Imagine grabbing your favorite scarf before you go outside to shovel the 12 inches of snow that fell the night before or dispensing a sheet of paper towel to wipe the sweat from your brow after cutting the overgrown grass. Today, these are common actions for many of us. In the not-too-distant future, the difference will be that the scarf has embedded electronics that can sense your blood pressure, core body temperature and heart rate.
These embedded electronics in your scarf are integrated to a wireless communications link that transmits data to your health providers and allows them to monitor your physiological condition to ensure that you are not over-exerting your body while enjoying the quiet and calming experience of relocating hundreds of pounds of a white blanket of snow. The paper towel has integrated sensors that can analyze the electrolyte composition of your sweat to prepare that cool drink necessary to rebalance your body. These visions will be realized as soon as products, markets and people experience a digital transformation due to the introduction of a portfolio of flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) technologies. This personalized digital future will be experienced in perhaps as little as three to five years, enabled by flexible and stretchable FHE-based patient monitoring systems of distributed embedded sensors that capture data to be analyzed according to your digital health plan (e.g., telehealth).

Flexible hybrid electronics accelerating technology development

Today, technology development and consumer adoption are occurring at accelerating rates, and FHE has been mentioned as a technology disruptor that is fueling this acceleration. FHE is removing many of the constraints that previously limited designers to rely on evolutionary electronics technologies (BGA, CSP, flip chip, 0201, HDI, thin FR4, etc.), allowing them to integrate electronics in an unobtrusive manner (flexible, stretchable and conformal) in many of the articles that we attach to or wear on our bodies.

Fortunately, Moore's Law and trends such as miniaturization and integration have allowed designers to deliver next-generation products by using rigid multilayer printed wiring boards (PWB) for the past 25 years. Component miniaturization and device integration has allowed products to become smaller and, therefore, more easily integrated in a variety of form factors because the total area of the PWB has continued to become smaller. Unfortunately, the rigidness of the PWB has limited the product designer's freedom to introduce innovative designs. iNEMI's Flexible Hybrid Electronics Roadmap predicts this will change over the next few years. The rigid PWB will be replaced by a variety of conformal, flexible and stretchable substrate materials that will fuel the introduction of products such as wearable electronics and digital tattoos offering novel attributes.

Roadmap for FHE technology

The FHE chapter of the 2017 iNEMI Roadmap provides an overview of the enabling technologies under development throughout the world. The chapter discusses the fundamental elements necessary for FHE-based product commercialization, including: materials (from dielectric and conductive inks to metal films and woven textiles), processes, products, reliability, standards and international consortia. It lists the status, gaps and potential roadblocks to successful completion of the milestones presented in the roadmap for 2017 to 2027. Also included in this edition of the FHE roadmap is the use of the Technology Readiness Level and Manufacturing Readiness Level methods to assist readers in generating their R&D strategies, quantifying their investments, and determining their resource outlay. The “designer's playground” has expanded and has fewer constraints due to the introduction of capabilities enabled by flexible hybrid electronics.

Get additional information about the 2017 iNEMI Roadmap.