Flexible, Printed, Hybrid Electronics at NextFlex Opening

August 30, 2016 by Jeff Shepard

PARC, a Xerox company announced the advanced technologies to be highlighted at today's NextFlex opening in San Jose, CA. NextFlex is a public-private consortium of companies, academic institutions, nonprofits and governments with a mission to advance US manufacturing of flexible hybrid electronics. NextFlex encourages investment in the manufacturing ecosystem for this exciting technology, in return for receiving intellectual property, new product ideas and partnering opportunities.

PARC has been developing innovative technologies in the area of printed electronics for 15 years, and is working with a variety of commercial partners and government agencies to bring these technologies to market. This portfolio of work comprises material science, novel 2D and 3D printing, and process-driven design that will deliver entire libraries of smart components and systems. The "inks" are nanomaterials, molecular semiconductors, inorganic composites, and even tiny silicon chiplets that form circuits, sensors, light emitters, batteries, and more, integrated directly into products of all shapes, sizes and textures.

Flexible hybrid electronics brings together the industries of microelectronics, electronics assembly and printing. It will enable on-demand fabrication of custom electronics for smart wearable devices in conformal shapes, intelligent packaging, as well as sensors incorporated in the fabric of buildings, cities, cars, airplanes and even robots. Literally, we will have the capability to embed intelligence into all products and objects surrounding us, paving the way to the “Internet of Everything.”

PARC is working with a variety of materials and printing companies to enable a vast number of applications and services for a wide range of industries, from packaging to wearables to payment systems. Karl Dueland, Vice President, General Manager of Digital Manufacturing at Xerox commented, “We’re very excited about these PARC technologies and the commercial opportunities they represent for Xerox and the value they can bring to the market.” PARC’s work in the field of printed, flexible electronics includes a variety of projects:

HYBRID PRINTED STRAIN SENSORS: PARC developed flexible strain sensors that transmit wirelessly the degree of bending of a foil substrate in two dimensions. The sensors are printed on a transparent substrate and comprise a printed energy harvesting antenna and an integrated microchip. This platform enables applications such as structural monitoring on the surface of aircraft wings or buildings. The project was funded by the FlexTech Alliance.

PEEL-AND-STICK SENSORS FOR BUILDINGS: The Energy Department recently announced its investment of $19 million to improve the efficiency of our nation’s homes, offices, schools, hospitals, restaurants and stores. As part of the overall project, PARC will develop a wireless system of peel-and-stick sensor nodes that are powered by radio frequency hubs, relaying data to building management systems that can significantly reduce energy use.

FLEXIBLE X-RAY DETECTORS: PARC has successfully manufactured a flexible X-ray detector prototype using advanced thin-film transistors (TFTs). Measuring 10 diagonal inches, the device has been jointly developed at the Flexible Electronics and Display Center (FEDC) and PARC in conjunction with the Army Research Lab (ARL) and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). The devices will be used to advance the development of flexible X-ray detectors for use in thin, lightweight, and highly rugged devices. The technology will also enable other bendable, conformal, optical and acoustic imaging solutions for medical and security applications.

HYBRID ELECTRONICS FOR WEARABLES: PARC, in collaboration with University of California, San Diego (UCSD) developed printed hybrid biosensors that monitor glucose and lactate in saliva. The hybrid fabrication techniques used in this development make it possible to integrate the sensor in a mouthguard. The project was funded by the Nano Bio Manufacturing Consortium (NBMC).

PRINTED METHANE SENSORS: Under the ARPA-E Methane Observation Networks with Innovative Technology to Obtain Reductions (MONITOR) program, PARC will deliver low-cost printed sensor arrays to quantify and locate methane leaks, using a variety of modified carbon nanotube sensors. The combined response of the sensors will provide information on location and leak rates for methane and other gases. PARC has also developed other printed sensors to monitor electro-chemical, temperature, strain, light, and other gases.

PRINTED CHIPLETS: PARC has taken its understanding of printing and created a way to print smart materials with the throughput and cost of laser printers, but with the precision and functionality of nanotechnology. The typical printing process places colored toner particles on digitally designated locations to form patterns at high speed, handling >100 million particles per second for only pennies per a page. PARC realized that this same process could be used to handle microscopic chips, instead of toner, to form complex electronic circuits on demand, making electronics fabrication as simple as printing a document.

VANISHING ELECTRONICS: PARC’s Disintegration Upon Stress-Release Trigger (DUST) technology under DARPA’s Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program is an innovative technology based on stress-engineered glass that allows electronic devices -- chips, sensors and other electronics -- to be rapidly and remotely disintegrated on command, leaving small, dispersed particles, unseen to the human eye.