What Does 3D Printing Have to Do with Wearable Electronics?

What Does 3D Printing Have to Do with Wearable Electronics?

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Three-dimensional (3D) printing has greatly advanced during the past few years, so we can now print a toy, furniture, electronics and even organic tissue. One of the current attempts in the 3D printing field is to produce flexible or soft electronic components to create wearable devices.

While this sounds like it could be a great development that would revolutionize the world of 3D printing, there has rarely been success in producing complex and flexible electronics. The problem researchers ran into has mainly been the fact that existing inks for 3D printing have difficulty producing solid-state elastic materials that can conduct electricity.

Nevertheless, researchers at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology were recently successful in using 3D printing to create elastic components that can conduct electricity, which could pave the way for the creation of stretchable components for wearable devices. They published a paper in ‘Nature Electronics’ in which they outlined and explained how this was possible, and the ways in which it could be used in the future.

Byeongmoon Lee, Hyunjoo Cho and their colleagues from the institute explained that this breakthrough was made possible by a new emulsion-based composite ink they developed, which consists of liquid components dispersed within a conductive elastomer, a rubbery material that conducts electricity.

This new composite ink they created exhibits viscoelasticity and lubricating properties, which can better support the printing of complex 3D structures. The researchers demonstrated this new discovery by creating a wearable temperature sensor with a stretchable display, which performed well. The team’s vision for the future of their product is creating soft electronics aligned with the shape of the human body, for more comfortable wear.