In this interview, Michael Ciesinski, President of FlexTech Group, a SEMI Strategic Association Partner talks to AZoSensors about creating next generation products that will benefit many industries.
MR: FlexTech is a SEMI Strategic Association Partner. Please tell us a bit about FlexTech.
MC: FlexTech, a SEMI strategic association partner, focuses on the growth, profitability and success of flexible and printed electronics by developing educational forums, directing research and development funding, and advocating for the technology. Members of SEMI's FlexTech Group benefit from expanded commercial and technical advantages.
We offer both tangible benefits - such as R&D funding, speaking opportunities, introductions to key players in the industry, research reports - and intangible benefits - such as end user education, industry advocacy, and networking opportunities. The needs of the members drive the work and mission of SEMI | FlexTech.
As the electronics industry matures and technology advances, traditional lines between industries and customer and supplier relationships have blurred. Flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) is one such technology that blurs those lines, and is one of the technologies which SEMI identified as high interest to its members.
FlexTech joining SEMI as a strategic partner in 2015 was a formal step in SEMI expanding its coverage to the broader electronics supply chain. SEMI and FlexTech members gained both wider and deeper visibility to opportunities in the new markets created by FHE, like wearable electronics and applications for the IoT.
The partnership with SEMI also provided FlexTech members access to more resources, the expertise of a complementary industry, and worldwide platforms. FlexTech is positioned to maintain its R&D programs, broaden its contributions to industry technical forums including standards-setting, and enhance its industry-building business programs.
MR: FlexTech is devoted to the accelerating the development and adoption of flexible, hybrid electronics (FHE) which enable a new class of electronics. What are some of the new products, capabilities, and features?
MC: FHE is an exciting technology, combining aspects of traditional IC manufacturing with printed electronics. FlexTech focuses on this rapidly growing electronics field and has built a vital and collaborative community.
Image Caption: Example of flexible hybrid electronics triple sensor system for sensing strain, touch and temperature developed by PARC under FlexTech project direction
According to FlexTech’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics’ Information Hub, flexible electronics refers to electronic devices built on conformable or stretchable substrates, usually plastic, but also metal foil, paper, and flex glass. This enables a new class of electronics - ones that conform to any shape, but are also bendable, twistable, and/or stretchable.
Taking advantage of the ability to conform, electronics are incorporated into more useful and comfortable consumer and industrial products, capabilities, and features. Combined with rapid advancements in data analytics and artificial intelligence, they can bring digital intelligence to the greater world.
The term "hybrid" refers to pairing very thin silicon devices with printed interconnects and sensors, allowing the system to process data and activate commands, but also use the most cost-appropriate components. The manufacturing processes bring traditional handling and printing techniques from the paper printing industry: ink placement from heads designed for office printers, chemical formulations from the paint industry, micro- and nano-scale lithography from IC manufacturing, as well as processes - such as pick-and-placement of unpackaged, flexible die - into continuous web processes and/or onto flexible substrates.
MR: How will the new products benefit certain industries?
MC: FHE is an essential field of technology for creating next-generation products, due to its focus on smaller, lightweight, flexible form-factors. Consumer and industrial electronics companies from automobiles to food packaging to asset monitoring are designing entirely new systems taking advantage of FHE characteristics – e.g., asset taggers/trackers or agriculture sensor networks.
Next generations of existing products are also being re-designed to incorporate FHE, for example, smart watches, cell phones, cars, and health-monitoring products. Things that were once rigid can now be built to stretch, encircle or are just smaller and more lightweight.
Image Caption: Textiles with printed electronics are enabling smart bandages, smart clothing and smart industrial and consumer products.
Structural health monitoring is one increasingly active and intriguing area for adding flexible electronics. Flexible electronics are a key part of creating large-scale, inexpensive sensor networks for gathering data to monitor aging infrastructure. Two examples, strain sensors on bridges and flow sensors in pipes, are already embedded in new construction. Connected to the network, anomalies can be detected and investigated to avert system failure or identify inefficiencies.
MR: What companies are involved in FHE? How do they benefit from FHE?
