National Physical Laboratory

Smart Textiles

NPL is developing metrology and capability in the smart textile arena. We have developed our own ink system as part of an additive process for producing conductive fabrics, and are currently evaluating in a number of commercial applications. We have also partnered with Coventry University to win a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) and exhibited the technology at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2015.

A novel approach towards integrated electronics has the potential to exploit new opportunities in the textile market

Smart fabric connected to a power source conducting electrical charge through a LED

Smart fabric connected to a power source
conducting electrical charge through a LED

At NPL, the Electronics Interconnection Group has developed a new method to produce conductive textiles (see Fig 1). This new technique could make integrating electronics into all types of clothing simple and practical by enabling lightweight circuits to be printed directly onto complete garments.

To introduce conductivity, a nanometal seed layer is firstly attached to the fibres, which acts as a catalyst towards a secondary electroless metal plating process. This encapsulates the fibres and the resulting textile achieves excellent resistivity of around 0.2 Ω/sq depending on the textile. It demonstrates good adhesion of the coating, flexibility and is stretchable. This chemical bonding of the metal to the textile leads to it surviving 100 wash cycles, and repeated stretch cycles. The conductive tracks are produced in a four-step process and one of these can be patterned, achieved using an inkjet printer. Hence printing complex multi-track circuits, or entire fabric coverage, is possible.

The applications for the smart textile produced by NPL would support the sports, health, medicine, consumer electronics and fashion industries.

NPL is currently looking for partners to help us:

  • Integrate the NPL technology into commercial products for specific applications
  • Manufacture the NPL conductive textile on a large scale

Contact

For more information, please contact Chris Hunt or Roya Ashayer-Soltani

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