WEAVeING: Wearable Advanced fibre-based Electronics Integrated Manufacturing

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Chemistry

Abstract

Wearable electronics are at the core of academic and industrial research and development as they present a market opportunity in excess of $53 billion in the RCUK strategic areas of healthcare and wellbeing, energy. This technology promises to play a key role in enabling the Internet of Things and integrated electronic systems, such as the Body Area Network concept. Wearable electronics currently relies on rigid and flexible electronic technologies which offer limited skin-compatibility in many circumstances, suffer washing and are uncomfortable to wear because they are not breathable. Turning textiles into electronic components will address these issues, by unlocking ultimately wearable electronics potential through electronic textiles. Work is already underway to have breathable, washable and skin-compatible electronic textiles. However, progress towards wearable all-textile electronic devices and integrated systems has been held back by the absence of circuit design rules and textile integration processes for fibre-based components, which challenges the large-scale manufacturing of integrated textile circuits. Despite individual device demonstration, both integration processes lack from figures of merit and design rules, which consider electronics on a textile form factor and allow linking the physical properties of fibre-based components with the final device performances. This has been key in the establishment and standardisation of planar silicon-based electronics as we know it, and represents a fundamental enabling step for the large-scale implementation of wearable electronic textiles. Without design rules and integration processes, it is extremely difficult to develop competitive wearable devices suitable for commercialisation.
WEAVeING will pioneer the innovative manufacturing tools to enable wearable electronic textile integrated systems by developing electronic textile design and large-scale integration processes for washable, breathable and skin-compatible fibre-based electronic components.

Planned Impact

My plan is to develop the design rules and production processes enabling the manufacturing of all-textile electronic devices that are washable, breathable and compatible with the human skin as required by healthcare and wellbeing applications. This project will identify the properties state-of-the-art electronic and optoelectronic fibres to develop the Figures of Merit and integration platforms delivering design, testing and sustainable manufacturing of integrated electronic textile circuits. The beneficiaries of the project will be the UK's national chemical, textile, healthcare, fashion, energy, electronic and lighting industries, where the new platform, skills and know-how developed could be quickly implemented, but more widely will be the different communities of end users that will benefit from new low-cost, low-power, wearable electronic devices integrated in general and technical wear (e.g. fashion & wellbeing) as well as medical tools (e.g. smart patches). The project will have a strong alignment with industry needs and engages with the project collaborators. I am already in discussion with several companies that will benefit from this work such as Google Inc, FlexEnable Ltd, Metier Ltd, SmartLife Ltd, HeathCoat Ltd, Eni SpA. Their unique expertise in the field of electronic textiles and integration with general- and sports-wear is key to maximize the industrial appeal of WEAVeING technology and facilitate the knowledge transfer. Two general meetings with the industrial and academic partners will be held at the end of the first and second year respectively, having the purpose to present and update industrial partners on the latest results of the project, define/update a quick route to industrial impact as well as acquiring useful information to define the internal strategy based on industrial feedbacks.
Moreover, the results of this project will contribute to strongly enhance the averall research field of wearable medical sensors and actuators and future devices for human-computer interaction.
- Economic Impact. The total predicted market for wearable electronics is $180Bn by 2020 from which >$80Bn in the RCUK strategic area of Healthcare and Wellbeing. The electronic textile technology will be disseminated to the UK industrial sector through direct interaction with relevant actors in the fields of system integration (FlexEnable), large-area electronic textiles development (HeatCoat) and healthcare and wellbeing applications (SmartLife and Metier). This project will also seek economic impact by disseminating the results of the project via workshops and conferences organized by special interest groups or catapults involving the industrial community. The engagement with IDTechEx will provide a regular update on the market trends to the team and access to the largest wearable electronics tradeshow. A textile display demonstrator will be presented to the same tradeshow, at the end of two years.
- Societal impact: The manufacturing of robust all-textile electronic devices will contribute to address national societal challenges such as accessible healthcare treatment for resource-poor areas, and sustainable economic development: offering a an innovative manufacturing technology for cost-effective, low-power, safe, wearable and bio-compatible smart patches for medical monitoring, treatment and rehabilitation that will facilitate democratisation of healthcare treatments. Towards the end of the project I will explore the integration of the ECG monitoring system and the light-emitting textile display to design a wearable patch in light-therapy devices for treatment of skin diseases and stimulating anti-inflammatory effect. To maximize the impact and dissemination of project's results I will organize a satellite workshop at IDTechEx 2021.
Finally, WEAVeING will not only generate a return in terms of professional development and know-how, but it will develop a plafrom for a strong future industry to consolidate in the UK.

