By Janet Preus
Generally speaking, the purpose of printing on fabric is to display a beautiful graphic, promote a brand or event, impart a message or some combination of these elements. That definition appears to be expanding. Will there come a time when a shop routinely includes technology for printing projects that have nothing to do with graphics?
Less than a year ago, Xerox announced a new ink technology for printing electronic circuitry, paving the way for digital clothing, flexible displays and signage, lighter e-book readers, solar cells, sensors and “smart” everyday objects, according to a story on www.smartplanet.com. The process uses ink containing silver metal that can be used to print circuits on textiles, film and plastics.
“Amazingly,” the report continues, “the ink technology uses conventional inkjet printing methods, and Xerox says it’s even used it with conventional desktop printers,” although the expectation is that the silver ink technology will be used with continuous-feed printers that print on rolls. It’s available now for testing by outside parties for commercialization. Xennia is touting its XenJet™ 4000 with new software designed specifically for the deposition of printed electronics and other functional materials. This printer is already being used in biomedical, pharmaceutical and other applications.
And there are a growing number of markets and applications possible, from health care (light therapy bandages and iontophoretic cosmetic skin patches) to electronic wallpaper, heated or lit clothing, and flexible solar cells for portable power. “Printed electronics is the gateway to edible, foldable, rollable, conformal, wearable, biodegradable and other electronics and electrics,” says a report available from www.idtechex.com.
If you can print a sign or a banner, can you print electronic circuitry? It appears that you can, given you have the right equipment.
More than 1,000 companies have entered this market, says a report on www.just-style.com, boldly concluding that “these printing, materials, paper and chemical companies of today will be the new electronic giants tomorrow.” At this point, the companies involved have primarily been developing the technology. It may be up to others to find all the ways it can be applied to specific markets and applications. It looks like your shop could be the next step after that.
You might not have imagined yourself a participant in revolutionizing the electronics industry, but maybe you could be. Are you interested?