Technical Fellow Boeing Research and Technology, AL, United States
The future of Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) relies heavily on the large scale commercial production of devices with complex computational capabilities. We recognize that simpler devices such as RFID tags, lighting surfaces, and remote sensors have opened the market. Now is the time to begin functionalizing advanced microcontrollers, RF communications, and audio/visual sensing. The challenge of these products lies primarily in process optimization of new materials, electronic packaging, and product qualification. Over the past six years, Boeing and many other NextFlex MII consortium members have collaborated on manufacturing hardware improvements, substrate utilization, new and existing inks, and dielectric insulation schemes to develop more and more complex devices. Today, we can repeatedly produce multilayer electronics using silver inks. We have also introduced complex multi-pin microprocessors both as packaged and unpackaged electronic components. However, there are a limited number of suppliers that can attach electronics to our products, and even fewer that can do so without solder. The risk of delivery failure is still too high for some pilot production purposes.
To mitigate those risks, we are working with universities and suppliers to ink jet print electronics with low temperature solders at pre-pilot scales (less than 500 functional devices). We are also optimizing our R&D processes with cost analysis and scale-able assembly to demonstrate Manufacturing Readiness Levels (MRL) between 5/6 for entry into the supply chain. From low cost IoT devices to attritable antennas with integrated electronics, Boeing’s FHE devices are engineered to meet quality needs while reducing the cost existing factory, warehouse, and RF applications. The next step is to qualify manufactured devices for temperature, humidity, power utilization, corrosion, drop testing, general wear, and trusted connectivity. Some of these tests have already been initiated, but not rigorously implemented. However, a rigorous qualification process is required for all materials, components, and products used on aerospace platforms.