Why screen printers should care about the development of apparel infused with electronic sensors and circuitry.
In theory, the possibilities for wearable technologies seem limited only by designers’ imaginations. But in the real world, the commercialization potential of some of these ideas will depend on two things: The ability to create durable, washable, and reliable low-power electrical components that can be safely and comfortably worn close to the skin; and the ability to produce smart textiles and clothing at prices that everyone can afford.
Why Screen Printers Should Pay Attention
According to the emerging technologies research firm IDTechEx, the market for wearable technology will grow from $24 billion today to more than $70 billion in 2025. But the term “wearable technology” means different things to different people. The market today consists primarily of non-washable objects such as wristwatches, fitness trackers, earphones, and medical devices like EKG, EEG, and blood glucose sensors. Newer wearables include virtual reality headsets and “Magic Band” wristbands that customize the experience of each visitor in a Disney theme park.
Whole new waves of opportunities will arise as researchers continue to develop thin, conformable, flexible electronic components that can be integrated with smart textiles. Silicon Valley tech firms regard such printed electronics as an enabling technology for the low-cost fabrication of low-power electronic components that could be worn close to the skin and move easily with the wearer’s body. (The term “printed electronics” refers to the deposition of electrically functional or optical inks in patterns and thicknesses that will create active or passive devices such as thin-film transistors, capacitors,
coils, and resistors.)
One screen-printing expert who has seen the rapid advancement of flexible electronics for wearables firsthand is Ray Greenwood. As an independent industrial, medical, and electronic printing consultant and contractor, he has worked in the sensor end of the medical electronics industry since 2011, starting out with products such as defibrillator pads and EEG and EKG electrodes. His work has quickly expanded into developing flexible devices for sports medicine, blood-flow monitoring, and electrochemical electrodes for very specific functions.
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