Apple, other tech companies to team up with Dept. of Defense on flexible hybrid electronics

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has announced that the Obama administration has awarded a Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Flexible Hybrid Electronics to a consortium of 162 companies (including Apple), universities, and non-profits led by the FlexTech Alliance as part of the Department of Defense effort to partner with the private sector and academia "to ensure the United States continues to lead in the new frontiers of manufacturing."

By taking its part in the consortium, Apple puts itself at the cutting edge of 3D printing, wearables/sensor technology and artificial intelligence, according to Computerworld. The announcement follows a nationwide bid process for the seventh of nine such manufacturing institutes launched by the administration, and the fifth of six manufacturing institutes led by the Department of Defense. This is part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation announced by President Obama in 2012.

The FlexTech team includes more than 160 companies, nonprofits, independent research organizations and universities. The cooperative agreement will be managed by the U.S. Air Force Research laboratory (AFRL) and will receive $75 million in DoD funding over five years matched with more than US$90 million from  industry, academia, and local governments. In total, the institute will receive $171 million to invest in strengthening U.S. manufacturing.

These “stretchable electronics” will be worn by humans or wrapped around military assets to monitor structural integrity. The FlexTech Institute’s activities will purportedly benefit a wide array of markets beyond defense, including automotive, communications, consumer electronics, medical devices, health care, transportation and logistics, and agriculture. 

The FlexTech Alliance,  headquartered in San Jose, California, is devoted "to fostering the growth, profitability and success of the flexible and printed electronics supply chain, and the many application areas enabled by this new class of electronic intelligence." Flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing describes the production of electronics and sensors packaging through new techniques in electronic device handling and high precision printing on flexible, stretchable substrates.