NextFlex has successfully proven the robustness of the FHE manufacturing process, producing multiple functional samples of a flexible Arduino system. As part of the Flexible Arduino Microcontroller Project, NextFlex redesigned a device typically built on a rigid printed circuit board (PCB)—by printing and attaching thin bare die on a flexible substrate while maintaining the performance associated with traditional packaged ICs. This achievement ultimately helps realize FHE's enormous potential for creating ubiquitous IoT and sensor products for consumer, commercial and military applications.
Arduino is an open-source, microcontroller-based electronics prototyping platform that utilizes versatile, easy-to-use hardware and software. As a result, Arduino has achieved a high degree of popularity with developers ranging from novices to seasoned experts because it is open source, with publicly available design files and bills of materials (BOMs), and low cost. Up until now, however, Arduino products have been built with traditional packaged die microcontrollers, which deliver high performance and functionality, but have design limitations (fragile, rigid, bulky), therefore complicating integration into newer sensor devices that may be flexible or curved in design.
NextFlex tackled this design challenge head on by developing a process flow for manufacturing a flexible Arduino that reduced the number of process steps by almost two thirds when compared with traditional electronics manufacturing processes. NextFlex replaced the traditional circuit board with a thin, flexible plastic sheet and used digital printing processes for circuit elements. Die attach of a thin bare die eliminated traditional microcontroller packaging while further enabling flexibility of the product. The new process translates to an anticipated savings in manufacturing time and cost, as well as a significant reduction in the end-product weight – the flexible Arduino is only a third of the weight of the rigid Arduino Mini board.
NextFlex's San Jose-based open-innovation Technology Hub proved valuable in allowing NextFlex to integrate all the component steps to yield functioning samples. The Hub is the only single-source FHE processing production line in the U.S., and offers members access to state-of-the-art production equipment for proving new technology, developing new manufacturing processes, and testing new materials. NextFlex first demonstrated a sample flexible Arduino system last September during its annual Innovation Day, where Wilfried Bair, senior engineering manager for device integration and packaging at NextFlex, talked about the creation of the flexible Arduino. See here at: https://youtu.be/XC09hOloGDo