Flexible electronics: Five tips for creating successful product prototypes

FlexEnable's Principal Industrial Designer shares five tips for successful prototypes

Andrew Russell, Principal Industrial Designer

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As an industrial designer, my job is to develop concepts for manufactured products in close collaboration with colleagues and OEM/brand partners. At FlexEnable this can include lenses and ambient dimming for AR/VR headsets, tintable films for car windows or curved OLCDs for consumer electronics. We provide our partners with a low risk route from design to prototype to mass production.

Working in the field of flexible electronics comes with its own challenges as often we are doing things that have never been done before. A lot of components need to fall into place for a successful product concept and the resulting prototypes often needs to pass a range of tests.

The projects I work on can vary – some of them are proof of concept of the company’s technology, while others are product prototypes for our partners. These can be very interesting and exciting as they bring FlexEnable’s technology to life and show how it benefits a particular application.

Having worked in the flexible electronics industry in the past few years, these five tips have helped me deliver successful projects.

Consult regularly with partner’s team to determine requirements for design

To generate a successful product for a partner requires a thorough understanding of their brief, expectations of their target market and what is possible for our team to deliver with our technology and capabilities.  Generally there is rarely a one size fits all solution for a product, so close collaboration with the partner at the earliest stage pays dividends.

We engage closely with the partner to achieve their goals within a managed budget and mutually agreed technical parameters.

A recent example was a design concept for a wearable device with a shaped OLCD interface. To achieve cost and time targets we used comparatively bulky generic driver electronic components, but within a lightweight, commercially convincing package that the partner could present to their marketing and technical colleagues and customer base.

Understand the application and the user

Understanding the purpose of the prototype design is vital to selecting the most appropriate manufacturing process.  Whether a one off is required as a proof of principle concept, or a quantity of near production-quality products is needed will dictate the selection of the most appropriate method of manufacture. Using rapid prototyping we can test and refine design concepts to provide viable solutions for our partners.

A quantity of curved and shaped displays we made for one project required a specific form factor and heat management requirements.  We used our 3D CAD files to generate printed parts in both resin and aluminium to achieve the desired functional and aesthetic result.

Collaborate closely with the team

Throughout the design process, collaboration with the team is essential to extract the best results from a complex technology. Importantly, it is also an enjoyable and educational experience engaging with colleagues who are specialists in their field, particularly when we are pushing the technology into new areas.

In a recent liquid crystal optics project the FlexEnable team had to satisfy our partner’s requirement for VR/AR lenses to fit within a convincing ‘production-ready’ package, albeit with newly developed prototype lens technology. The team worked closely together ensuring that we maintained a realistic  development framework with precise objectives that allowed the LC optics technology to  develop at defined stages, initially as ‘proof of principal’ concepts, through to functional components with a realistic form factor that could be presented to stakeholders.

Regularly present design work to various decision makers

Communication with stakeholders is essential to a successful project, with regular progress updates at pre-defined stages of the design development. Sharing ownership of the design and development with our partners is the most sure-fire way of achieving a successful deliverable.

If you’d like to know more about our technology, contact us at info@flexenable.com

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