Covestro films pave the way for freely formable electronic systems

Smart electronics for smart clothing

LED dress
Covestro is showcasing a luminous dress at the K 2016 plastics trade fair. LEDs make it truly stand out, but can also perform key functions such as protecting pedestrians and cyclists against accidents. What makes it special is that the light-emitting diodes are not positioned on a panel or strip, but on a piece of soft fabric.

At the center of the development is an electronic system that is responsive to movements without losing its functionality. This system comprises a flexible and formable film made of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) from Covestro. The TPU is the substrate for the printed copper circuits that can also be bent and stretched.

Copper and polyurethane
Smart circuits are manufactured using an efficient, multi-stage process. First, copper films are laminated onto the polyurethane films. The printed circuits are produced in a subsequent structuring operation featuring highly effective adhesion. The coated films are then shaped as required using conventional thermoforming.

The films are resistant to standard etching and imaging processes, and formable electronic systems can also be directly laminated onto textiles, as in the case of the luminous dress.

The “stretchable circuit board” production technology was developed as part of various EU-funded projects, including STELLA and TERASEL. The objective is to produce 2.5-dimensional electronic circuits cost-effectively using conventional forming processes. The freely formed components can be integrated seamlessly into energy-efficient electronic components. They can be processed using standard PCB industry equipment and are also suitable for applications with higher currents or voltages.

From functional underwear to automotive interiors
The technology opens up an extremely wide range of options for smart textiles alone. Besides fashion items such as the luminous dress, freely formable electronic systems in clothing also monitor heart rate and breathing. In this way, they assist patients with therapy and help athletes monitor their training.

TERASEL technology also enables production of modular automotive interior components in which all functions are already integrated. This reduces complexity in assembly, cuts costs and shortens time to market. It also clears the way for new lighting concepts in automotive interiors and buildings. Designers and architects can position LEDs exactly where they are needed most.

The smart circuits also have uses in consumer electronics, where they support the trend toward increased miniaturization of components, as they can be incorporated directly into the outer shell of products.

Interested? Come to our stand to see how our materials are adding electronics to clothing and meet our experts. In Hall 6, Stand A75.

You can get tickets and register here.

You can find a map here.