Powered With Printable Electronics and Sensors, Smart Apparel Is Reaching for Stretch Goals

Technology, textile and electronics companies are merging their expertise to create smart workout gear.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Nov 25, 2014

DuPont is no stranger to the world of apparel, as Michael Burrows, the company's business-development manager, pointed out to attendees at IDTechEx's wearable technology conference on November 20. After all, he said, the company commercialized nylon and Lycra.

Now, through its Microcircuit Materials division, DuPont is applying its know-how to the Internet of Things, by developing stretchable, screen-printable electronic inks for use in wearable electronics. Working with apparel company Clothing+, a Finnish manufacturer of sports wear with integrated biometric sensors, and Maxim Integrated, a developer of integrated analog devices, the Microcircuit Materials division has created a prototype shirt with an integrated three-lead electrocardiogram (ECG), as well as temperature and motion sensors.

A swatch of DuPont printed electronics
DuPont has developed two specific products: a stretchable conductor and a stretchable dielectric encapsulate material composed of thermoplastic polyurethane. Manufacturers can use both versions with conventional screen-printing processes to deposit thin circuits onto textiles and protect those electronics.

A mannequin wearing the prototype sensor-integrated workout shirt
According to Burrows, who helps develop advanced materials for solar energy storage and bio-sensors at DuPont, the printed electronics can be laundered in a standard washing machine up to 100 times without experiencing any performance loss. At the DuPont booth, a swatch of nylon with the printed materials could be twisted and forcibly stretched with no apparent negative impact on the material's integrity.

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