Jared Kosters

Last month, the Department of Defense (DoD) issued a Request for Information (RFI) to develop the technical focus areas that will frame future Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation (IMI). Each IMI is built around a specific manufacturing technology, and together the Institutes aim to make the U.S. globally competitive by revitalizing the manufacturing sector. As Nexight’s Chief Technical Officer, Warren Hunt, detailed in a previous blog post, the DoD is seeking input on these focus areas:

  • Flexible Hybrid Electronics
  • Photonics
  • Engineered Nanomaterials
  • Fiber and Textiles
  • Electronic Packaging and Reliability
  • Aerospace Composites

Of these topics, fiber and textiles may have the broadest influence. Fibers play a role in many aspects our lives: including (but not limited to) clothing, camping tarps, data transmission, and light composite structures. They can be aesthetic, structural, and electrical, and form the basis of design for many application areas. An IMI devoted to fibers and textiles would provide fundamental benefits to all the topic areas listed in the RFI:

Flexible Hybrid Electronics. The DoD is interested in flexible electronics that can be embedded into objects such as wearable electronics, health and medical systems, and various sensor applications. Flexible textiles could be worn as biomedical sensors to report vital signs, or form flexible computer screens that fold up and fit inside your pocket.

Engineered Nanomaterials. Nanomaterials show promise in electronics, pharmaceuticals, structures, and membranes. In tissue engineering, 3D-printed bones and organs are constructed using a nanofiber scaffold design. The continued development of carbon nanotube fibers shows promise as a cheap and abundant alternative material for next-generation electronics.

Photonics & Electronic Packaging and Reliability. Packaging doesn’t refer to shipping or transportation, but rather to the bonding and interconnects of integrated chips and circuitboards. While the DoD is interested in electronic packaging technologies that are resilient to environmental and operating stresses, this topic area includes optoelectric packaging which encompasses fiber optic technologies. Optical fibers – which also fall under the umbrella of photonics – permit high-speed data transmission over great physical distances with fewer losses compared to the use of metal wires.

Aerospace Composites. Ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) consist of ceramic fibers embedded in a ceramic matrix, resulting in a superalloy that is lightweight and resistant to high temperatures. Aircraft engines that are made of CMC materials improve fuel consumption and reduce fuel costs.

It is possible that more than one of the six topic areas presented in the RFI could become a future manufacturing institute. However, a future IMI that accelerates the development of fiber and textile technologies could significantly benefit many other manufacturing institutes.