Posted at 10:02 AM
Guest blog post by Dr. Malcolm J. Thompson, Executive Director, NextFlex
NextFlex, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute, is excited to celebrate this year’s Manufacturing Day by announcing plans for a pilot program that will essentially extend the next few weeks into “Manufacturing Month” for a group of Silicon Valley high school students. Details follow, but first – what is NextFlex?
NextFlex was established as a Manufacturing USA institute last year to fulfill a unique vision: integrating electronics with people and things via Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE). FHE combines unique materials and printing technology with everyday products, adding the power of silicon chips, to create smart, lightweight, low-cost, flexible, conformable and stretchable electronic products. These products can sense conditions (human health, operational performance), communicate information, and make decisions.
The potential applications are virtually limitless. Here are just a few examples, some of which are already being developed: bandages that accelerate wound healing by managing oxygen levels in the wound; biodegradable sensors that can tell farmers when to water crops on demand, reducing water usage while maintaining crop yield; wearable devices that can monitor and assess body chemistry, not just pulse and heart rate; and ultrathin sensors that wrap around gas pipelines to detect leaks.
Achieving this vision will enable the broad electronics industry (including semiconductors, printing, materials, and assembly) to grow into new markets. Further, developing this new manufacturing approach will transform existing supply chains, as it will allow for customized manufacturing of systems for different applications. Finally, as these new “ultra-smart” products are commercialized and adopted, they will enable new economic activities.
A distinguishing feature about this new FHE industry is that that product cycle time is very short with fast design cycles. The time to market necessitates that manufacturing needs to be done close to the customer, whether in Silicon Valley where NextFlex is headquartered or other centers of innovation around the country.
Fulfilling this vision will also require an influx of new talent, primed to view manufacturing as an exciting, viable profession. This is what NextFlex aims to achieve through efforts such as the aforementioned educational program. NextFlex is partnering with Jabil Circuit, San Jose’s Lincoln High School, San Jose-Evergreen Community College District, the City of San Jose and San Jose Work2Future to offer a multi-week project-based learning program to Lincoln High students.
The first pilot will require the participants – eight students from the school’s Capstone Course – to work in teams, each guided by a NextFlex mentor, to develop and pitch a business model idea associated with an advanced manufactured human health or performance-monitoring device. The program will kick off on October 21 with a tour of Jabil Circuit in the morning and an afternoon session at NextFlex, where the students will be briefed on the program and FHE technology, and will be provided an overview of entrepreneurship and the business model canvas.
In the weeks to follow, the students will visit Evergreen Community College and tour the school’s state-of-the-art automotive technical training facility and observe the college’s students participating in its advanced manufacturing/technical programs. They’ll also receive information from San Jose Work2Future on paid internship opportunities with local area manufacturers, and they will finalize and present their business model ideas during class.
Finally, in early November, an open house will be held at NextFlex for the students and their families, culminating in the teams getting to meet and present their ideas to San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.
Through the pilot we will learn how to scale this regionally and nationally over time.
As a member of Manufacturing USA, NextFlex is excited to be driving this program (the second part of which will take place in Spring 2017), and to be taking the charge in helping make the U.S. a leading force in FHE manufacture.