MC: As noted above, FHE is an essential field of technology for creating next-generation products, due to its focus on smaller, lightweight, flexible form-factor. Therefore, many electronics companies are participating in some way in the development of FHE -- from Fortune 500 to start-ups to research labs to government organizations. For example, over 300 different entities attended 2016FLEX, including:
- Integrators & Customers: Apple, AU Optronics, GE, GE Global Research, Northrop Grumman, E Ink, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, IBM, Nike, Libelium, Molex, PPG, Panasonic, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sony, Thin Film Electronics, Jabil, Texas Instrument, Mercedes Benz, FitBit and Google
- Equipment Suppliers: Applied Materials, Aixtron, Arkema, Bosch, Meyer Burger, Optomec, NovaCentrix, and Sartomer
- Materials Suppliers: 3M, Analog Devices, DuPont, Heraeus, Hitachi Chemical, Merck KGaA, Mitsubishi Gas & Chemical, Eastman Chemical, EnRG, Intrinsiq Materials, Brewer Science,
- Research Institutions: U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force Research Laboratories CEA-LITEN (France), ETRI (South Korea), Flexible Electronics & Display Center (USA), Fraunhofer Institute (Germany), Holst Center (Netherlands), NextFlex (US), National Research Council (Canada), PARC (USA), and VTT (Finland)
MR: 2017FLEX will open on June 19. What can we expect from the event? Can you give us a few highlights?
MC: FlexTech’s annual Flexible Electronics Conference and Exhibit – 2017FLEX – is set for the Hyatt Regency Hotel & Spa in Monterey, California from June 19-22, 2017. Consistently attracting 600+ registrants, the event is the premier technology conference for the emerging flexible electronics industry. Twenty-six sessions will cover the landscape of flexible hybrid electronics and printed electronics, including R&D, manufacturing and applications. Short courses and networking events round out 2017FLEX.
Technical sessions are scheduled for FHE manufacturing, standards and reliability, substrates, conductors, inspection, encapsulation and coating, nanoparticle inks, direct write, and 3D printing, among others.
The exhibit floor, short courses and networking opportunities are highlights of the event, as well as many member-only meetings. FlexTech, the Nano-Bio Manufacturing Consortium (NBMC) and NextFlex hold member and planning meetings for the governing councils, technical councils and technology working groups. Initiatives in manufacturing, mobile power, e-health, as well as project proposals will be discussed, all buoyed by the information shared during the technical conference.
The challenges have been considerable in adding flexibility to electronics which have been developed on stable and rigid substrates – attributes which have also constrained them to static and box-like packaging. Topics of the presentations range from new forms of flexible substrates to TFT and OLED pilot lines to printed health monitoring sensors.
MR: What is in store for the future of FlexTech? What is the company’s mission?
MC: SEMI | FlexTech will continue its mission to facilitate the commercialization of flexible hybrid electronics through funding R&D projects focused on new materials, equipment and/or creation of integration strategies and processes. Capitalizing on SEMI’s traditional strengths, we have begun identifying areas in needs of standards, as well as reaching the global community of electronics designers and producers.
As FHE production matures, the need for better design and test tools is clear, and more clearly overlaps with SEMI’s traditional members who provide those capabilities.
We are also working to leverage our commonalities with the MEMS & Sensors Industry Group (SEMI | MSIG), another SEMI Strategic Association Partner. The sensor networks and the devices that are needed at the edge of those networks clearly demand the types of devices with FHE features – lightweight, produced in high-quantity and flexible. Thus, our efforts will be on facilitating a consistent stream of information and opportunities for our members to collaborate and connect on the rapid advancements in FHE.
MR: Where can our readers go to find out more?
MC: Learn more about the growth in the FHE industry at 2017FLEX. To view the entire agenda of speakers, exhibitors, and networking opportunities at 2017FLEX.com. To learn more about FlexTech, visit Flextech.org.
About Michael Ciesinski
President of FlexTech Alliance
Michael Ciesinski is President of the FlexTech Group, a SEMI Strategic Association Partner, chartered with building up the infrastructure for flexible electronics manufacturing.
His prior executive positions include President/CEO of US Display Consortium and Vice President/Director of North American Operations for SEMI.
Ciesinski is a graduate of the State University of New York at Albany and a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council for Engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
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