Monitoring, sensing and heating technology integrated in fabrics
Textiles are tactile, sensorial and visual. Qualities can be modified or even expanded when technology is added, transforming passive textiles into active and interactive devices, monitoring and detecting bodily functions due to their constant contact with our skin.
Why use printed electronics in smart textiles?
Printed electronics technology opens possibilities that the older wired technologies simply cannot match. Thanks to their flexibility, stretchability and lightweight, printed electronics allow for smart garments that function as a second skin with a great level of comfort for its wearer. Printed electronics are also more durable than traditional electronics and can withstand multiple washing cycles, crinkling, friction and sweating. The lower production costs and easy scalability of printed electronics also stimulate the development of new (IoT) applications and a larger adoption of e-garments and smart fabrics in general, which can promote a healthier lifestyle and reduce the risk of disease, accidents and injuries in many industries.
Printed electronics technology: the superior choice for smart textiles
Compared to competing technologies used for smart textiles, printed electronics technology has many advantages.
- Their integration is straightforward. After printing the sensors on TPU they can be transferred onto the textile material via hot press lamination. Both are well-established techniques.
- Compared to traditional electronics manufacturing, printed electronics are easily scalable and low cost.
- They are durable, precise, efficient and comfortable to wear.
- They have excellent interconnectability. The PCB’s can be positioned in a remote spot, are small and don’t need much power to work.
Applications that change our lifestyle
Athletic monitoring: Train smarter, not harder
A wide range of smart sportswear (such as shirts, insoles, sports bras) track vital signs (via printed ECG or EMG sensors), core temperature, and biomechanics both during training and in the recovery phase. It helps athletes to enhance performance, ensure a healthy athletic growth, help reduce stress and prevent different types of injuries.
Alleviating the healthcare and medical sector
Smart textiles serve as a functional and comfortable ‘wearable computer’ that can help health care professionals by monitoring and communicating a patient’s condition by detecting, storing, analysing, and transmitting physiological signals.
Automotive and aerospace
In the aerospace industry and in vehicle engineering, current applications mainly focus on smart sensors integrated in interior fabrics (upholstery, seating, surfaces) and biometric monitoring for safety purposes. Information can provide insight into the driver’s physical condition and level of fatigue, triggering haptic feedback through the steering wheel or warning alerts in the car’s cockpit.
The monitoring of vital signs of workers in demanding environments and high-risk industries has been made easier. In regulated industries where safety rules restrict workers from wearing devices, smart workwear can give insightful information about the condition of workers or machine operators that can be used to optimize their well-being, performance and productivity. Thermal workwear to dynamically regulate body temperature of workers in cold climates is another huge application domain.
Textile-integrated flexible heaters
Another application that has seen a steep rise of interest is heating technology for garments. Stretchable printed electronics heaters make it easy to incorporate heat into comfortable, elegant, flexible, lightweight clothing. The high precision that can be achieved with screen-printed circuitry also makes it simpler to provide warmth exactly where required and avoid areas of the body which don’t need any additional heat.
Printed electronics are one of the most promising technologies to add electronics to a wide range of materials, including textiles. Through the integration of electronics, it is possible to create disruptive textile-based products with tremendous added value. These...