Nano Dimension Technologies, a specialist in 3D printed electronics, has successfully tested 3D printing of conductors on a fabric to create "smart" functional materials.

The pilot, carried out with an unnamed European functional textiles company, used Nano Dimension's AgCite Silver Nanoparticle conductive ink and the DragonFly 2020 3D Printer platform.

The printing process allowed the electronics and sensors to be printed as an integral part of the fabric – giving the potential to develop smart functional fabrics without limitations from motion, folding and wearing.

Conductors were printed in several patterns to test conductivity, elasticity, rubbing etc. The results demonstrated that the printed silver conductors had high enough elasticity to match the properties of the fabric.

The functional textile industry is currently grappling with how to produce smart textiles that combine the production process of both the electronics and textile fields.

The 3D printing production processes and nanomaterials developed by Nano Dimension have the potential to resolve this challenge, the company claims, and help to create an efficient production technology for smart textiles.

The smart textile market today is estimated at $800m and is expected to reach $4.72bn by 2020, with a yearly CAGR of 33.58% by 2020.

Possible uses of the technology include smart bandages, virtual reality gloves, wearables with sensor and heat properties, safety equipment for the defence industry, and unique sportswear that manages body temperature.

Other companies are also working to overcome the challenge of flexible circuits for smart clothing.

Polymer company Covestro has developed a flexible smart circuit technology that can illuminate fabrics for use in clothing. And Google's Project Jacquard uses new conductive yarns that combine thin, metallic alloys with natural and synthetic fibres like cotton, polyester or silk, to create fabrics with bespoke touch and gesture-sensitive areas.

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