A new technique for depositing silver onto clothing fibres could open up huge opportunities in wearable electronics.
Scientists at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) have developed a way to print silver directly onto fibres. This new technique could make the integration of electronics into all types of clothing simple and practical. Most current plans for wearable electronics require weaving conductive materials into fabrics, which offers limited flexibility and can only be achieved when integrated into the design of the clothing from the start. NPL's technique could allow lightweight circuits to be printed directly onto complete garments. The silver coated fibres created using this technique are flexible and stretchable, meaning circuits can be printed readily onto many different types of fabric, including wool. The technique involves chemically bonding a nano silver layer onto individual fibres to a thickness of 20 nm. The conductive silver layer fully encapsulates fibres and has good adhesion and excellent conductivity. Chris Hunt, project lead, said: "The technique has many potential applications. One particularly exciting area is wearable sensors and antennas which could be used for monitoring, for example: checking on patients and vulnerable people; data capture and feedback for soldiers in the field; and performance monitoring in sports. It offers particular benefits over the 'weaving in' approach, as the conductive pattern and flexibility ensures that sensors are always positioned in the same location on the body." Having demonstrated in the lab that the additive technique is viable, NPL is now looking for funding or collaborators to develop a full printed circuit on a textile, which can be tested for flexibility and robustness – for example, by putting it through the wash.