2020 FLEX/MSTC Examines Present, Looks Toward the Future

By David Savastano, Editor | 02.25.20

Autonomous driving, innovative contact lenses and implantable wearables among the topics as conference opens in San Jose.

The 2020 FLEX/MSTC, organized by SEMI-FlexTech, opened today at the DoubleTree by Hilton in San Jose, CA, with talks showcasing the past, present and future of flexible and hybrid electronics (FHE).
Keynote Speakers Talk About the Future
SEMI Americas president Dave Anderson opened the FLEX/MSTC Conference, noting that SEMI is celebrating its 50thanniversary this year, and spoke about the future.
“Flexible and hybrid electronics and MEMS and sensors continue to grow in importance, and today new applications seem to be infinite,” Anderson added. “One thing for certain is that change has never been this fast, and it will never be slow again.” 
Ajit Manocha, SEMI president and CEO, talked about the changes he has seen over the years in his talk, “Sensors, MEMS and FHE: Going Beyond Smart to Realize Imagination.”Manocha began with some thoughts on the automotive market.
“I remember as a child watching Knight Rider and wondering if my car would ever do that,” Manocha said. “During my career I used to supply to all of the automotive companies, particularly in Europe, and there were only 50 chips in a car. Now we have 10,000 chips and sensors in each car, and the prediction is that there will be 80,000 chips and sensors in every car in the future. Cars will become semiconductors on wheels.”
Manocha noted that SmartMedtech is a great opportunity for FHE.
“The focus is changing from the doctor to the person, who will decide what is right for them,” Manocha noted. “You will have the information at your fingertips, and the doctor and patient will be connected like never before. We will see 3D printed organs. For example, once they have printed artificial kidneys, it will save hundreds of thousands of lives.”
Continental Corporation VP Anil Rachakonda, head of R&D, North America, Systems & Technology, gave a presentation on “Consumer Applications Driving Smart Mobility Use Cases.” He noted that the automotive industry is evolving, beginning with the move from car ownership to ride sharing.
“Smart phones have raised the bar to what consumers are used to and are expecting,” Rachakonda observed. “People care about the cost of driving, and that has implications for ride sharing versus ownership. Customers want the comforts of home. There are new forms of displays, including 3D displays, and new apps. We can’t just wait for OEMs to tell us what they want – we have to be proactive, such as developing improved materials and new sensors – and we are partnering with start-ups.” 
Antti Vasara, president and CEO, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd., spoke on “Beyond Flexible Hybrid Electronics: Biodegradable Electronics and Interfacing Bio+Electronics.” Vasara spoke about how VTT is looking into challenges like sustainability.
“We realize the world is facing huge challenges like climate change, but this is also a fantastic time to bring solutions,” said Vasara. “We are excited by increasing of electronics and sensors, but we are now being challenged as to what happens to the electronics after they have been used. How do we cope with the huge amount of waste that is being generated? This has to be addressed. We have to reach sustainability by selecting highly recyclable and compostable materials, reduction of waste in manufacturing.”
Vasara also discussed VTT’s work on healthcare, including NFC-operated quantitative point of care diagnostic assays with low-to-zero on-board power, which will be powered by cell phones. This assay would be disposable, as it does not require a large number of components, as well as other sensors, such as printed paper-based test for detection of algae toxins.
Michael Wiemer, VP of engineering, CTO and co-founder of Mojo Vision, led off FLEX/MSTC’s second Keynote session with “The Art of the Possible,.” Mojo Vision is creating contact lens displays, with more than 100 patents, and Weimer noted how smart watches have changed the way watches are thought of. 
Ten years ago, when we looked at watches, I doubt we could have predicted what watches would become,” Weimer said. “Don’t start with an invention – start with the problem itself, and solve the problem that matters. We are developing contact lens displays, which promote invisible computing. It has to be invisible. We just came out of stealth at CES and had to make sure we knew what we were doing. 
“We think our 14K display is where our first product will be,” Weimer noted. “Contact lenses move with your eye, and the display moves with it. These will be good for people with low vision, as well as for health and wellness, directions and translation.”
