NextFlex makes $11.5M call for innovative flexible hybrid electronics projects

NextFlex, a consortium dedicated to the development of hybrid electronics (FHE) production in the United States, has announced an application for projects that contribute to its cause.

Thanks to the latest $ 11.5 million call, the organization is looking for innovative approaches to creating the FHE that address both advanced manufacturing challenges and U.S. Department of Defense priorities.

“We are pleased to announce a new round of funding for advanced manufacturing developments in the United States,” said Malcolm Thompson, Ph.D., CEO of NextFlex. “The benefits of FHE – additive manufacturing of electronic systems that are light, thin and compliant – are changing our perception of how ubiquitous electronics can really be.”

“With each challenge of the project, the NextFlex community brings the technology closer to commercialization and dissemination.”

In its seventh call, the NextFlex project again seeks to identify new approaches to the production of flexible hybrid electronics (FHE). Photo via NextFlex.

NextFlex initiatives supported by the Ministry of Defense

Launched in 2015 as part of a collaboration agreement with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), NextFlex is essentially a group of e-firms, research institutions, nonprofits and government partners, with the overall goal of promoting FHE innovation as a way to improve production. sustainable and informative workplace practices.

One way NextFlex has sought to encourage such advances is through its own pilot production line. Known as a technology hub, this facility is equipped with two clean rooms compliant with ITAR and FDA quality system regulations, as well as jet, aerosol and extrusion systems, and laboratory facilities for device manufacturing, integration, and testing.

Under an initial agreement with AFRL, the consortium also received $ 75 million in funding, which it has since redistributed to those developing lightweight, stretchable FHEs. For about the past seven years, NextFlex has made a special habit of supporting those focused on formal 3D printing electronics on existing surfaces, awarding Optomec $ 3 million in 2017 with that in mind.

Other beneficiaries support Lockheed Martin, which a year later received a share of NextFlex’s $ 12 million investment in exchange for a database of 3D printed antennas and microwaves, and another 12 projects received $ 11.5 million in May 2020. resulting in total costs in excess of $ 100 million.

Since then, the group has entered into a cost-sharing agreement with the AFRL, under which the Department of Defense has pledged up to $ 154 million to provide it with the payments needed to support the development of advanced electronics that can truly meet U.S. defense needs.

“We are excited to continue our partnership with NextFlex and its members,” said AFRL Chief Research Fellow Dr. Richard Vaya. “A flexible hybrid electronic manufacturing ecosystem did not exist five years ago. Today, these technologies not only provide component solutions for our current platforms, but also change our design concepts for future transformation opportunities by 2030. ”

$ 11.5 million is offered to FHE innovators

As part of its latest call for action, the seventh in seven years, NextFlex is offering initial funding of $ 11.5 million, although it expects actual investment in the project to be higher given cost sharing. As for applications, the consortium says it is looking for projects offered by the FHE that address “high-priority manufacturing opportunities in the U.S.” and “areas of importance”.

In particular, NextFlex encourages applications with automotive or packaging potential, as well as those that include research and development of new approaches to the production of FHE, dielectric materials or manufacturing methods, adding integrated circuits to electronics, making such devices more environmentally friendly, creating soft, stretched and nasal production.

Along with the project application, the organization also for the first time published its FHE technology roadmap. Designed to inform NextFlex’s funding priorities, the documents are saturated with information on current market opportunities, needs and stakeholders in the world of printed electronics, in addition to a five-year roadmap aimed at filling identified “technical gaps”.

With this roadmap and its latest project guide, the group suggests that records should be “industrial” where necessary, have a “significant U.S. presence” and a “clear path to commercialization”. As for the actual content of the materials, NextFlex says they should include enough details so that the techniques can be reproduced in the technology center, while funding should be split 1: 1.

More information about the project call 7.0 is planned to be revealed at the “Proposers Day” event and the Association of Participants on March 1, 2022 at the NextFlex FHE Winter Symposium, where participants can ask questions and form teams with proposals. The deadline for applications to the consortium is April 14, 2022.

Those wishing to take part in the event can find out more here.

Presentation at the NextFlex Innovation Day 2017
NextFlex is holding a symposium in San Jose next month, where the project application is expected to be discussed further. Photo via NextFlex.

Investing in innovative electronics

Although the field of 3D printing electronics is still at a relatively early stage of commercialization, it continues to attract significant interest from investors. Earlier this month, ETH Zurich Scrona AG raised $ 9.6 million to develop a high-resolution approach to 3D printing in electronics from well-known retailers such as AM Ventures.

Nano Dimension, one of the first leaders in the field, has also infused a huge amount of funding into R&D. As part of one such initiative, in June 2021, the company co-founded JAMES for $ 6 million with HENSOLDT sensor specialist, which resulted in a community of designers working to promote additive electronics (AME).

On a more commercial level, nScrypt continues to invest in the development of its Factory in a Tool (FiT) system, and late last year it launched a toolhead that allows 3D printing of multi-axis electronics on curved or irregular surfaces. To demonstrate the micro-dosing capabilities of this device “SmartPump”, when it first appeared, the company printed its own 3D-shaped logo on a computer mouse.

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The recommended image shows the 3D printing process used by one of the NextFlex members to manufacture the FHE components. Photo via NextFlex.

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