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New Funding Source for Flexible Electronics Manufacturers

June 12, 2024
The NextFlex consortium announces a new $5.3 million funding opportunity for the commercialization of hybrid electronics.

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Formed in 2015 through a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and FlexTech Alliance, NextFlex is a consortium of companies; academic institutions; non-profits; and state, local and federal governments with a shared goal of advancing U.S. manufacturing of flexible hybrid electronics (FHE). 

Flexible Hybrid Electronics are printed electronics combined with silicon-based integrated (active) circuits on a conformable substrate. Examples of key active components from Si CMOS processes include microcontrollers, digital signal processors, high density memories and radiofrequency (RF) chips. 

According to NextFlex, flexible and additive hybrid electronics give everyday products the power of silicon ICs by combining them with new and unique low-cost and environmentally friendly additive printing processes and new materials, including structural and conformal electronics and additive packaging solutions using novel materials. The result is fast time to market, lightweight, low-cost and highly efficient smart products that can be flexible, conformable and stretchable with innumerable uses for commercial and defense applications.

Project Call 9.0

Over the last eight years, NextFlex’s team of thought leaders, educators, problem solvers and manufacturers have collectively facilitated innovation, narrowed the manufacturing workforce gap and promoted sustainable manufacturing ecosystems. Now, the organization has launched a $5.3 million funding opportunity focused on strengthening the U.S. electronics manufacturing sector. The funding will also be used to promote the commercialization of hybrid electronics. 

In May, NextFlex released Project Call 9.0 (PC 9.0), its latest call for proposals that seek to fund projects that further the development and adoption of hybrid electronics while addressing key challenges in advanced manufacturing. The total PC 9.0 project value is expected to exceed $11 million (including NextFlex investment and performer cost-share), bringing the total anticipated investment in advancing hybrid electronics since NextFlex’s formation to $143 million. 

PC 9.0 focuses on areas where hybrid electronics can impact high priority U.S. manufacturing opportunities and areas of emerging importance within the electronics manufacturing community. It emphasizes projects that address critical hybrid electronics manufacturing challenges, enabling the transition of hybrid electronics devices into applications that require superior performance, assured reliability and improved environmental sustainability.

“NextFlex Project Calls advance the state of the art of hybrid electronics technology and have proven to push the field in new directions, with each marking development milestones that have been collectively achieved by the NextFlex consortium,” said Scott Miller, Ph.D., director of technology, in a press release

“As hybrid electronics technologies increasingly find their way into products and manufacturing,” he continued, “these developments will expand the range of applications in aerospace, automotive, structural health monitoring, and medical wearables.”

Developing Roadmaps, Prioritizing Technical Gaps

Also last month, NextFlex released its latest public Hybrid Electronics Technology Roadmaps. Developed by subject matter experts from industry, academia and government, the public roadmaps summarize the detailed information on the current state of the art, market opportunities and needs, key stakeholders, a five-year forward-looking development roadmap and prioritized technical gaps. 

In its roadmaps, NextFlex has identified 11 different technical areas of influence, with device integration and packaging being one of those areas. The specific opportunity areas identified by NextFlex in that category include printed passives using inkjet, aerosol-jet and direct-write; semiconductor packaging and heterogenous integration; and fully- and semi-additive PCB manufacturing, among others. To date, NextFlex has funded 39 projects that align to its Device Integration & Packaging Working Group.

The group has also funded four projects that align with its Automotive Working Group, whose areas of opportunity include (but aren’t limited to) HMI controls on steering wheels, interior and exterior goods; integrated heaters; lidar/camera heaters for startup warming; and integrated health sensors for EV batteries.

About the Author

Bridget McCrea | Contributing Writer | Supply Chain Connect

Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers business and technology for various publications.

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