3D printed smart textiles allow one-step manufacture of wearable tech

Monday, 4 January 2016
Sensors and wiring can now be printed alongside the rest of the textile in a single manufacturing process.

Most smart textiles for wearables utilise conductive fibres that are woven or knitted into the material during production, or else applied to the surface of a finished garment. But a company in the UK is taking a 3D printed approach to smart textiles.

Tamicare has pioneered the Cosyflex system, which eliminates the extra steps needed to integrate conductive elements into clothing and textiles.

Instead, sensors and wiring can be printed alongside the rest of the textile in a single manufacturing process.

The 3D printing approach is applicable not just for smart textiles, but also more complex objects like shoes, which conventionally require over a hundred individual operations during manufacturing. The Cosyflex technology reduces this to three.

The material is created from natural rubber latex and viscose fibres, combining the stretch properties of spandex with the structural uniformity of non-woven textiles. The source materials are fully biodegradable, but other materials can also be used, such as natural latex, silicon, polyurethane, teflon, cotton, viscose and polyamide.

To produce the material, the manufacturer coats a solid surface with a wetting agent, and then flocks it with viscose fibres anchored vertically in the wetting agent. The manufacturer then sprays the exposed ends of the fibre liquid latex. After additional layers of viscose fibre flocking, and the result is a continuous piece of material with fibres on both sides. The porosity of the material can be adjusted depending on material extension.

According to Tamicare, the material opens up new possibilities for product developers. It allows unlimited possibilities for patterns and textures, as well as different attributes in different parts of the same sheet of fabric, seamlessly and without sewing.

The Cosyflex fabric can be configured as a mesh, in multiple different colours, imprinted, embossed, perforated, patterned, etc.

Other advantages include instant creation of finished products from raw materials, without wastage from cutting, and the ability to mass produce via a fully automated process.

Tamicare is currently exploring the prospect of adding graphene inks into production, allowing the printing of wearable technology, as well as high-strength lightweight textiles for sport and defence applications.