Interview: Creating New Markets with Flexible Circuits and Printed Electronics
As1one2of the world’s top Printed Circuit Board suppliers, Multek creates flexible circuits, printed electronics, rigid and rigid-flex interconnect circuits. With such a crucial place in Flex’s Sketch-to-Scale™ capabilities, Multek literally connects innovative electronics that create groundbreaking products. Multek’s CTO, Dr. Joan Vrtis, spoke recently with Brian Kemp about where flexible circuits and printable electronics are going…and what 5G wireless technology will bring next.
Note to readers – please see Chinese transcript below.
Brian Kemp: Hi, this is Brian Kemp from Flex. We're here today at Wearable Technologies with Dr. Joan Vrtis, the CTO of Multek. Tell us a little bit about what Multek does and kind of some of the really unique products and technologies that you're involved in.
Joan Vrtis: Multek is a wholly owned subsidiary of Flex. We do really cool stuff. Basically, everything starts with a circuit. If you look at what Flex does it's all electronics, essentially. Having something like a Multek is part of the whole integration within Flex. This really gives us a very nice position.
From my standpoint as the CTO, the nice thing about being with Flex is I get to see everything that goes on in all the segments. Every one of the segments needs something electrical. We'll do things like today, we have wearable technology. So, you have multiple things with our own technology. You have a flexible circuit that may go in a wristband. How do you put that same type of circuit into clothing, or a hat, or shoes? You have to look at, not only the flexible circuit, but do we need to do something where it's a rigid flex. It's something where maybe you need a wireless component on it. Bluetooth etc. Where you have that rigidity that's required, and more functionality.
We also do simple things like print electronics. Print electronics for us is becoming more and more a focus area for a lot of the customer’s needs. The nice thing about the print electronics side is because it's in it’s infancy. It's been around for a little while, but from the standpoint of a wearable technology and what it can do, it provides even more breadth in the electronics side of the circuit.
We have activity going with them in the Northfield site. Northfield is probably one of the leaders in print electronics. They've been doing it a long time. Now it's really coming into its own. They can use the technology that they've had for years and make some tweaks to it and really start to ramp it. I think between standard flex or rigid flex, and print electronics, we have the entire suite that's required to have everything talk to each other and stay connected.
Brian Kemp: What are some sort of applications or products that you've used Print Electronics with?
Joan Vrtis: When you start looking at print electronics, you can look at things like sensors, resistors, where you can actually do that fabrication with an ink system. So, it's an additive process. I won't get into all the details of the difference. It's a different type of process where you can draw what you want exactly on the base system.
When you start looking at sensors, they’re the perfect place to go. If you were to do a resistor where you want to tune it in, you can use the different type of inks. We can do things where we draw it a little bit differently. Tighter line spaces, which is common for us, as far as tuning things in.
The other nice thing about having these new technologies in print electronics is as we move forward in a (particular) space, print electronics allows you to just draw where you want it. You put the circuit where you want it by giving it some sort of an additive drawing process.
It's like when you write on paper. When you write on paper, you’re taking your ink, you have a piece of paper and you write on it exactly where you want your name to be. You can do that with print electronics. You write where it's at. I'm making it sound simple, but it's not that simple. But it gives you the concept of the difference and the breadth of what this can lead us into.
When you start looking at what we're doing in the electronic note, wearable technology space. You want to put a sensor system maybe in a sleeve. It would be very nice if you could just draw that sensor, you could laminate it in a sleeve. You could put a component on top. It talks to your phone or whatever you want for the sensor. You know what I mean? It makes it a lot easier.
Brian Kemp: Instead of trying to fit everything in particular boxes, it really gives you the freedom to be much more creative and really do what the product needs it to do.
Joan Vrtis: Right. What we do is we can ramp it into high volume and just make miles and miles of it. There's a lot to this that's not just a matter of making some simple prototypes. You can make the prototype and then you can lead that into high volume with the same type of solution. It's perfect. It gives us a broader footprint for electronics.
Brian Kemp: So it really scales very easily?
Joan Vrtis: Yes.
Brian Kemp: Flex talks a lot about our sketch to scale solutions. Any particular products that you've been involved in? Where you've seen that vision come to life?
