Interview: Creating New Markets with Flexible Circuits and Printed Electronics

Multek CTO, Joan Vritis discusses printed flexible circuit boards with Flex

 

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.  

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

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.

Multek, a Flex subsidiary, produces printed flexible circuit boards which are integral components to most of the wearables on the market today

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.Multek, a subsidiary of Flex, produces printed circuit boards, that can be worn as tattoos

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.

Mini circuit board printed by Multek

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.

Mini circuit board chip printed by Multek, a Flex subsidiary

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.

Multek manufactures flexible printed circuit boards, powering wearable technology

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 Vritis, CTO of Multek, demonstrating the printed electronics Multek manufactures

Brian Kemp: As you are seeing where technology is going over the next year or two, what really excites you? What really is kind of surprising in terms of use cases?

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

伟创力的“生存智慧中心页面文本

当公司需要以灵活和持久的方式结合独特的电子元件时,它们会向伟创力的子公司超毅寻求帮助。作为全球最大的印刷电路板供应商之一,超毅能够创建柔性电路、印刷型电子产品、刚性和刚-挠互连电路。超毅的技术在让手机变薄的同时,还能提高无线接收能力。超毅能够制造柔性电路,从而使可穿戴手环成为可能。超毅甚至还能够制造可以用作数字纹身的印刷、柔性电路,那样人们仅通过触摸手的顶部就可以控制热量或热量变化。

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...5G线技术接下来会带来什么的话题。

访文字记录:问题1

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?

Joan Vrtis:超毅是伟创力的一家全资子公司。我们做的工作非常有意思。基本上所有工作都围绕电路进行。你会发现伟创力所从事的业务也基本上都是电子产品。超毅之类的公司被并入伟创力。这确实给我们带来了很大的好处。

从我作为首席技术官的角度来看,超毅并入伟创力的好处是,我能够不断了解各个领域的动态。每一个领域都会用到电气。我们将继续研究可穿戴产品技术。因此,你的许多东西都会用到我们的技术。你的腕带里可能有我们的柔性电路。你如何将同一类型的电路用于衣服、帽子或鞋子呢?我们不仅研究柔性电路,而且还研究刚挠电路。刚挠电路可能需要用到无线组件,比如蓝牙。你不仅能获得所需的刚性,还能获得更多的功能。

我们还研究简单的印刷电子产品。我们的印刷电子产品越来越受到广大客户的关注。我们研究印刷电子产品的优点是其还处于起步阶段。印刷电子产品的存在已有一段时间,但从可穿戴产品技术及其功能的角度来看,其获得更广泛的应用。

我们在诺思菲尔德开展涉及印刷电子产品的活动。诺思菲尔德可能是印刷电子产品的主要产地之一。其印刷电子产品历史悠久。目前已取得巨大成功。他们可以使用多年来研究获得的技术,并做一些调整,然后就真正进入腾飞的轨道。我认为,在标准柔性或刚挠电子产品和印刷电子产品之间,我们拥有相互对话和保持联系所需的整个套件。

访文字记录:问题2

Brian Kemp:您将印刷电子产品用于哪些应用或产品?

Joan Vrtis:当你开始了解使用油墨系统实际制造的印刷电子产品时,你可以先了解一下传感器、电阻器之类的产品。因此,这是一个加色过程。我就不再详细介绍它们的区别了。这是一个不同类型的过程,并且通过这一基础系统,你可以绘制出你想要的东西。

当你开始了解传感器时,就表示你选对路了。如果你想优化电阻器,那么你可以使用不同类型的油墨。我们可以绘制得稍微不同。在我们进行优化时,常见的做法是缩紧行间距。

将这些新技术用于印刷电子产品的另一个好处是,随着我们在(特定)空间向前移动,印刷电子产品允许你只在想要的地方进行绘制。通过加色绘制过程,你可以将电路放置在你想要放置的地方。

这就好比你在纸上写字一样。当你在纸上写字时,你先取出墨水,拿一张纸,然后就在你想要写你名字的地方写字。使用印刷电子产品就可以做到这一点。你在想要写的地方写。我说的好像很简单,但其实并不简单。然而我所说的可以让你形成它们之间区别的概念,及让你了解这对我们的影响有多大。

当你开始了解我们在电子产品方面取得什么进展时,那么我会说是可穿戴产品技术。你可能想将传感器系统放入袖子中。如果你能够绘制出这个传感器那就最好不过了,这样你就可以把它衬在袖子里。你可以将组件放在上面。它可以与你进行电话交谈,或完成你想要通过传感器完成的任何事项。你明白我的意思吗?这让事情变得更容易多了。

采访文字记录:问题3

Brian Kemp:与其拘泥于条条框框的束缚,还不如自由发挥创造力,做自己需要做的事。

Joan Vrtis:对的。我们做的一切都是为了实现产品高销量,并让产品越来越好。达到此目标的方法有很多,而不只是制作一些简单的原型。你可以制作原型,然后通过同一类型的解决方案实现高销量。这样就完美了。这给我们带来了更广泛的电子产品市场。

Brian Kemp:这样达到规模量产就很容易了对吧?

