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The challenge and possibilities in e-textiles

What's New? | November 23, 2020 | By:

As part of the advanced textiles education at IFAI Virtual Expo 2020, Dr. Amanda Mills, Wilson College of Textiles, NC State University, discussed e-textiles in her presentation, “Textile Electronics: Product Design.” Putting all the elements together for an e-textile product is “a balancing act,” she said, stressing the importance of “innovation at every level,” starting with the materials (from the types of yarns to inks and pastes), to how the fabrics are manufactured (knit, woven or nonwoven). 

“Your choice of a filament or yarn is a design decision that can affect the function of your garment,” she said. The method of manufacturing (cut and sew, bonded, welded) and post-processing, which could involve printing, coating, embroidery or lamination, are also equally important. 

When asked by an attendee what she would most like most to do, she responded with a couple of e-textiles most difficult issues. “I’d really like to be able to make e-textiles with hard and soft components. One of the biggest challenges is the harder, mechanical component connecting to the soft material, that’s where its’ most likely going to fail,” she said. 

“I’d love to see a fully textile antenna, so you’re actually knitting the components during the manufacturing process into the garment itself, which would eliminate multiple manufacturing processes.”

Beyond these technical issues, there are marketing challenges. “It’s going to be a really hard sell to get e-textiles into the market if there is something already in the market that meets that need and is less expensive,” she said. 

However, the prospect of energy harvesting textiles (tribo-electric, piezo-electric or photovoltaic) is encouraging. “The problem is batteries are bulky and heavy,” she said, “so being able to use the body as a power source will enable e-textiles in the future.”

She also sees PPE becoming more mainstream and having the ability to monitor exposure to potentially harmful substances. “We want to monitor our exposure, and e-textiles could play a really vital role,” she said. 

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