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NextFlex — America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute 

 

NextFlex Fast Facts


Established

August 2015

Website www.nextflex.us

Mission Pioneer flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing to serve our nation’s warfighters and the U.S. economy

Headquarters San Jose, CA

Consortium Organizer FlexTech Alliance

Institute Metrics as of March 31, 2022

 
103    Member Organizations

Total Committed Funding on Original and Follow-on Agreements with DoD
$102M    Base Federal Funding
$123M    Base Non-Federal Cost Share

Additional Committed Project Funding
$144M    DoD Projects
$12M    Academia/Industry Projects
$6M    State/Local Government Projects

Total Ongoing and Completed Projects
226    Technology Projects
120    Education and Workforce Development (EWD) Projects

Education and Workforce Development
2,349    Participants in EWD Projects or Institute-led EWD Activities in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021

Institute Snapshot


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. 

Institute Capabilities

 
Technology Hub
The NextFlex Technology Hub provides manufacturing-focused research and development (R&D), prototyping, and production capability for government and industry.  Before the establishment of the institute, there was no comparable facility for FHE anywhere in the world.  In 2019, the NextFlex pilot line began low volume production for two product lines.  The Food and Drug Administration granted NextFlex certification for medical device manufacturing Quality Systems Regulations (QSR) for good manufacturing practices.  Additionally, NextFlex is International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) compliant.
 
FHE Network
NextFlex has created formal and informal regional networks within FHE.  Two NextFlex Nodes have formal recognition, in New York and Massachusetts, convening institute stakeholders – members and non-members – from those regions with mutual interests.  These Nodes support regional and national supply-chains, as well as regional economic development.  Both Nodes are partially funded by State sources.
 
Materials and Process
Database

The NextFlex Material and Process Database enables sharing of data from all members and government partners to accelerate design cycles and process development across the community.  Articles processed through additive methods can have material properties that are strongly dependent on detailed processing conditions, creating challenges for both designers and process engineers.  This database tool allows NextFlex members to share, search, and find structured data for material properties of FHE samples as well as the fabrication process details associated with those samples.  This can accelerate the implementation time for new materials and processes in a fab as well as reduce design-build-test cycles.
 
FlexFactor®
NextFlex’s FlexFactor helps inform, inspire, attract, and recruit participants into advanced manufacturing education and career pathways, targeting multiple segments including K-12 and Military Service audiences. FlexFactor layers onto an existing class or students and helps eliminates the “opt out” process that defines many other workforce development programs.  FlexFactor challenges young people to develop a hardware device solution and build a business model to solve a real-world problem that they care about.  Critical thinking and the ability to work effectively in teams are positive and transformative outcomes from the program as well as introducing young people to the education pathways associated with careers in the advanced manufacturing sector.
 
Check out NextFlex's Manufacturing Day 2021 presentation here!