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Global standards for e-textiles

July 29th, 2019 / By: / Feature

The European market is influencing open international standards development through IPC.

by Chris Jorgensen

Researchers at the MIT Media Lab have demonstrated three classes of textile sensors exploiting resistive, piezoresistive, and capacitive properties of various textile structures enabled by machine knitting with conductive yarn. The knit sensors are made with commercially available yarn. Photo: Daniel Oran.

In spring 2017, companies representing the global e-textiles community formed the IPC D-70 E-Textiles Committee to develop IPC international standards for their industry. As word spread about the committee and its activities, the committee roster grew to more than 150 organizations from around the world, many from Europe.

IPC standards working groups conduct most of their meetings through web conferences and conference calls. Although this helps with people who may have travel restrictions and ensures participant consistency from meeting to meeting, it presents an issue because of time zone differences; business hours for people in one region may be off hours for people from other parts of the globe. In addition, meeting participants may also have language barriers which prohibit comfortable participation. Some groups will simply need to hold face-to-face meetings, as well.

Committing to global participation

As an international standards development organization that practices openness and fairness in its standardization procedures, IPC has worked to address many of these concerns. IPC has staff in the United States, China, India and Europe, and it has created a framework for forming regional committees to develop and influence IPC international standards on their local time, in their local language and, if need be, at face-to-face meetings in their area.

The growth of the IPC E-Textiles Committee and IPC’s international support network led to the development of some new structured activities for the European e-textiles marketplace. In late 2018, one of the IPC D-70 E-Textiles Committee members from Europe, Vladan Koncar of ENSAIT GEMTEX Lab in France, approached IPC staff and the D-70 Committee chairs with interest in leading the development of standards activities in Europe. Vladan and his colleagues had recently written IPC-WP-024, “IPC White Paper on Reliability and Washability of Smart Textile Structures – Readiness for the Market.” This white paper discusses the issues associated with reliability of smart textiles after multiple washing cycles and emphasizes efforts that industry and research laboratories must undertake to make e-textile structures more robust and able to be washed similarly to everyday textile products, such as garments, home textiles and technical textiles.

Vladan felt there were more stories to be told by the European market, and there were concerns that could be addressed through an IPC committee through white papers and standards, and he wanted to form a local committee to begin to address these matters. In his opinion, for the e-textiles market in Europe—an extension of Europe’s well-established technical textiles market—to succeed, there needs to be standards on washability and reliability of e-textiles.

Additionally, he approached IPC as a conduit to bring researchers to the same table with representatives from the electronics manufacturing industry. In December 2018, IPC held a web meeting with many e-textiles organizations in Europe to determine their interest in forming a committee, and by January of this year, that group launched its activities.

The IPC E-Textiles Committee in Europe, which has 57 members, has held multiple web meetings since its inception to discuss the how IPC can help support the e-textiles industry in Europe. In a short period of time, this group has launched notable initiatives, including:  

  • Standards for wearable technologies
  • Standards for printed electronics on e-textiles
  • A search for additional white paper topics
  • Education and networking opportunities

Wearable technologies

Several members from the committee expressed interest in standards for e-textiles for wearable applications, leading to an ad hoc group within the IPC D-70 E-Textiles Committee. This ad hoc group is working to strategize how to approach the need for wearable applications. Since there are no existing standards for wearables, the group, comprised of European, North American and Asian participants, is starting with a clean slate in its approach.

Their first task is data collection. IPC has an open survey for industry to provide feedback to this group on some key areas: the performance characteristics that are important; test methods or procedures used to measure the characteristics and how those apply to wearables for specific product areas, such as health and wellness, medical, military and personal protective equipment.

The IPC E-Textiles Materials Subcommittee conducted a similar exercise during the early stages of developing IPC-8921, a standard for woven and knitted e-textiles. From that survey, the subcommittee was able to build out the framework of performance characteristics and test methods that comprise what will be IPC’s first e-textiles standard.

Printed electronics on e-textiles

The IPC E-Textiles Committee in Europe also showed interest in standards for printed electronics e-textiles. This matched up with sentiments from the IPC D-70 E-Textiles Committee as well as the IPC D-60 Printed Electronics Committee.

This has led to the formation of an ad hoc group that is reviewing IPC-2292, a design standard for printed electronics on flexible materials, to make recommendations on how to use the work conducted for that standard to develop a standard or standards for printing electronics on textiles.

Additional white papers

The E-Textiles Committee in Europe is also focused on curating additional IPC white papers on e-textiles. These white papers will help to fill a void in industry knowledge on topics, such as washability, product development, test procedures and end-use application areas, while standards are being developed.

Education and networking

The IPC E-Textiles Committee in Europe also stressed the need for learning and engagement opportunities for the European e-textiles market. Based on this interest, IPC is hosting IPC E-Textiles Europe 2019, November 12-13 in Munich. This conference will feature a day and a half of technical presentations that will discuss important topics, such as:

  • Testing methodologies for e-textiles with embedded or printed electronics
  • Washability expectations and test methods for smart fabrics
  • Innovative approaches to manufacturing e-textiles, such as printed, embedded and welded electronics
  • Current uses for sensors on smart textiles and how can we ensure reliability for these products
  • Best practices for manufacturing e-textiles, including woven, knitted and embroidered materials
  • Real market expectations for e-textiles products and how do we develop a business model
  • Bringing together the design, manufacturing and brand organizations to develop product
  • Manufacturing product for markets such as military, medical and sports applications

In addition, the conference will include a committee meeting where conference attendees can learn about the activities of the committee and collaborate on other standards topics that the committee should consider.

The path forward

In a short period of time, the committee in Europe has gotten off to a productive  start. It’s expected to show a range of accomplishments in the months and years to come, including white papers, webinars, the formation of local IPC standards working groups, new IPC international standards and test methods.

Chris Jorgensen is director, technology transfer, for IPC. He can be reached at ChrisJorgensen@ipc.org.

IPC E-Textiles Committee in Europe is open to anyone to join, even if you are not located in Europe. If you have interest in joining the committee, or any other IPC e-textiles standards working group, e-mail ChrisJorgensen@ipc.org.

Speakers, presentation topics and agenda for IPC E-Textiles Europe 2019 may be found at www.ipc.org/E-Textiles-EU19.

To offer feedback on the IPC survey, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/wearables.