Publications

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Ji X (2020) A graphene-based electro-thermochromic textile display in Journal of Materials Chemistry C

 
Title A textile-based display 
Description In collaboration with partners at the Royal College of Arts, London and the University of Jiangnan, China we created a textile-based display demonstrator based on a design architecture developed within WEAVeING. The display layout takes the advantage of the textile form factor and novel materials, such as graphene and thermocromic dyes. The new design rules developed by WEAVeING together with the novel functional fibres and textiles developed by SWIFT provide a unique mix of methods, novel materials and models for an all-textile generation of wearable electronic devices. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2020 
Impact This demonstrator will benefit industry sectors in the areas of wearble devices for healthcare, sportswear and commodities, demonstrating an industrially viable and scalable route to develop reproducible all-textile electronic devices based on figures of merit and design rules. 
URL https://pubs.rsc.org/ko/content/articlehtml/2020/tc/d0tc03144e
 
Description The project has established a series of figures of merit that allow to map out simple integrated circuits from planar technology (e.g. resistor-resistor interconnection, resistor-capacitor interconnection) into texile-based equivalent components. This involved the identification of equivalent electronic behaviours of fibre-based components to the planar electronics ones and the investigation of the electronic behaviour of interconnection of individual fibre-based components into a all-fibre circuit. This enabled the team to define design rules for textile circuits enabling to manufacture e-textiles with integrated fibre-based components. Conducting fibres based on graphene/polymer composites or reduced graphene oxide resulted with conductivities of more than 3000 S/m were developed and integrated with textile-based capacitors with capacitance of 25 pF/cm^2, to demonstrate an all-textile radio frequency low pass filter operaing at 15 kHz. The identification of the figures of merit ofr textile circuits, allow to define design rules ofr electronic textiles which are currently missing and are hihgly needed to manufacture reliable e-textile devices in large quantity. More recently the team has expnanded the development of figures of merit to optically active fibres, particularly focusing on colour changing, light emitting and photodetector fibres. Design strategies have been developed to integrate fibre-based interconnections to drive a textile display based on electro-chromic technology. A similar methodology was adopted also in this case, whereby figures of merit for the electro-chromic textile elements (voltage, temperature and colour changing) were correlated with the textile architecture and integraion pattern (fibre diameter, single/multiple fibres, weaving approach) to identify design strategy to reproducibly manufacture textile-based displays. This is aligned with the original work-programme althouth partially delayed due to the current pandemic as outlined in the COVID-19 section of this researchfish submission.
Exploitation Route The outcomes have a huge potential in the field of wearable electronics and might be taken forward by various manufacturing and indutrial stakeholders in the field of technical textiles, healthcare application, wellbeing ang rehabilitation as well as automotive. The innovation is being protected by the Partnership and Commercialisation (IPC) branch of Imperial College,via several IP actions (such as invention disclosure and pantent application submission).The project is also already actively collaborating with various industrial players, such as Klopman SpA (Europan leader for industrial textiles) in the optimisation of the manufacturing design rules of the e-textile devices to be compliant with standard industrial processes. The team is also collaborating with companies (Metier cycling ltd, heatcoat ltd and operating in the smart textile or wearable electronics sectors, to support the development of key applications which are likely to attract the interest of industries in the relevant above-mentioned sectors. To maximise the exploitation of this technology by the manufacruting community, the e-textile design rules and textile device integration strategy being developed by WEAVeING will be also taken forward by a follow-on proposal that will be submitted to the Adventurous manufacturing follow-on call. Following on from WEAVeING the new proposal will have two main objectives: to develop a sustainable route for the e-textile integration strategy developed so far and to enable textile manufacturers and wearable and e-textile device producers to up-take this technology by developing scaled-up demonstrators which integrate with existing technical textiles.
Further strategies are under development together with the IPC team at Imperial college regarding possible spi-off companies and patent licencing.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Electronics,Energy,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

