2016FLEX Features Innovative Manufacturing Trends, New Products and a Bright Industry Future


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2016FLEX, organized by FlexTech, a SEMI Strategic Association Partner, launched this week highlighting advancements in flexible, hybrid and printed electronics. More than 650 professionals – a record setting attendance - have gathered for short courses, technical session, exhibits, and networking in this fast-growing field of electronics. The Flex Conference celebrates its 15th anniversary as a focal point for companies, R&D organizations, and universities contributing to the adoption of flexible sensors, displays, power sources and other key components and systems.

Adele Ratcliff, director of the US Department of Defense (DOD) – Manufacturing Technology (ManTech) Program, opened the conference with an explanation of the Obama Administration's National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). The goals of the seven announced Institutes are to propel the U.S. into advanced manufacturing, solve commercial and defense technical problems, and foster job creation though education, training and workforce development. NextFlex, America's Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute, was created last year by FlexTech under a $75 million DOD award and debuted this year at 2016FLEX.

Following the opening keynote, Dr. Tolis Voutsas of Sharp Labs presented an overview of the flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) ecosystem supporting wearable electronics, medical devices and the Internet of Things (IoT). Dr. Tolis noted that the key challenges facing the industry are developing new and effective power sources for wearables, creating user friendly designs, managing data from millions/billions of devices, and securing information. 

Several speakers specifically addressed the growing demand and markets for wearable electronics. The common thread of each presentation was to watch the everyday athlete to see how innovative consumer electronics and sports apparel companies are responding. DuPont has entered the space with smart textiles and fabrics incorporating electronics. According to Lux Research, Google is partnering with Levi for smart textiles. Lux further noted that fitness tracking and heartrate monitoring devices are just the earliest use cases, and are already at the commodity stage. More can be done with better user interfaces (UIs) including haptics and gesture control.

Printed and flexible electronics are beginning to penetrate multiple markets and automotive applications are an example, according to IDTechEx. The market research firm estimates 2016 sales of US $400 million rising to over $1 billion US in 2018. Key flexible electronics applications are de-foggers, displays, seat heaters, interior lighting, and consoles, in addition to a growing number of OLED-based displays in vehicles.

Dr. Azar Alizadeh of GE Global Research explained that the future shift in healthcare - where hospitals will focus on acute care and the home will focus on disease management, prevention, and wellness – is dependent on wearable health monitors, based on new flexible sensors. Over the next five years, improved and available sensors will reduce the cost and footprint of wearable devices, thereby enabling continuous monitoring.

R&D Centers and industrial consortia driving FHE technology and applications are proliferating. 2001FLEX drew a strong international representation including Canada (National Optics Institute and National Research Council), Finland (VTT Research Center), Germany (Fraunhofer Institute), India (Indian Institute of Technology), Netherlands (Holst Center), United Kingdom (Center for Process Innovation), and the U.S. (Flexible Electronics and Display Center, MEMS Industry Group, NextFlex, SRI International).

"2016FLEX clearly met our goal of exploring the innovation ecosystem of flexible electronics," stated Michael Ciesinski, FlexTech's president. "From defining key markets to explaining the manufacturing supply chain to identifying future R&D thrusts, 2016 FLEX was an unqualified success." 

About FlexTech, a SEMI Strategic Association Partner

FlexTech is focused on growth, profitability, and success throughout the manufacturing and distribution chain of flexible, printed electronics, by developing solutions for advancing these technologies from R&D to commercialization. As a part of SEMI, FlexTech is part of an organization which connects more than 1,900 member companies and more than a quarter-million professionals worldwide to advance the science and business of electronics manufacturing. Members are responsible for the innovations in materials, design, equipment, software, and services that enable smarter, faster, more powerful, and more affordable electronic products. Since 1970, SEMI has built connections that have helped our members grow more profitably, create new markets, and address common industry challenges together.

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