Engineering researchers at East Lansing-based Michigan State University today announced the creation of the first stretchable integrated circuit made entirely out of an inkjet printer, raising the possibility of the inexpensive production of “smart fabric.”
Smart fabric is made of several materials created form nanomaterials and organic compounds, which are dissolved in a solution to produce different electronic links, and are then run through the printer to make the devices.
The technology was developed by Chuan Wang, assistant professor of electric and computer engineering, who also discovered the material could be produced on a standard printer, giving it a major potential cost advantage over technologies that are expensive to manufacture.
“We can conceivably make the costs of producing flexible electronics comparable to the costs of printing newspapers,” says Wang. “Our work could soon lead to printed displays that can easily be stretched to larger sizes, as well as wearable electronics and soft robotics applications.”
From the ink, Wang and his team created an elastic material, the circuit, and the organic light-emitting mode (OLED). The next step is combining the circuit and OLED into a single pixel, which Wang estimates will take one to two years. There are generally millions of pixels just beneath the screen of a smart tablet or large display. Once the step is completed, the smart fabric can be potentially commercialized.
Wang adds that it’s possible for stretchable electronic fabric to be folded and carried in a pocket without breaking, an advantage over current “flexible” electronics which cannot be folded.
“We have created a new technology that is not yet available,” says Wang. “And we have taken it one big step beyond the flexible screens that are about to become commercially available.”
The discovery of ink-fabricated stretchable circuitry was published recently in the journal, ACS Nano. Wang’s co-researchers include Le Cai, Suoming Zhang, and Jinshui Miao at MSU, and Zhibin Yu at Florida State University.