Scientists from the Institute of Textiles and Clothing at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in China have developed a new way to create flexible and stretchable devices. As published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, they have developed computerized knitting machines that can handle fabric yarns as well as special copper conductors that have been coated with a polyurethane material to protect the metal. The result is a fabric that can be washed at least 30 times without the circuits failing. It also passed a million cycles of a test that loaded it to 20% of its maximum strain without failure.
This approach would appear to have significant advantages in creating wearable Health Tech devices, especially smart clothing. It appears to be far more flexible and durable than even the best conducting films. And copper is an excellent conductor, so devices that rely on these connections should be able to perform efficiently.
The scientists call their new material a Fabric Circuit Board (FCB) because it allows designers to place components in different locations on the woven cloth, just as with a rigid plastic printed circuit board. As sensor costs continue to drop and new sensor technologies become available, this could lead to new applications for next-to-skin monitoring devices and body networks.