Researchers from the UMass Lowell Nanomanufacturing Center and Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems are using a $1.89 million Nextflex grant to advance flexible electronics manufacturing.
“We view it as opportunity for the plastics industry to become more integrated into other disciplines,” said Joey Mead, co-director of the Nanomanufacturing Center in Lowell, Mass.
“To create new lower cost substrates and provide it to a new community is very important,” she added.
Nextflex, a flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing institute was founded in 2015 through an agreement between the U.S. Department of Defense and the Flex-Tech Alliance. It is consortium of companies, academic institutions, nonprofits and government created to promote U.S. manufacturing of flexible hybrid electronics.
The Nanomanufacturing Center has been collaborating with Raytheon for about 10 years, and this grant is targeted for multi-functional substrates and printing integration for radio frequency devices. It will focus on achieving scaled processes for materials and processes used in printed conformal RF including the dielectric substrates and their conductive patterning.
The university team will work with Raytheon and Dassault Systemes Simulia Corp, an expert in multi-physics modeling to accelerate the adoption of multi-functional substrates that are compatible with a broad range of inks and printing processes.
The plan is to create a continuous manufacturing process to scale production of substrates and printing on the substrates. They will be used in the next generation of adaptive printed RF and microwave components and devices required for future monitoring systems, like GPS asset-tracking systems.
The transition will occur through Raytheon's existing supply chain and UMass Lowell's Industry Consortium of companies such as Rogers Corp., Flexcon, Foster Corp. and Bixby International.
The researchers include Mead, electrical engineering professor Alkim Akyurtlu, plastics engineering professor Carol Barry and Mary Herndon, Engineering Fellow at Raytheon IDS.
Mead said that the work on novel substrates could lead to new products.
She said that there are many future possibilities. For example, it could be used to monitor a soldier's sweat to determine if he or she is tired or injured. Transferring that idea to civilian use might lead to a product that can monitor vital information that can tell you when to go to the doctor or even release a drug to treat a condition.
The Nanomanufacturing Center has 26 faculty members from eight academic departments, including plastics engineering and mechanical engineering. Its research focuses on rubber and polymer nanocomposites, substrates for flexible electronics, novel filaments for 3-D printing, sensors, biosensors, metamaterials and nanomedicine.