Inkjet printer reduces cost of stretchable ICs

1 min read

Engineering researchers at Michigan State University claim to have developed the first stretchable integrated circuit that is made entirely using an inkjet printer, raising the possibility of inexpensive mass production of smart fabric.

Potential applications include an ultrathin smart tablet that can be stretched from mini-size to extra-large, or wallpaper that turns an entire wall into an electronic display. Because the material can be produced on a standard printer, it is said to have a potential cost advantage over current technologies.

"We can conceivably make the costs of producing flexible electronics comparable to the costs of printing newspapers," said assistant professor Chuan Wang. "Our work could soon lead to printed displays that be stretched to larger sizes, as well as wearable electronics and soft robotics applications."

The smart fabric is made up of several materials fabricated from nanomaterials and organic compounds. These compounds are dissolved in solution to produce different electronic inks, which are run through the printer to make the devices.

From the ink, the team have successfully created the elastic material, the circuit and the organic light-emitting diode (OLED). The next step is combining the circuit and OLED into a single pixel, which Wang estimates will take one to two years.

Once the researchers successfully combine the circuit and OLED into a working pixel, the smart fabric could be commercialised.

According to Wang, the stretchable electronic fabric could be folded and put in one's pocket without breaking. This is an advantage over current flexible electronics material technology that cannot be folded.