The potential of the wereable electronics goes far beyond smart-watches. Unfortunately, the modern level of battery technology still does not allow comfortable placement of energy banks and interactive tiles in clothes. They are still relatively heavy and stiff.

Of course, scientists are still not resting on luras and are working on new ways to deal with this problem. One solution developed by Chinese researchers is the method of printing flexible fibers with electrical potential in a fabric or material. Such fibers can store electrical energy.

Chemistry department in the service of textiles.

We used a 3D printer equipped with a home coaxial nozzle for direct printing of fibers on fabrics and demonstrated that it could be used for energy management purposes – says group leader Yingying Zhang, professor at the Department of Chemistry at Tsinghua University.

Zhang and her colleagues created their first three-dimensional e-textiles using two inks. It was a solution of carbon nanofibers to build a conductive fiber core and a silkworm to the insulating sheath. Injection syringes filled with inks were connected to a coaxial nozzle which was mounted on a 3D printer. They were used to draw a variety of patterns – Chinese characters signifying PRINTING, the English word SILK and a photorealistic photo of a pigeon.

New approach in creating smart textiles

This approach to production is different from that used by other scientific groups that manually sew electrical components such as LED fibers. These elements are then also manually sewn into the fabric which is a multi-stage, time-consuming process. It reveals the undeniable advantage of using a 3d printer, which can create a variety of constructions in one go. This method is also relatively cheap and easy to scale. Ink nozzle is compatible with many models of 3D printers, parts of which can be exchanged cheaply.

One of the few disadvantages of this solution is the limitation of the print quality due to the mechanical capabilities of the 3d printer and the size of the nozzles.

Plans for the future

We hope that this work will inspire scientists and engineers to build other types of nozzles for 3D printers. Thanks to this, they will be able to generate projects with rich composition and structural diversity – says Zhang. Our long-term goal is to design flexible, wearable hybrid materials and electronics with unique properties. We also want to develop new techniques for the practical production of intelligent wearable systems that will have integrated functions: such as detecting the condition of the person who wears them, monitoring, warning, communication and others.


Where does it leave us?

The technologies described are not finished products yet and it will be a long time before the products created thanks to them will be used by us every day. Still, it is worth looking at the direction in which the development of garment technologies is moving – we are clearly closer to our electronic gadgets. They become part of our underwear very close to the body.

The most important points are:

  • Development of a large, scalable strategy for the production of fibertronics for intelligent textiles
  • The possibility of printing on aesthetically diverse fabrics, with practically no restrictions other than qualitative
  • Development of energy collection and storage fibers that are composed of silk-coated nanotubes.

Who knows, maybe in a few years we will not need to carry a cell phone, just because we will speak to our sleeve 😊


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