Engineering scientists at the Michigan State University have introduced the foremost stretchable integrated circuit that is made completely using an inkjet printer, raising the feasibility of costly mass production of smart fabric.
Consider an ultra-slim smart tablet that can be expanded easily from mini-size to extra-large, or a rubber band-like wrist monitor that estimates one’s heartbeat, or wallpaper that alters an entire wall into an electrical display.
These are some of the potential applications of the stretchable smart fabric introduced in the lab Chun Wang, an assistant lecturer of electrical and computer engineering, and because the substance can be produced on a standard printer, it has a major potential cost benefit over current technologies that are costly to manufacture.
“We can conceivably make the costs of producing flexible electrical comparable to the costs of printing newspapers,” says Wang, “Our work could soon result in printed displays that can be conveniently stretched to bigger sizes, as well as wearable electrical and soft robotics applications.”
The smart fabric is prepared of numerous materials fabricated from nanomaterials and organic compounds. These compounds are dissolved in solution to manufacture distinct electronic inks, which are run through the printer to make the devices.
From the ink, Wang and his group have successfully created the elastic substance, the circuit and the organic light-emitting diode, or OLED. The next step is linking the circuit and OLED into single pixel, which Wang estimates will take one to two years. There are usually millions of pixels just underneath the screen of a smart tablet or a big display.
Once the scientists successfully link the circuit and OLED into a working pixel, the smart fabric can be potentially commercialized. Conceivably, Wang says, the stretchable electrical fabric can be folded and placed in one’s pocket without breaking. This is an advantage over current ‘flexible’ electrical material technology that cannot be folded.
“We have prepared a novel technology that is not yet available,” Wang says. “And we have taken it one big step beyond the flexible screens that are about the commercially available.”
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