A set of screen-printed electrodes
© Washington State University

A breakthrough in screen printing may allow scientists to create the structures that power wearable electronics faster and cheaper than ever

The electrodes used to power wearable electronics have been created using just screen printing – creating a stretchable and durable circuit pattern that can be transferred to fabric and worn directly on human skin.

The future of wearable electronics

Wearable electronics can be used for health monitoring in hospitals or at home and are considered a cutting-edge area that blends both technology and healthcare.

Associate Professor Jong-Hoon Kim stated that they “wanted to make flexible, wearable electronics in a way that is much easier, more convenient and lower cost,” which is why the team started focusing on screen printing as “it’s easy to use. It has a simple setup and is suitable for mass production.”

The current method of commercial manufacturing for wearable tech requires expensive processing, and whilst some use screen printing for parts of the process, this new method relies wholly on screen printing, which has advantages for manufacturers and, ultimately, consumers.

The electrode screen-printing process

Published in the ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces journal, Kim and his colleagues detail the electrode screen-printing process and demonstrate how the resulting electrodes can be used for electrocardiogram monitoring, also known as ECG.

Using a multi-step process to layer polymer and metal inks to create snake-like structures of the electrode, the team created a thin pattern that appears delicate, however, the electrodes are not fragile. Along with this, the study was also able to show the design could be stretched by 30% and bent to 180 degrees.

The wireless electrodes accurately recorded heart and respiratory rates, sending the data to a mobile phone

Multiple electrodes are printed onto a pre-treated glass slide, allowing them to be easily peeled off and then transferred onto fabric or other material. After printing the electrodes, the researchers transferred them onto an adhesive fabric that was then worn directly on the skin by volunteers.

The wireless electrodes accurately recorded heart and respiratory rates, sending the data to a mobile phone.

The potential for screen printing in the tech industry

While this study from Washington State University researchers focused on ECG monitoring, the screen-printing process has the potential to be used to create electrodes for a range of uses, including those that serve similar functions to smartwatches or fitness trackers, Kim said.

Kim’s lab is currently working on expanding this technology to print different electrodes as well as entire electronic chips and even potentially whole circuit boards.


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