Joan Vrtis对的。

访文记录:问题4

Brian Kemp伟创力谈了很多关于我们从概念成型到规模量产的解决方案。您是否参与过任何特定的产品呢?您是否实现您的愿景呢?

Joan Vrtis:有意思的是从概念成型到规模量产,这是伟创力整个事业一个很好的计划...这也是我们试图做的事情。就在你了解我们从事电路工作的一小会儿,就会有客户向你寻求解决方案。我们所关心的事是必需实现从概念成型到规模量产这一目标。有人来找你。他们有不同的图解,并提出要求。这不是饼干模型切割刀,或者你去商店买一盒奥利奥那么简单的事。

这是从概念成型到规模量产对我而言始终始于围绕的事。当我们围绕电路进行开发时,我们总是会问“终结局如何?将会有哪些应用?类的问题。我之所以会问,那是因为如果是可穿戴设备或可穿戴产品,那么它们可移动。

不像在你手机内的电路板,或是有柔性电路的手机摄像头。它们一旦被放入手机,即不会再移动。除非是掉落,那么有可能会移动。但是它们不像穿衬衫那样移动。你每天都会穿脱或有类似的动作,比方说鞋子,你要跑就必然会穿上它。也许你在跑步的时候突然下雨了。你很担心出汗。整个情况不同于我们之前碰到的情况。

当你说到从概念成型到规模量产时,这就仅仅是电子产品的事了,而是会有哪些应用的事了。在我们实际获得电路并计划使用前,我们需要思考整个生态系统的问题。

采访文字记录:问题5

Brian Kemp:有道理。此外,产品要更加耐用,并且产品设计要更贴合现实世界。某些地方会有很多好的产品,并且这些好的产品只在这些地方使用。当您关注衬衫或类似的东西时,您需要先将它们洗干净。它们必须还能用。

Joan Vrtis:前几天,我就打了这个比方,当时我们的一位客户说:哦,我们希望这个是可穿戴设备可以清洗。我当时回答说:您要知道我们通常不会把电子产品扔进洗衣机里面洗。”“啊,为什么不行?说:您会把您的手机扔进水里然后希望手机还能正常使用吗?这是一样的道理。

我们不得不思考这样一件事,那就是如何做到防水呢?如何在大量生产时做到这一点呢?这不仅仅是防水的事。这还涉及到其他许多事。我或许能够制造防水电路,但它还是要经历其余制造过程,与伟创力合作伙伴合作,无论是CTG(消费技术组)、HRS(高可靠系统),还是其他合作伙伴。拥有超毅就拥有整个供应链。我们曾讲到过。我知道,当我说起这个话题时,如果我必须将TPU放到产品周围,那么我们会明白这是什么意思。如何将组装?如何将它拆除?最后他们将如何测试?这也是拥有好的合作伙伴(在伟创力)对超毅很重要的原因。我们可以看到每个人都试图做的一切。我们也可以提供帮助。我认为,这就是好的合作关系。

采访文字记录:问题6

Brian Kemp:您看到了未来一两年的科技发展方向,真正让您感到激动的是什么?在使用情况方面真正让您感到吃惊的是什么?

Joan Vrtis:我在做很多事情。不仅仅是可穿戴产品技术。超毅的业务范围非常广。我们现在正在做5G5G很有意思。大家都哦,我有一部4G手机。想一想将来会是什么情况。是5G,如果你有看到现在的发展动向的话。人们喜欢分享交流。他们分享视频。他们交流信息。

将来,我们需要的东西越来越多,速度也越来越快。在这个发展过程中,5G础设施是关键。我看到5G带来翻天覆地的变化。有了5G络后,你会需要一部新的5G手机。4G手机没办法满足你的需求。

现在,我们有了自动驾驶。(5G)可以大幅缩短响应延迟。任何与感应有关的东西,要上传到云端的东西,都要有某种5G组件。对我来说,确保我了解5G时代会发生什么是关键。

归根结底需要材料。归根结底涉及铜面粗糙度。我要移动电子。没有人会想到这一点。我思考电子。这与世界的其他地方有什么关系?这是你与世界联系的方式。你以前都不知道。但你现在知道了,因为我刚刚说了。你从来不会想到它。你只是想使用手机。你只是想上车。你只是想让自己更方便。你不会想去思考它。对我来说,令人激动的是5G,然后是它支持的东西。这就是我所看到的。

视频脚注

欲了解关于超毅印刷电路板、柔性电路和印刷电子产品的更多信息,请访问http://www.multek.com/

采访时长和内容经过编辑