Skip to content Skip to navigation

New Public-Private Partnerships Supported by Nanotechnology Innovations

Written by: 
Jeff Morse, Ph.D.

Recent announcements by the federal government regarding significant investments in public-private partnerships have continued to enhance opportunities for nanomanufacturing technologies to impact future advanced product developments. Last week, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the federal government has awarded a Manufacturing Innovation Institute (MII) for Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) to a consortium of 162 companies, universities, and non-profits led by the FlexTech Alliance. The announcement follows a highly competitive nationwide bid process for what will become the seventh of nine such manufacturing innovation institutes launched by the administration as part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation announced by President Obama in 2012. This newest institute will bring the best minds from government, industry and academia together to advance U.S. leadership in manufacturing flexible hybrid electronics leading to breakthroughs in advanced manufacturing that will expand the economic boundaries for multiple states and regions contributing to the Institute.

The emerging flexible hybrid electronics sector promises to revolutionize the electronics industry, and the Silicon Valley-based FlexTech Alliance consortium, backed by companies including General Electric, Thin Film, and Flextronics, along with major research universities including the University of California Berkeley, Stanford, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, SUNY Binghamton, and MIT, represents the next chapter in the long-standing public-private partnerships between the DoD and tech community. The new electronics being created take tasks now performed by more expensive, rigid devices based on silicon-based semiconductor chips found in computers and other devices and over time replaces them with less expensive components including sensors printed on a thin ribbon of plastic in a roll-to-roll manufacturing facility like the ones being developed at SUNY Binghamton, UMass Amherst, and UC Berkeley. The FHE MII will impact areas of application including wearables for health monitoring and medical devices, sensors for the Internet of Things (IoT), and infrastructure monitoring and assessment.

This MII announcement follows on the heels of the Integrated Photonics MII awarded last month to the team led by Albany Nanotech (SUNY Albany) which is focused on developing an end-to-end integrated photonics ecosystem in the U.S., including domestic foundry access, integrated design tools, automated packaging, assembly and test, and workforce development. This MII will develop and demonstrate innovative manufacturing technologies for ultra-high-speed transmission of signals for the internet and telecommunications, new high-performance information-processing systems and computing, compact sensor applications enabling dramatic medical advances in diagnostics and treatment, multi-sensor applications including urban navigation, free space optical communications and quantum information sciences, and other diverse military applications including electronic warfare, analog RF sensing, communications, and chemical/biological detection.

Technology and manufacturing developments for both MIIs will require cross-cutting disciplines of design, manufacturing, packaging, reliability and testing. Benefits of the MII model is in bringing government, industry and academia together to establish domestic ecosystems in FHE and integrated photonic technologies thereby better positioning the U.S. relative to global competition. Activities under the MIIs will enable academic institutions and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) translate emerging laboratory research and accelerate product development and innovation to advance within the global competitive landscape.