 
Description The design rules and textile integration strategies developed in this project are being used to generate economic impact by fostering collaboration with technical textile manufacturers (Klopman SpA) and wearable electronic device manufacturers (Metier cycling Ltd and Smartlife Ltd) which are testing our approach to integrate electronic fibres and textiles in their devices. This is based on daily interactions of WEAVeING researchers and company researchers in the lab, developing strategies to upscale the e-textile integration and engineer small electronic textile demonstrators that serve as technology proof of concept adding value to existing commercial wearable products. In addition we are engaging in various dissemination activities (mostly onlyne due to the current pandemic) for the general public and industrial stakeholders, such as the Imperial Techforesighs showcase, the London Fashion Week, the Imperial Science Roadshow at South Kensington, London generating societal impact and awareness on the benefit on this future emergin technology. This is also done with the aid of small textile wearable healthcare demonstrators measuring an ECG and body motion, showcasing the huge potential for healthcare applications in the area or remote patient monitoring. Societal impact is being pursued in the ongoing effort to train future experts and reseaechers in the field of wearable electronics and electronic textiles via the training of the reseachers hired by this project with the suitable skills and know-how to succesfully develope wearable electronic textile devices. The by working directly with indutrial partners to facilitate sharing of good-practice and know-how when operating with fibre-based textiles. Masters and PhD teaching courses at Imperial college are also helping to create a knowledge centre that can be didactically shared with Graduate students who are going to become the professionals of the future in this field and will bring along their expertise to their future workplace. This was done by extabliscing a lecture part on electronic textiles within the module of Plastic electronics at Imperial College and a lecture series on electronic textiles in the CDT of Institute of Chemical Biology at Imperial which focuses on smart and sustainable textiles. Further societal impact is being developed in the area of Healthcare technologies, by working along with the Manchester Metropolitan Univesity to develop smart personal protective equipment for vulnerable patients, that includes body parameter monitoring relevant for remote patient care. This is currently beign explored.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Chemicals,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Electronics,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description Graduate and postgraduate course on Plastic Electronics
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The course aims to provide knowdlege and skills in the rapidly emerging areas of plastic, flexible and wearable electronics. A key pilllar of this teaching module is textile electronics and it's application into wearable devices. The course is directed to final year undergraduate students and MRes students at Imperial College and is designed to equip the students with the fundamental knowledge and skills to become the future researchers and engineers operating in the field wearable devices.
 
Description Memership of the steering committee of EPSRC E-Textile Network
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact The policy increased the awareness and impact of electronic waste and raised the support and need fo a future move towards sustainable electronics. This falls within the remit of SWIFT which develops sustainable electronic textiles based on natural fibres. This has resulted in consultation and national calls for sustainable smart textiles.
 
Description Chinese Scholarship Council - PhD Scholarship
Amount ¥800,000 (CNY)
Organisation Chinese Scholarship Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country China
Start 10/2020 
End 09/2023
 
Description EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account imperial
Amount £42,527 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R511547/1 
Organisation Imperial College London 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2020 
End 01/2021
 
Description Industrial funding
Amount £36,000 (GBP)
Organisation SSM Technology Ltd 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2020 
End 04/2023
 
Description President's PhD Scholarship Award 2020
Amount £81,000 (GBP)
Organisation Imperial College London 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2020 
End 04/2024
 
