulted in the final board to be only one-third of the weight of a traditional board.
NextFlex facilitates the development and manufacturability of FHE technology that integrates low-cost printed electronics with the processing power of thin semiconductors to create a new category of stretchable, bendable, conformable, and flexible electronic devices. FHE manufacturing relies on flexible and/or conformal substrates, additively processed circuit elements, small discrete components, thinned bare-die integrated circuits, and application dependent packaging. The low cost, thin size, and lighter weight of FHE devices delivers the long-promised “Internet of Everything.” The NextFlex Flexible Microcontroller Platform is produced in fewer than half the process steps of traditional rigid circuit boards, making it cheaper and faster to get these products to market.