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FLEXING RESEARCH MUSCLE IN ELECTRONICS
Mechanical engineering professor Pradeep Lall uses additive manufacturing techniques to blaze trails in the field of flexible hybrid electronics.
By Virginia Speirs
Flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) is one of the most rapidly emerging fields of electronic research in the engineering discipline.
By using a breadth of flexible materials, researchers are discovering new ways of making pliable electrical components, such as batteries and circuits.
The functionality and practicality of additive manufacturing allows FHE technology to accomplish this goal. Pradeep Lall, the John and Anne McFarlane Endowed Distinguished Professor of mechanical engineering and director of the National Science Foundation Center for Advanced Vehicle and Extreme Environment Electronics, is a trailblazer of FHE research, especially with additive manufacturing. Lall has been studying flexible hybrid electronics for more than 20 years and has specialized in FHE research since he began his career at Auburn University in 2002.
One of the reasons Lall came to Auburn for this research was his interest in design of electronics for operation in extreme conditions and harsh environments, which is a major research thrust at Auburn.
“The unique thing we have here at Auburn is we have a very strong background in extreme environment electronics,” Lall said. “It is a wonderful compliment to be able to bring additive manufacturing into the harsh environment community. The bulk of the work has been largely focused on subtractive manufacturing in the past, so the fact that we can print things additively brings a higher level of control, now that we can support systems for very long periods of time.”
With additive manufacturing, Lall and his team are able to be more creative with the materials they can print, which paves the way for a more flexible product, he said. There are three different platforms for additive creation of circuits that Lall is able to work with – Aerosol-Jet printing, InkJet printing and direct-write and screen-print based methods. These forms of printing allow for a wide range of materials to be used for FHE circuit printing, Lall said.
A very applicable use for FHE technology is its ability to wrap around a curved surface, such as a wrist. One recent project of Lall’s has piqued the interest of companies and organizations such as NASA. The project is an FHE bracelet that has the ability to sense the health conditions of a person in an extremely harsh environment. The bracelet is able to detect potential health risks, such as abnormal pulse, anxiety levels and overall health by monitoring physiological functions, such as cortisol levels, he said.
“We have two programs going on with NASA currently, both are very exciting,” Lall said. “They are both related to what is called an astro-sense platform. One of the programs we are attempting to develop is an additively printed human body sensor that can monitor the state of stress in the human body. One of the common indicators of stress is cortisol, which is in the sweat itself, and we’re developing sensors to be able to monitor and correlate the cortisol to a stress or anxiety level that a person may be undergoing.
“A second aspect of the program is to develop additively printed sensors of various types to better understand the states where the temperatures are very low,” Lall continued. “For example, on a planet where there is a great degree of temperature difference on the lighter side from the shady side, there can be a difference of a hundred degrees or more. To be able to explore extreme environments from an unmanned vehicle using additively printed sensors is a technology that has never been available before.”
Another recent advancement of Lall’s is the ability to additively print multi-layer antennas, he said. The antennas are designed for data transmission, and can be mounted on the side of airborne, unmanned vehicles and can be conformally mounted on the body of the vehicle itself. This is another technological advancement that has a particular interest from NextFlex National Manufacturing Institute. Lall has worked on a number of flexible-hybrid electronics sponsored contracts encompassing flexible batteries, multi-layer z-axis interconnects, reliability test protocols, flexible encapsulation. Lall serves as the technical-lead for Auburn University’s participation as a Tier-1 founding academic member of NextFlex. In this role, Lall serves on the Technical Council of the Institute and as academic co-lead of the asset monitoring TWG.
Lall is using FHE technology to break the stereotype that rigidity equals strength, he said. Lall wants to prove, with flexible technology, that electronics do not have to be inflexible to be strong. The NextFlex manufacturing institute bridges the chasm that normally exists between fundamental research and technology realization in high-volume manufacturing, explained Lall.
“The challenge of flexible electronics is that you need robustness and ruggedness, but you don’t want it at the cost of flexibility,” Lall said. “Flexible electronics proves we can have technology that is flexible and robust at the same time. Generally, we like to associate stronger things with more rigid ones.”
Lall is a fellow of NextFlex, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute, and they have sponsored him in a number of programs in FHE research. Lall has received over $2 million in financial support from various federal agencies and commercial companies in CY2020 in a number of projects related to FHE manufacturing, design and reliability. Auburn’s capabilities have only continued to grow since he started studying harsh environment electronics at Auburn nearly two decades ago, according to Lall.
“Auburn has progressed so much from where we were 20 years ago in terms of the things that we can do,” Lall said. “The resources and the center we have here has grown tremendously and, therefore, our capabilities have grown tremendously.”
