E-Clothing: New Approach Leads to Big Success in Functional Clothing

Have you ever heard of smart shirts? The concept takes functional clothing to the next level, as smart shirts can be used to monitor and adjust body temperature, as well as apply heat to your back or a sore shoulder. At Case Western Reserve University, researchers have now developed an affordable way to produce these kinds of shirts.

Market For Wearables is on The Rise 


Market analysis shows that the market for wearables is on the rise and offers enormous potential. Wearables include, for example, fitness trackers such as the Apple Watch or FitBit. Alongside these products, however, another segment is emerging, consisting of electronic technology that is implanted in the user’s body or tattooed on the skin. A specialized print could soon create a niche in e-clothing. The university researchers succeeded in producing the shirt using a highly conductive ink combined with a simple screen-printing process. The result is a waterproof, breathable and extremely flexible design. The special feature: The design functions as a heating element and is powered by a coin-sized battery


What Are The Advantages?


According to the researchers, the advantages of the new technology are, in particular, that the concept is simple, durable and comfortable. In addition, they are certain that their technology will also impress in the long term with its low price. One day, the method, which has been successful in laboratory tests, should also work in mass production. The longevity of the method is what particularly distinguishes it.


Several methods were tried to integrate the electronic fibers into the fabric. Because while most designs for integrating electronics into clothing are uncomfortable to wear and, above all, not breathable, that’s exactly what the finished product should be. Therefore, on the one hand, spinning the electronic fibers into the fabric and applying conductive materials to the fabric surface were tried. The second method was a complete success and is also inexpensive compared to the first. The approach improves on these processes by using the low-cost screen printing process to achieve higher resolution. This allows printing the ink into more aesthetic patterns or complex designs. The printed e-textiles are very stretchy and still work well after several washes – which is of course important when it comes to functional clothing in general. 


Breakthrough in The Development: Using Fractal Silver Dendrites 


A small button battery is used to “start” the shirt functions, like the ones used in thermometers or car keys. According to the scientists, the breakthrough in the development of the smart shirts was achieved by using fractal silver dendrites. These are microscopically small, branched silver threads that conduct electricity well. This works even when they are manipulated or deformed during use, like in a hike or workout. The microscopic metals were added to a water-based ink. With the help of a highly elastic adhesive, they were bonded to the molecules of the ink. 


And finally, the highlight: the ink containing the electrodes can be printed and sprayed onto tissue. It also functions as a conductor of small amounts of electricity and can detect body movements. Thus, in the long term, the clothing is an option to perform individual temperature management or temperature control. 


Would you wear a shirt like that? Let us know in the comments!

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