3D Printers turn Textiles into Smart Wearables

Wearable electronics are more and more part of our daily life: for the first time Chinese researchers have been able to produce electronic clothes with little effort.

3D Printers turn Textiles into Smart Wearables

The trend topic wearable electronics has reached a new milestone. A Chinese research team succeeded in using a 3D printer to bind electronic materials to textiles in a new and efficient way. The printed motives and writings have the ability to transform movement into energy. It can absorb electricity and store it in textiles.

The Functioning of the Textile Printers

The 3D printer works via a self-made coaxial nozzle. This prints the fibers directly onto the textiles. The researchers opted for the coaxial needle, since one-axis nozzles have a disadvantage: only one ink can be printed simultaneously. This makes the production much more labor and cost intensive..

Two ink-like substances are used in the production: the first one is a carbon nanotube solution. It provides a conductive core. The silkworm silk, which has been converted to ink, serves to insulate the conductive material. Two syringes were filled with the two inks and installed on the coaxial nozzle mounted on the 3D printer.

The Reasons for Smart Textiles

The idea of wearable electronics has great advantages: First of all, customer-specific patterns can be printed easily. Since the fashion industry puts an increasing emphasis on custom-designed products, that’s almost a guarantee for success.

In addition, biomechanical energy can be obtained (power density: up to 18 mW / m2) and fulfil a variety of functions.

Because the procedure is more efficient than previous attempts to sew electrical components in textiles, versatile functions can be extended. Thankfully, printing is a very flexible process. In most processes, electrical components are manually sewn into the tissue. In contrast to these multi-step processes, the advantage of a 3D printer is that it can incorporate versatile functions into fabrics in a single step.

Finally, it is also a very cheap process and easy to scale as the nozzle is compatible with existing 3D printers.

If you want to read the complete article, you can visit Matter, a new material science journal of the publisher Cell Press.

Do you know other examples of wearable electronics? Or do you even wear smart textiles yourself? Tell us in the comments!