E-Textiles: Combining Fashion and Function

E-textiles functions and applications
Image credit: Pixabay

The fashion industry is seeing various technological innovations from production down to distribution. For one, these advancements are being utilized for apparel production management, which is a core phase in the apparel supply chain. Modern tech is now applied to smart sewing machines that can accomplish practically any kind of stitch, from basic to decorative. Meanwhile, mobile applications are being used for quality management, machine maintenance, and production data capturing. Another innovation that combines technology and fashion is the e-textile.

What are e-textiles?

E-textiles, short for electronic textiles, are basically fabrics that have very durable and wearable circuits. These textiles use printed circuit boards that will have undergone a process called design manufacturing. This ensures the end products are functional and reliable according to what they've been created to do – in this case, be connected with a fabric. E-textiles will be safe to wear, as well as able to withstand washing and folding.

It’s worth noting that e-textiles differ from smart textiles. The latter are made of materials that just react to outside stimuli. E-textiles, on the other hand, are part of electronic systems capable of receiving and analyzing signals created by the sensors. These react to parameters such as sound, light, movement, and chemicals. For example, e-textiles will be able to generate heat during chilly weather. But smart textiles will need to have materials that adapt to the heat. For instance, polyethylene glycol in a glove’s porous microstructures will melt and cool the hand if in a warm environment, or solidity and release heat to warm.

Applications of e-textiles

There are two main kinds of e-textiles — embedded and laminated. The former integrates electronics like resistors and transistors directly into the textile, making them look more like a textile product than a piece of electronic. Meanwhile, the latter has circuitry printed on a non-textile material, which is then bonded to the fabric. Below are some examples of e-textiles in action:

1. Heated clothing

Heated clothing can be embedded or laminated. An example of a laminated kind of heated clothing is a heated vest with a controllable e-textile-based thermal panel. This is made of conductive yarn, PU-coated thermoplastic fibers, and welding tapes, while the power supplies used are three 3.7V batteries. The heating panel is fastened to a vest with the help of brit buttons, and the controller goes into the vest’s inner pocket. Meanwhile, there are also embedded kinds of heated clothing, such as Loomia’s touch-enabled jacket. Their electronic layer is embedded with custom conductive circuits, allowing the fabric to be sensitive to touch, as well as making them light and able to heat up.

2. Biometric monitoring

There are already wearable technologies like fitness trackers that are used for biometric monitoring. However, despite these electronic devices being relatively bendable and stretchable, they still lack comfortability in terms of being breathable and pliable. To solve this, scientists are working on wireless theranostics that are made from non-printed integrated-circuit textiles. This means the electronic devices are built as fibers or interlaced nodes that are woven into a deformable textile, giving them superior bending and stretching robustness. For example, fiber-type sweat sensors can be woven with strain and light sensor fibers that allow them to monitor health, such as for diabetes. This e-textile also has a photo-rechargeable energy part that makes it self-powered.

3. Personal electricity

There are many earth-friendly ways to get electricity — namely converting energy from sunlight, biomechanical movement, friction, or even body heat. You can utilize this to create your own personal electricity. A polymer-based textile is usually used in this case since it is soft, comfortable, and lightweight. Conducting sewing thread can be embroidered into the thick wool fabric, then with the additional help of silver-containing paste and copper wires, a thermoelectric generator is created. A thermoelectric generator is essentially a device that uses thermal heat to create electricity. For this polymer-based textile, it becomes an active (but still safe) device that can be used as warm clothing while also being useful for energy generation.

Related post: Difference Between E-Textiles, Smart Textiles, and Wearable Technology

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