Mechanical professor honored with IEEE Biedenbach Outstanding Engineering Educator Award
By Jeremy Henderson
Published: Jun 8, 2020 10:00:00 AM
Pradeep Lall, the John and Anne MacFarlane Endowed Distinguished Professor of mechanical engineering, is the recipient of the IEEE Region 3 Biedenbach Outstanding Engineering Educator Award for 2020, which recognizes those who have made outstanding contributions to the electrotechnology profession through teaching in industry, government or in an institution of higher learning.
Lall, director of the National Science Foundation Center for Advanced Vehicle and Extreme Environment Electronics (CAVE3), was recognized for his contributions to education in the field of additively printed electronics manufacturing and reliability for harsh environment operation.
“Dr. Lall is a world-renowned expert, researcher and teacher in the field of electronics,” said Jeff Suhling, Quina Endowed Professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “I am delighted to see him recognized with the IEEE Biedenbach Award.”
Lall says that one of his professional motivations is to demystify certain aspects of additively printed electronics and harsh environment electronics.
“Through my publications and courses, I try to make the subject more accessible to a wider audience, from high schoolers to practicing engineers,” said Lall, who has been the principal investigator on a number of research initiatives focused on those topics. “The topic of harsh environment electronics has implications in a number of industries including automotive, downhole and defense. The use of additive technologies provides pathways for faster time-to-market and productization of ideas and intellectual property.”
A significant portion of Lall’s research includes partnerships for workforce development. Accordingly, Lall has engaged high school teachers in sponsored research programs that expose students to additive electronics manufacturing at the K-12 level. He has engaged undergraduate students in Research Experiences for Undergraduates programs and generally advises a number of undergraduate students working on research projects on a regular basis.
In his role as director of CAVE3, Lall leads research projects in harsh environment electronics while interfacing with companies and government agencies that fund the center’s research. He leads a sizable team of graduate students in working on a wide range of programs with significant implications in the electronics sector of the nation’s growing additive manufacturing industry.
Lall was part of the founding proposal team for the NextFlex National Manufacturing Institute, which aims to renew and maintain the national focus of flexible electronics manufacturing; Auburn University is a tier-1 academic member of NextFlex. Lall also sits on the Technical Council and Governing Council of the NextFlex National Manufacturing Institute, as well as serves as the academic co-lead for the Asset and Situational Awareness Technical Working Group in NextFlex.
He was named a NextFlex Fellow in 2019.
“Dr. Lall has created a world-class research program in additively printed-electronics manufacturing at Auburn University,” said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of engineering. “This award adds to the recognition of the impact that he has made at the national level.”
Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson, firstname.lastname@example.org, 334-844-3591
Lall named John and Anne MacFarlane Endowed Professor
Pradeep Lall, director of the National Science Foundation Center for Advanced Vehicle and Extreme Environmental Electronics, has been named the John and Anne MacFarlane Endowed Professor in Auburn University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Lall joined the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering in 2002 and was named the Thomas Walter Professor in 2005. He earned a master’s degree and doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland in 1989 and 1993, respectively, and a master of business administration from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern in 2002.
“We greatly appreciate John and Anne’s generous gift and their commitment to the College of Engineering,” said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of engineering. “This endowment will help sustain the outstanding work of Pradeep Lall, a talented educator and researcher whose work has led to innovative technology design and advancements in electronic systems.”
As the director of NSF-CAVE3, Lall’s research interests include prognostics health management of automotive and harsh environment electronics; electronics failure mechanisms and modeling; and simulation and electronics reliability. During his 13-year tenure at Auburn, he has secured nearly $20 million in research funding and holds three U.S. patents.
He has served as the adviser for more than 45 doctoral and postdoctoral graduates and master’s degree students and has taught numerous courses at Auburn, as well as short courses throughout the U.S. and Europe. He is the author and co-author of two books, 14 book chapters and more than 430 journal and conference papers.
Among other honors received, Lall is a fellow of the Alabama Academy of Sciences, American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He is a recipient of the IEEE Exceptional Technical Achievement Award, ASME’s Electronics and Photonics Packaging Division Applied Mechanics Award, Surface Mount Technology Association’s Member of Technical Distinction Award, Auburn University’s Creative Research and Scholarship Award, SEC Faculty Achievement Award and Samuel Ginn College of Engineering Senior Faculty Research Award. He has received three Motorola Outstanding Innovation Awards and five Motorola Engineering Awards.
In addition, he has earned 24 Best Paper Awards at national and international conferences. Lall is the founding faculty adviser for the SMTA student chapter at Auburn University and member of the editorial advisory board for the SMTA Journal.
John and Anne MacFarlane, for whom the professorship is named, are both Auburn graduates. John received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering in 1972 and 1973, respectively. A retired ExxonMobil executive with 35 years of experience, he has served on the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council. An Auburn native, Anne graduated in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. Through their charitable support, the MacFarlanes hold memberships in the college’s Keystone, Ginn and Eagles societies and the university’s 1856 and Foy societies. Both are members of the Auburn Alumni Association.