Mar 27, 2019 | By Thomas

A team of Chinese researchers has developed a new technique to use 3D printers to bind the electronic materials to the clothing textiles and enable them to harvest biomechanical energy from human motion.

“We used a 3D printer equipped with a home-made coaxial nozzle to directly print fibers on textiles and demonstrated that it could be used for energy-management purposes,” says senior author Yingying Zhang, a professor in the Department of Chemistry at Tsinghua University. “We proposed a coaxial nozzle approach because single-axial nozzles allow only one ink to be printed at a time, thus greatly restricting the compositional diversity and the function designing of printed architectures.”

Researchers 3D printed Chinese characters meaning ‘printing’, the English word ‘silk’, and a picture of a pigeon. Image credits: Yingying Zhang.

Zhang and her colleagues 3D printed their first E-textiles using two “inks”: one is a carbon nanotube solution which served as a conductive core, and the second one consisted of silkworm silk, used for insulating the conductive fibers. Two injection syringes filled with the inks were connected to the coaxial nozzle, which was fixed on the 3D printer. These syringes were used to draw custom-designed patterns, which were further used as a triboelectricity nanogenerator textile. According to researchers, the smart textile could harvest biomechanical energy from human motion and achieve a power density as high as 18 mW/m2.

3D printed e-textile under twisting and folding, showing its high flexibility. Image credits: Yingying Zhang.

The new approach is more efficient than other attempts at sewing electrical components into fabrics. 3D printing technology allows researchers to embed versatile features into fabrics with ease. The approach is also cheap and easy to scale, as the nozzle is compatible with existing 3D printers, and the parts can be swapped. However, the drawback is that the resolution is limited to the mechanical movement accuracy of the 3D printer and size of the nozzles.

This schematic illustration showing smart clothes for energy management and its performance. Image credits: Yingying Zhang.

This research comes at a time when wearable technology usage is becoming more common, due to the potential they offer. “We hope this work will inspire others to build other types of 3D printer nozzles that can generate designs with rich compositional and structural diversity and even to integrate multiple co-axial nozzles that can produce multifunctional E-textiles in one-step,” Zhang says. “Our long-term goal is to design flexible, wearable hybrid materials and electronics with unprecedented properties and, at the same time, develop new techniques for the practical production of smart wearable systems with integrated functions, such as sensing, actuating, communicating, and so on.”

The work is being reported in the journal Matter.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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