We write a lot about finished products — and others that are not-so-finished — because news about actual underlying technologies are both rarer and harder to explain. But a division of DuPont is starting to talk publicly about inks that are both stretchable and conductive, and usable in clothing.
The PE872 stretchable conductor (and what a catchy name that is) can withstand 100 wash cycles, the company said. That’s a significant threshold; 100 washes is something the clothing industry looks for. It can, as the name states, stretch and maintain conductivity when deformed, which also is kind of a big deal. At the IDTechExpo in Santa Clara, DuPont showed off the inks on an athletic shirt from Clothing+; another vendor, BeBop Sensors, showed a shoe insole printed with circuits made of the ink and its related encapsulant, which insulates the ink from wear.
Michael Burrows, a segment manager at DuPont Microcircuit Materials, told WTI that the ink right now works best on non-woven synthetic fabric; woven fabrics like Nomex and Kevlar (and Lycra) are still in the future. Similarly, natural fabrics like cotton or wool have fibers that interfere with the circuitry. As with most conductive inks, a smoother substrate the better. What’s new here is that the substrate can now be more more flexible and drape-y than before.