Joan Vrtis: What's interesting is sketch to scale is a nice initiative to the whole Flex footprint... That's what we’re trying to do. When you look at we've been doing in circuitry for a while, you have customers that come to you and they’re looking for a solution. Some of the aspects of the things we get into is that we have to almost be a sketch to scale group. People come to you. They have a different schematic, the electrical requirements of this. It's not just a cookie cutter where you go to the store and you can buy a package of Oreos, which I like.
It's one of these things where sketch to scale, for me, always starts with the circuit. When we do the development around the circuit, we always have (to ask), "What is the end game going to be? What's the application this is going into?" The reason I ask that, if something that's going be a wearable device, a wearable product, it's going to move.
Unlike in your cell phone, that board, or if you look at even a camera module which has a flex circuit. That doesn't move once it's put in a phone. You drop it, maybe it moves. It doesn't move like wearing a shirt. Where you take it on and off every day or some sort of activity band where you’re taking it on and off every day, say a shoe, where you are going to run and you’re going to step in it. Maybe you’re running and it's raining out. You’re worried about sweat. That whole application space is different than what we've had to deal with before.
When you say sketch to scale, it's a matter of not only the electronics piece of it, but what's the application? That brings in an entire ecosystem of understanding before we can actually get a circuit that we know is going to function in my mind.
Brian Kemp: That makes sense. Again, having something much more durable and much more designed for the real world. There's a lot of good products that are going to be set in a particular location and used in that location. When you're putting lights onto a shirt or something like that, you need to throw that in the wash. It must still work.
Joan Vrtis: I did this analogy the other day when we had a customer and they're like "Oh, we want to be able to make this washable." I said "Okay, well you know we usually don’t throw electronics in the washing machine." "Well, why not?" I said "Do you throw your phone in water and expect it to work?" It's the same type of thing.
We have to think about, how do you do water proofing versus water resistance? How do we do this in high-volume manufacturing? It's not only a matter of ingress of water. It's all the other things that surround it. I may to be able to make the circuit and put all that water-proofing around it, but it still has to go through the rest of the manufacturing, working with the Flex partners, whether it's CTG (Consumer Technologies Group) or HRS (High Reliability Solutions) or who else is in the segment. The nice thing about having Multek is having that whole supply chain. We all talk. I know when I build this, if I have to put a TPU around it, we understand what that means. How does it get assembled? How does it get moved? How do they test it at the end? That's why the nice partnerships within the segments (at Flex) are great for Multek. We get to see everything that everybody's trying to do. We can help them also. I think it's a good partnership.
Joan Vrtis: I do a lot of things. It's not just wearable technology. Multek is very broad. We're working on 5G right now. It's interesting, 5G. Everybody's like "Oh, I got a 4G phone." Think about where this is going. 5G, if you see what's going on right now. People like to stream. They're streaming videos. They're streaming information.
As we start going, we need more and more, faster and faster and faster. This 5G infrastructure is going to be key as we move down that route. I see where 5G is going to enable everything else underneath it. Once you have that 5G out there, you're going to need a new 5G phone. The 4G phone is not going to do what you want it to do.
You have autonomous driving now. (5G) allows for minimizing any latency that goes on. Anything that has to do with sensing and it has to go somewhere to the cloud is going to have some sort of 5G component. For me, 5G, making sure that I'm on top of what needs to happen in 5G is really key.
It comes down to materials. It comes down to the roughness of the copper. I move electrons. Nobody thinks of that. I think electrons. What does that have to do with the rest of the world? It's how you’re going to connect. You'll never know that. You'll know it now because I just said it. You'd never would think about it. You just want to use your phone. You just want to get in your car. You just want to stream yourself. You don't want to think about it. For me, the exciting part is the 5G and then everything flushes underneath it. That's what I see.
For more information on Multek’s printed circuit boards, flexible circuits and printed electronics, please visit http://www.multek.com/
Interview edited for length and clarity
有了伟创力这一重要的从概念成型到规模量产的能力，超毅就能够连接创新型电子产品，从而创造出突破性的产品。超毅的首席技术官Joan Vrtis博士最近与Brian Kemp谈到有关柔性电路和印刷型电子产品的发展趋势...及5G无线技术接下来会带来什么的话题。
大家好，我是来自伟创力的Brian Kemp。今天我们就可穿戴技术对超毅首席技术官Joan Vrtis博士进行采访。能跟我们讲讲超毅所从事的业务，及您参与的一些非常独特的产品和技术吗？