In 2015, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) Manufacturing Institute (NextFlex) was formed as the result of an agreement between the US Department of Defense (DoD) and FlexTech Alliance. One of eight Manufacturing Innovation Institutes established by the DoD Manufacturing Technology Program as public-private partnerships, the NextFlex consortium is one of the leaders in the Manufacturing USA network, and its members share a common goal of advancing the fabrication of flexible hybrid electronics in the US. At the core of its research lies 3D-printed FHEs, which can be used in many industries.
FHE is a class of efficient, conformable, low-cost, thin, lightweight, smart devices that can be used for applications in the commercial, consumer, and military sectors.
This June, NextFlex announced that it has secured a major investment in its FHE work. In a new cost-sharing agreement with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the DoD will provide seven years of funding, worth up to $154 million, in order to advance electronics that support military operations and defense manufacturing.
“We are excited to continue our partnership with NextFlex and its members,” Dr. Richard Vaia, Chief Scientist for the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate at AFRL, said in a press release. “The Flexible Hybrid Electronic manufacturing ecosystem did not exist five years ago. Today these technologies are not only providing component solutions to our current platforms but are revolutionizing our design concepts for future transformation capabilities for 2030.”
The agreement with AFRL includes funding from the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s (OSD) Manufacturing Technology program. NextFlex will use the money to support its continuing mission to drive electronics innovation for manufacturing and military applications for OSD Research & Engineering modernization.
“We’re beginning to see some of the initial projects we’ve collaborated on with our members make great strides towards the market, or towards active military use. As the leading member organization and collaboration partner in the field of FHE, we know this new funding will pave the way towards the vision of Electronics Everywhere,” stated NextFlex Executive Director Dr. Malcolm Thompson.
Some of these FHE-related projects include conformal 3D printing of functional dielectric and conductor materials on complex 3D surfaces and the development of a database about 3D printed antennas and microwave elements for use in military, avionics and microwave communications.
NextFlex will also use the AFRL funding to help create new FHE innovations, focusing specifically on DoD technology transitions which will work to increase military capabilities. As part of its role in the new Cooperative Agreement, the consortium will be updating, and expanding, its technology and project support roadmaps in regards to FHE manufacturing, and working with government agencies to accomplish set goals.
“Over the last five years, the DoD and Government partnership with NextFlex and members demonstrated numerous flexible hybrid electronics-based prototypes for Modernization Priorities,” said Dr. Eric Forsythe, the NextFlex Government Program Manager and ERP SAMM Hybrid Thrust Lead at the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory. ” We are excited to support the OSD ManTech Office in the execution of the second AFRL Cooperative Agreement. Many new approaches will be implemented in the second agreement supporting emerging National Advanced Manufacturing challenges and DoD priorities.”
Additionally, NextFlex will also use this new funding to help grow a “more robust FHE ecosystem” in the country by expanding several of the consortium’s combined FHE projects.
NextFlex has also announced that it was awarded a separate $10 million in funding through the DoD’s Defense-wide Manufacturing Science and Technology Program. In order to develop processes and technologies that are needed to produce state-of-the-art defense systems, NextFlex will use this funding for projects from its network of 100 members which advance fabrication processes for FHE that support the advanced manufacturing goals of the DoD.
Rep. Anthony Brindisi (NY-22) said, “I am proud to support Nextflex’s successful collaborations with organizations like The Center for Advanced Microelectronics Manufacturing (CAMM) at Binghamton University. I applaud NextFlex’s decision to use additional federal funding for advanced manufacturing projects that will accelerate the adoption of flexible hybrid electronics in the US.”
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