NextFlex Announces $8.45M in Funding for Semiconductors and Electronics 3D Printing

NextFlex, a Department of Defense (DoD) Manufacturing Innovation Institute (MII), announced that the organization will fund nine new projects related to flexible hybrid electronics (FHE). NextFlex is providing $4.2 million alongside $4.25 million contributed by participants, yielding a total of $8.45 million that will go towards additive manufacturing (AM) for electronics.

Established in 2012 by the Obama administration as the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), the MIIs have been collectively referred to as Manufacturing USA (MFG USA) since 2016. All the MIIs, of which there are now a total of 16, operate as public-private partnerships dedicated to research into advanced manufacturing techniques, with a special emphasis on AM.

Founded in 2015, NextFlex awards funding in annual Project Calls, the latest being Project Call 7.0. In line with the CHIPS Act passed by Congress and signed into law by the Biden administration earlier this year, the funding in Project Call 7.0 is intended primarily for R&D into domestic production of semiconductor packaging.

In a press release about NextFlex’s latest round of funding, the organization’s executive director, Malcolm J. Thompson, commented, “I am pleased to announce these important new projects, which will enhance the state of the art in hybrid electronics, support national efforts for semiconductor package manufacturing, and help to transition an increasing number of new capabilities into the US industrial manufacturing sector for further advancement of the industry. The NextFlex member community is accelerating FHE and additively manufactured electronics toward commercialization in a number of critical applications areas addressed in these projects.”

The grantees/cost-sharers for Project Call 7.0 include defense industry giants Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Lockheed Martin, as well as research institutions: Auburn University and Binghamton University (the latter is partnering on two projects with GE Research). Finally, two of the participants are Ohio-based companies specializing in military R&D: UES Inc., and Sentinel Occupational Safety.

The projects represent a diverse range of FHE applications, especially wearable electronics, for critical sectors like aerospace and automotive, which isn’t surprising considering the military focus of the interests involved. But there are also multiple projects related to printed electronics for medical devices, as well as R&D projects into more sustainable AM materials, and life-cycle assessments (LCAs) concerning worker safety.

Thus, Project Call 7.0 highlights the increasingly ubiquitous demand for FHE applications, and equally, the role that powerful corporate and government backers seem to envision that AM will play in the scale-up of FHE supply chains. Amidst all the discussion lately of AM’s potential for augmenting economic resilience and supply-side security, the simultaneously ongoing chaos in semiconductor markets has always been lurking somewhere in the background. But it seems like it won’t be long before electronics rises noticeably, and permanently, to the forefront of the AM sector news cycle.