Pentagon Awards New Flexible Hybrid Electronics Hub to Silicon Valley

By Sunny Lewis

SAN JOSE, California, August 31, 2015 (Maximpact News) – Smart bandages, soft robotics for the injured, wearable electronics and self-monitoring weapons systems are among the innovations expected from a new flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing institute to be created in Silicon Valley.

After a nationwide bidding process, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter Friday announced the award of the Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Flexible Hybrid Electronics to a public-private consortium based in San Jose.

The seventh new manufacturing institute created by the Obama Administration since 2012 is a consortium of 96 companies, 41 universities, 14 state and local government organizations, and 11 labs and non-profits.

“This is one of my core goals as Secretary of Defense,” said Carter, announcing the award at Moffett Airfield, “renewing the ties, the bonds of trust between our national security endeavor at the Pentagon, and our wonderful, innovative, open technology community of companies and universities that make up one of America’s great strengths.”

The new institute will receive $75 million in Department of Defense funding over five years, matched with more than $90 million from industry, academia, and local governments, for a total of $171 million to advance flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing.

It will be managed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and led by the FlexTech Alliance, a research consortium and trade association.

Jennifer Ernst, who chairs the FlexTech Alliance Governing Board and serves as chief strategy officer of Thin Film Electronics, said, “Flexible electronics are already re-shaping multiple markets, with a growing demand from customers. This initiative is a catalyst that ensures the U.S. will benefit from the industry’s commercial growth, with deep supply chains, multiple product developers and integrators participating.”

At the intersection of high precision printing and next generation sensors, hybrid electronics uses advanced flexible materials for circuits, communications, sensors and power combined with thinned silicon chips.

By packaging electronic components on flexible stretchable substrate, these devices can be attached to curved, irregular surfaces and stretched across buildings, objects, and humans.

Carter envisions seamless printing of lightweight, flexible structural integrity sensors right onto the surfaces of ships and aircraft, or folded into cracks and crevices where rigid circuit boards and bulky wiring could never fit.

“We’ll be able to have real-time damage reports,” he said. “Our troops will be able to lighten their loads with sensors and electronic gear embedded in their clothing, and wounded warriors will benefit from smart prosthetics that have the full flexibility of human skin.”

Embedded sensors will be able to monitor the state of commercial automobiles and aircraft operating in harsh conditions such as undersea pressure or extreme temperature.

U.S. Congressman Mike Honda, a Democrat who represents San Jose and Silicon Valley, worked with Congress to bring the institute to Silicon Valley.

At the award announcement, Honda said, “Headquartering this Flexible Hybrid Electronics hub in San Jose ensures that the best of Silicon Valley’s tremendous academic, commercial, industrial, public, and labor resources are available to bridge the technology transfer gap and develop this emerging, game-changing technology as it reshapes the electronics industry and brings good-paying, middle-class manufacturing jobs to the Bay Area.”

After a decade of decline in the 2000s, when 40 percent of all large U.S. factories closed their doors, American manufacturing is adding jobs at its fastest rate in decades, with nearly 900,000 new manufacturing jobs created since February 2010.

PHOTO: Electronic components on flexible stretchable substrate (Photo courtesy FlexTech Alliance)

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