Zhenan Bao, K.K. Lee Professor of Chemical Engineering, and by courtesy professor of chemistry, materials science and engineering, Stanford University, discussed “Skin-Inspired Electronics.” Bao highlighted applications such as blood pressure monitoring and  implantables. 
“We are dreaming of a future without cell phones, such as wearable electronics, and eventually the electronics will enter our bodies,” said Bao, who added that developing a wearable that can detect chemical and biological information like sweat and saliva is one project, as is a sleep monitoring system. Her team is also working on stretchable batteries.
Co-moderators Melissa Grupen-Shemansky and Tim Brosnahan of SEMI closed the keynote session with a Panel Discussion featuring Vasara, Wiemer and Bao.
Concurrent Sessions
After lunch, the conference broke into four concurrent sessions, three for FLEX and one for MSTC. Kei Hyodo, Yuasa System Co. Ltd., chaired FLEX SESSION 3: FHE Applications.  Benjamin Leever, technical director for manufacturing technology, Air Force Research Laboratory, began the session with “Flexible Hybrid Electronics for DoD Applications.”
Leever spoke about real tine monitoring of manufacturing equipment, work in progress, and inventory, as well as temperature, humidity, strain, and pressure sensors.
“We are working on state-of-the-art CMOS gas sensors and wearables for maintenance worker, where they can monitor the environment the worker is experiencing,” Leever said. “ We are monitoring humans as well as the equipment, such as biometric sensors in a compressive garment using textile integrated FHE and DuPont Intexar stretchable conductors to enable reliable data collection. FHE will help enable the Future Factory.”
John Rogers, senior electrical engineer, The Boeing Company, followed with “Recent Advances Towards an Integrated X-Band Printed Antenna Array.” He noted that flexible hybrid electronics are bendable, twistable, conformal integrated electronic systems. 
“They are low profile and low weight, with reduced material waste and manufacturing cost, and they are also conformable,” he added.
Among the projects that Boeing is working on with NextFlex is the Flexible Antenna Array Technology (FAAT). “FAAT provides a low profile 8x8 antenna array that can function on metal and carbon fiber and is conformable, with a significant reduction in weight,” Rogers noted.
Michael Mitchell, electrical engineer, The Boeing Company, spoke on “A Wireless Sensing Platform for Every Surface – Boeing’s Condition Monitoring Sensor Array.” Mitchell  discussed the Condition Monitoring Sensor Array, a NextFlex project Boeing collaborated with American Semiconductor, Imprint Energy, NextFlex, Western Michigan University and Chromera.
Gregory Whiting, associate professor, University of Colorado Boulder, discussed 
“Soft Robotic Systems Using Flexible Control Electronics and Hydraulically Amplified Electrostatic Actuators.” The university features the Boulder Experimental Electronics and Manufacturing Lab  (BEEM Lab), which is focused on printed electronics. 
Among the projects being conducted at BEEM Lab are soil and plant sensors, flexible and wearable electronics, functional 3D printing and off-planet manufacturing. The USE-FlexHV, funded by FlexTech, are flexible high voltage driving electronics to control soft actuators, enabling production of untethered mechanically compliant robots able to mimic muscular structures such as an octopus arm or elephant trunk.
“The devices are very simple,” Whiting said. “It is straightforward fabrication with low-cost materials, generally compatible with typical flexible substrate and electronics processing methods, including digital processing and printing.  We want to create FHE control and driving systems form as miniaturized as possible off the shelf components integrated with flexible substrates and ICs. PARC has been developing low temperature processes to process amorphous silicon transistors and circuits on plastics. We are getting excellent performance from these HASEL actuators for use in a wide range of soft robotic devices.”
Wei Wu, principal investigator at DuPont, closed the FHE session with his talk on “Smart Surface: Integration of Flexible Electronics with Building Materials.” Wu discussed DuPont’s work on smart surfaces.
“We can create totally new human-building interaction and unlimited design options using new materials with enhanced functionalities,” Wu noted. Among the examples Wu cited are a smart conference table with multiple integrated electronic features, an interactive capacitive touch + wall surface, programmable LED arrays and a printed moisture/RH sensor. 
“We can put this inside walls to detect moisture,” said Wu. “We enable surface functional enhancements and add invisible electronic features within building materials to develop new user experiences.”

For more information on FLEX2020, see FlexTech’s web site at flex.semi.org.