State-of-the-Art Advanced Printed Electronics Research Facility to be Established at UTEP
January 06, 2011 | UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS
Structural Electronics Device: A 3D Magnetometer
Imagine buying wafer-thin, high-definition television sets by the roll and applying them to the walls at home. Or imagine being able to replace your lost cell phone within minutes by hitting the "print" button on a computer.
It may sound like science fiction, but it's not. This is the future of electronics manufacturing, and the technologies behind it are being developed at The University of Texas at El Paso.
Gov. Rick Perry today announced the state will invest $3 million through the Texas Emerging Technology Fund to help create the new Structural and Printed Emerging Technologies Center in the UTEP College of Engineering.
Industry partner Lockheed Martin Aeronautics will contribute $3 million toward five-year operating costs of the new center, and The University of Texas System has pledged $3 million in construction and equipment funds—for a total of $9 million—to launch the state-of-the-art advanced printed electronics research facility.
The SPEC Center, as it will be called, will take advantage of and build upon the existing world-class rapid-prototyping or additive manufacturing equipment and research available now in the college's W.M. Keck Center for 3D Innovation.
Additive manufacturing—making a part or product by adding layers of material in an efficient way that results in less waste—and other technologies are already being used at the Keck Center to build a variety of 3-D devices. The new SPEC Center will combine these manufacturing technologies with printed electronics technologies to build entirely new functional products. The area housing the Keck Center, now occupying 6,100 square feet on the first floor of the College of Engineering, will double in size to accommodate the SPEC Center's new laboratories and equipment. The computer-driven systems will allow the fabrication of complex three-dimensional mechanical and electronic devices, and even medical products formed of living tissue. The necessary renovations and equipment purchases for the expansion of the facility will begin in 2010.
The SPEC Center will initially focus on printed electronics, but will have the capability to produce devices of nearly all types, sizes and materials, limited only by a researcher's imagination.
"UTEP, with our long and proud engineering legacy, is now ready to become the region's nexus for the next generation of manufacturing technologies," said University President Diana Natalicio. "The creation of the new SPEC Center will generate outstanding research opportunities for our faculty and students, leading to commercializable discoveries and creation of high-paying, high-skilled jobs for the Paso del Norte region."
The SPEC Center will be directed by Kenneth H. Church, a well-known expert in the printed electronics field who holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Oklahoma State University. Church, who joined UTEP in January, has extensive experience in technology commercialization and is the founder of advanced-technology companies Sciperio Inc. and nScrypt Inc. Church is an inventor or co-inventor of a number of patented or patent-pending technologies, and his research interests include lasers, optics, tissue-engineered materials, antenna designs and other novel electronic devices.
Church calls himself a "serial entrepreneur," and plans to launch a UTEP-based start-up called GraphTronix in 2010. GraphTronix will produce and market 3-D and printed electronics, he said.
"The SPEC Center will be one of the world's first brick-and-mortar 'foundries' for printed electronics, a market that is expected to grow into billions of dollars over the next decade," Church said. "We anticipate GraphTronix will be one of the first of many opportunities to commercialize the research conducted by our faculty and students."
The SPEC Center will be co-directed by Professor of Mechanical Engineering Ryan Wicker, Ph.D., the current director of the Keck Center.
"I am looking forward to working with Dr. Church to expand what we do into the new and exciting areas of printed electronics," Wicker said. We are uniquely positioned to make a significant difference in this new frontier."
The SPEC Center will be supported by an industry partner, aerospace company Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, which will tap the expertise of engineering faculty for a number of projects based on 3-D layered fabrication, printed electronics and other advanced technologies. The research could lead to discoveries useful for the company's lineup of aviation, space and homeland security products and services.
"Advanced manufacturing technology will be a critical factor in the aircraft and aviation systems of the future. We're excited about the potential of this new development in our long, successful partnership with UTEP," said Frank Cappuccio, executive vice president of Advanced Development Programs, also known as the Skunk Works®, at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. Over recent years, UTEP has developed a unique combination of capabilities in its College of Engineering to become a significant player in advanced manufacturing technologies, a strategy that helped Engineering Dean Richard Schoephoerster, working on behalf of the University, attract the support of the State of Texas and Lockheed Martin to create the SPEC Center.
UTEP's manufacturing-technology facilities include:
- The W.M. Keck Center for 3-D Innovation, one of the premier university laboratories equipped with state-of-the-art additive fabrication equipment.
- The NanoMaterials Integration Laboratory (NanoMIL), where researchers are integrating nanoscale, or submicroscopic materials, into microscopic assemblies to create unique electronic devices and components.
- The new Research Institute for Manufacturing and Engineering Systems (RIMES), which produces advanced software tools for best-practice design of complex products and systems, such as those used in the aerospace and defense industries.
"The SPEC Center will significantly add to the University's growing portfolio of state-of-the-art additive manufacturing facilities," Schoephoerster said. "We are delighted that Dr. Ken Church, who brings with him a remarkable vision for the future of additive manufacturing, nanotechnology and systems engineering, has joined our team. The SPEC Center will help secure El Paso's foothold in this new era of manufacturing."