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US DoD invests $75m in flexible hybrid electronics centre in Silicon Valley

Steve Rogerson
September 1, 2015
The US Department of Defense (DoD) is investing $75m in a Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Silicon Valley, with the goal of developing flexible hybrid electronics products for military applications that can also have wider IoT commercial use.
The award was made to the FlexTech Alliance and the $75m in federal funding over a five-year period is being matched by more than $90m in cost sharing from non-federal sources, including the City of San Jose, private companies, universities, several USA states, and not-for-profit organisations.
FlexTech Alliance’s winning proposal results in the first of seven MIIs to be headquartered on the west coast.
Flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) enables the integration of thin silicon electronic devices, sensing elements, communications and power on non-traditional flexible substrates. It has the potential to re-shape entire industries, from the electronic wearable devices market, to medical health monitoring systems to the IoT. To be successful, the institute will need to engage aspects of the integrated circuit industry, the graphics printing industry, and the electronic assembly and packaging industry.
US secretary of defence, Ashton Carter, made the announcement at the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field. The FlexTech Alliance, a research consortium and trade association, successfully proposed a San Jose-based hub and node approach to create the MII, which comprises 96 companies, 11 laboratories and non-profits, 42 universities, and 14 state and regional organisations.
The institute’s activities aim to benefit a wide array of markets beyond defence, including automotive, communications, consumer electronics, medical devices, health care, transportation and logistics, and agriculture. While the institute will be headquartered in San Jose, existing nodes around the country already have in place an infrastructure ready to solve some of the known manufacturing problems. The institute will distribute R&D funds via competitively-bid project calls. Industry-generated technology roadmaps will drive project calls, timelines and investments.
Additionally, education and training in FHE manufacturing will be emphasised to expand the available workforce. A Flex School concept will be developed through partnerships with community colleges, teaching and research universities, trade associations, and professional societies.
“FlexTech is privileged to accept this award from the defence department to stand up and lead the FHE MII,” said Michael Ciesinski, president and CEO of the FlexTech Alliance. “Our partners collaborated on a superb proposal that links a national hub in San Jose to a network of centres of excellence throughout the USA. We are excited by the FHE manufacturing challenge and eager to get operations underway.”
The institute is part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) programme. The FHE MII is the seventh MII announced – the fifth under DoD management. The programme is an initiative of the Obama administration to support advanced manufacturing in the USA. Each institute is part of a growing network dedicated to securing US leadership in the emerging technologies required to win the next generation of advanced manufacturing.
Bridging the gap between applied research and large-scale product manufacturing, the institutes bring together companies, universities, other academic and training institutions, and federal agencies to co-invest in technology areas that benefit the nation’s commercial and national defence interests.
“The intent of the MII is to draw in the country’s best-of-the-best scientists, engineers, manufacturing experts and business development professionals in the field of flexible hybrid electronics,” said Malcolm Thompson, executive director-designate of the institute.
Under the FlexTech proposal, the hub will provide overall programme direction, be the integrator of components, create prototypes, and mature manufacturing readiness levels. Fast start projects for equipment, materials, devices and other vital components will make use of existing node facilities and key personnel from around the country.
Manufacturing provides well-paying job opportunities at a range of educational levels in occupations spanning engineering, production, logistics and sales. Commenting on the institute’s local impact, San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo said: “San Jose ranks number one in the nation for advanced technology industries, and is in the top two for advanced manufacturing. Here in Silicon Valley, our extensive advanced manufacturing capability is essential for new product innovation across a range of growth areas – including wearable electronics, medical devices, connected vehicles and clean tech. The Manufacturing Innovation Institute for flexible hybrid electronics will accelerate growth of companies and good jobs in San Jose. This decision affirms San Jose’s role as global hub for innovation advancing the internet of things.”
To complement the San Jose hub, key technology nodes will be linked and include IC thinning, system design and fabrication, integration and assembly, and FHE applications. Several regional nodes have been recognised and more are expected. Those currently aligned to the institute are centres and educational institutions throughout California, along with Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, Ohio and Texas.
“Congratulations to the FlexTech team and Silicon Valley for being selected as the latest Manufacturing Innovation Institute,” said congressman Mike Honda. “As the epicentre of American innovation, Silicon Valley is uniquely poised to be the leader in advanced manufacturing. Headquartering this flexible hybrid electronics hub in San Jose ensures that the best of Silicon Valley’s tremendous academic, commercial, industrial, public and labour 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.”
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren added: “I’m pleased to see public-private partnerships like the FHE MII help boost advanced manufacturing here in Silicon Valley and across the USA. These sorts of investments not only create jobs at home, they boost our economy at large, and capitalise on the technologies that will keep America competitive in the future.”
And Jennifer Ernst, chair of the FlexTech Alliance, said: “Flexible electronics are already re-shaping multiple markets, with a growing demand from customers. This initiative is a catalyst that ensures the USA will benefit from the industry’s commercial growth, with deep supply chains, multiple product developers and integrators participating.”
Om Nalamasu, FlexTech board member and CTO of applied materials, said: “FHE is truly an exciting proposition and represents public-private collaboration in the USA at its finest. The electronics advancements enabled by FHE allow us to imagine medical devices that can unobtrusively safeguard the health of senior citizens, wearable health monitoring for fitness and security, and soft robotics for the injured, elderly or our wounded veterans.”
The cooperative agreement will be managed by the US Air Force Research laboratory (AFRL) and will receive $75m in DoD funding over five years matched with $96m from industry, academia and local governments. In total, the institute will receive $171m to invest in strengthening US manufacturing.
Flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing describes the innovative production of electronics and sensors packaging through techniques in electronic device handling and high precision printing on flexible, stretchable substrates. The potential array of products range from wearable devices to improved medical health monitoring technologies, and will increase the variety and capability of sensors. The technologies promise dual use applications in both the consumer economy and the development of military systems.
After a decade of decline in the 2000s, when 40 per cent of all large 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.