Eastman Chemical Co., which produces a broad range of products, including textile fibers, is a founding member of an innovative public-private cooperative in Silicon Valley that has unveiled an advanced manufacturing facility to develop wearable electronic devices and other next-generation technology.
The U.S. Department of Defense awarded NextFlex, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute in San Jose, Calif., $75 million in grant funding to the cooperative — comprised of a mix of public and private companies with advanced scientific capabilities, as well as leading universities — to ensure the U.S. leads the world in producing the kinds of wearable electronic devices that could have groundbreaking applications.
The cooperative brings together a diverse set of members — other Fortune 500 companies in addition to Eastman include General Electric, Boeing and Raytheon — that can bring diverse scientific and technology expertise to the table and accelerate innovation. Eastman, which has a research and development site in nearby Palo Alto, contributes material science capabilities and understanding, an essential building block of flexible hybrid electronics.
This FHE technology combines printed electronics manufactured on flexible substrates with semiconductor devices. Members of NextFlex, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute are working to develop, pilot and manufacture these technologies in forms that can be attached to the human body, vehicles or other structures.
A key facet is that FHEs can be bent, rolled, folded and integrated physically in ways that traditional, rigid electronics cannot. The potential to put technology on human bodies in order to monitor health and stress could vastly improve medical response time or provide advance notification that medical intervention is necessary, which would improve health and save lives.
Experts and activewear companies also expect it to be used in advanced athletic endeavors.
“The Eastman team values this type of collaboration and believes this could be a true differentiator in accelerating the development of technologies that will have a significant impact on how we live in the future,” said Steve Crawford, Eastman senior vice president and chief technology officer.
The cooperative is part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation program, a federal initiative to support advanced manufacturing in the U.S. The $75 million award from the DOD was augmented by another $96 million in public and private funding.
Eastman, based in Kingsport, Tenn., operates sites and offices around the world, and serves customers in about 100 countries. It had 2015 revenues of a $9.6 billion.