By Shirine Irani, DSP Valley
Our Flexlines consortium was present at the DSP Valley seminar Flexible Electronics and Smart Textiles on 15 November 2019. The workshop focused on Flexible Electronics in general and Smart Textiles more specifically. DSP Valley has been key in bringing together companies (SMEs) and research actors necessary to advance this exciting domain.
Flexlines and Smart Textiles
New processing methods in Flexible Electronics provide the promise to realise light, thin, flexible and portable electronics on a large scale. A specific form of flexible electronics is Smart Textile. According to various studies the market for smart textiles and wearables is expected to enter an exponential growth phase for the European market. The majority of relevant applications are concentrated in 4 main fields: Protection & Defence, Sports & Fitness, Industrial and Technical Applications, and Medical & Healthcare. These markets show a particularly strong potential for SMEs to offer customized and niche market solutions with interesting cross-sectoral value chain impact.
Prototyping R&D Pilot Line Infrastructure
Auke Kronemeijer, Senior Researcher & GEN1 TFT Pilot Line Manager, TNO/Holst Centre, introduced the R&D pilot line infrastructure in Eindhoven, indicating which activities the infrastructure will be employed with. Flexlines focuses on application prototyping such as flexible display, flexible imagers, and flexible integrated circuitry. Additionally, Flexlines is investing in further integration technologies for these prototypes with various methodologies, including in-lay lamination, injection moulding, thermoforming, and in-textile integration. Dr. Kronemeijer explained examples of both prototyping and integration in order to give the audience insight into (application) possibilities with flexible electronics, in order to feed their imagination to envision new and interesting applications. Flexlines is getting ready to support the realization of those visions.
Riet Labie, Program Manager Materials and Interconnects at imec, talked about the one-stop-shop, as the Flexlines project aims to lower the threshold for academics and companies to access and investigate flexible electronic technologies. This will be achieved by setting-up a single point through which the TNO R&D prototype line can be accessed. Design assistance will be provided by the imec research team.
The concept of a multi-project-wafer, better called multi-project-panel, is applied here: interested parties can subscribe to a specific panel area and processing costs will be shared among different parties.
Design Challenges, Meet Design Solutions
Kris Myny, Principal Member of Technical Staff and R&D Teamleader at imec, explained the various design challenges Flexlines faces. He showed that a design flow for thin-film electronics is being established, which is very close to the standard design flow of Si CMOS chips. As such, it will be straightforward for non-experts to make a design proposal. He also shed light on the differences of the design flow compared to Si CMOS, such as the impact of having an n-type only device with parameter variation. Several solutions have been demonstrated by imec to overcome these challenges, leading to the creation of a multitude of IP design blocks, including communication interfaces, memory, and code generators.
Smart Textiles Explained and Pitched
After the Flexlines consortium members presented at the seminar, Mark Croes from Centexbel discussed Smart Textiles.
Various research groups pitched their ideas:
- TU Eindhoven – Electrical Engineering: the application of flexible electronics to the measurement of biopotentials like EMG and ECG
- Fontys University of Applied Sciences: in the research group Applied Natural Sciences projects are executed in the area of organic and printed electronics. Examples of investigated printed flexible devices are RFID antennas, electroluminescent displays and loudspeakers.
- Hasselt University: Silicone Devices – durable stretchable electronics
- TU Eindhoven: the stimuli-responsive functional materials & devices group
Various companies also pitched their ideas: BodyGraph, Neuroteg AI, Jessica Smarsch, and Fibrothelium. These pitches provided an opportunity to gain insight into the needs of the various parties. After the presentations and pitches, there was room for matchmaking and networking.