Printing circuits onto clothing for easy wearable tech

Printing circuits onto clothing for easy wearable tech

Wearable electronics are said to be the next big thing, and scientists at the UK's National Physical Laboratory (NPL) have found a way of printing silver directly onto fabric -- a move which could pave the way for more exciting wearable electronics for applications in sports, health, medicine, consumer electronics and fashion.

In most electrically condutive textiles, metal fibres have to be woven into the textile, meaning that the final purpose of the fabric has to be planned out from the start. Being able to print conductive fibres onto existing materials could make the technology a lot more cost effective and flexible in its applications. NPL's approach could mean that lightweight circuits could be printed directly onto complete garments.

Silver coated fibres created using this technique are flexible and stretchable, meaning circuits can be easily printed onto many different types of fabric, including wool which is knitted in tight loops.

The technique involves chemically bonding a nano silver layer onto individual fibres to a thickness of 20 nanometres. The conductive silver layer fully encapsulates fibres and has good adhesion and excellent conductivity.

The technique has many potential applications, for example as wearable sensors and antennas which could be used for monitoring everyone from medical patients to soldiers and athletes. The technique could also create opportunities in fashion and consumer technology, such as incorporating LED lighting into clothing or having touch-screens on shirt sleeves.

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