Title A new method integration tool to design all-textile based displays 
Description WEAVeING has generated a set of novel integration tools for smart e-textiles manufacturing that allow a multi-component integration of fibre-based electronic devices and functional coatings/inks based on biocompatible polymers or graphene that enables unprecetented all-textile electronic devices such as displays or energy storage elements. This approach is based on an optimisation of the textile design rules, complemented by the introduction of functional electronic fibres with conducting or colour changing properties that crease the pixels of a display. The set of design rules is highly versatile and can be extended to thermal management via textile-enabled heating or cooling of surfaces as well as selectivity enhancement in sensing applications. 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The main impact is in enabling multicomponent integration of wearable all-textile based functional components into a textile electronic circuit that is equivalent to a planar electronic circuit. This enables the design and scalable manufacturing of integrated wearable electronic textile devices that do not need the imcorporation of rigid electronic parts. 
URL https://pubs.rsc.org/ko/content/articlehtml/2020/tc/d0tc03144e
 
Title Develped new and upscaled synthesis technique for 2D materials 
Description The group has developed a new process to synthesise large quantities of expremely pure graphene and 2D materials in solution. Based on a radical technology shift from the old-fashioned ultrasonication exfoliation, the new process is based on electrochemical exfoliation which results in a more efficient, upscalable and sutainable synthesis technique. The process is also very versatile, allowing a large range of dispersions of 2D materials to be manufactured. These in turn enabled novel e-fibres based functionalised with 2D materials exploting the semiconducting electronic nature of some 2D materials, resulting in unrivalled fibre-based photovoltaic devices. 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The impact is in the everging field of smart textiles and textile energy materials for the generation and storage of energy from body motion and heat. 
 
Title Layered materials and methods for their processing 
Description The development of fibre-based electronic devices required an "ad hoc" method for producing nanoplates derived from a layered material, which could be incorporated with the textiles and fibres. In a joint effort SWIFT and WEVeING developed a patented method for the synthesis of nanoplatelets of layered materials optimised for the incorporation on fibres and textiles. Such a method is based on a solution based approach producing inks and dyes suitable for textile coating. 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This method will benefit textile manufacturers and industries operating in the wearable electronics sector (healthcare, sportswear and commodities) by providing a new method for the production of functional inks and coatings for advanced textiles. The inks have electrical and themal conductivity and are sensitive to visible light offering a platform of properties to enhance the functionality of textiles. The biocompatibility of the inks and their environmental stability combined with the sustainability of the process enable a robust life-cycle design of the electronic textiles. 
URL https://patents.google.com/patent/US10906814B2/en
 
Title Large scale manufacturing of fibre-based electornic devices based on 2D materials 
Description We have developed a new process for quick and non-disruptive analysis of a large range of 2D materials in solution. The model is based on correlation of various spectroscopic and scattering techniques and allows litres of graphene and 2D material inks to be characterised in minutes. This alows quick process monitoring and feedback. 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Enable reproducible and robust large scale manufacturing of composites devices with inks of graphene and 2D materials. Fibres based devices have a very large aspect ratio and this requiresed a large quantity of functional inks to be coated layer-by-layer on the fibre. With our techniques long wet-spun fibres can be continuously manufactured in a reproducible way, with a high yield. 
 
Description Collaboration with University of Southampton 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department School of Electronics and Computer Science Southampton
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The development of smart conducting fibres within SWIFT has resulted in a solid ongoing collaboration with the group of Prof. Steve Beeby at the University of Southampton. This has already resulted in a presentation by Dr Torrisi during one of the E-textiles workshop organised at Southampton.
Collaborator Contribution The group of Prof Beeby at Southampton University is leading the research on textile-based energy storage and generation devices. The collaboration with this group has enabled testing and validation of the smart conducting fibre electrodes and as integrated all-textile energy storage elements. Hybrid integration of e-textiles with other rigid and flexible electronic components is indeed a key element in the development of smart fabrics. This collaboration is helping us to investigate such integration aspect and benchmark our technology with state-of-the-art alternatives.
Impact The outputs have succesfully resulted on the integration of conducting fibres and textiles developend within SWIFT (by graphene or other 2D material-based functionalisation of natural fibres) as a textile leyer component in energy storage devices such as electrochemical double layer supercapacitors or batteries. This resulted in an improvement of the energy storage capacity by more than one order of magnitude with respect to carbon-impregnated textile capacitors. More recently, the collaboration is developing integrated systems of textile supercapacitors (developed by SWIFT), novel advanced fibre integration strategies for textile electrothermochromic displays (being developed by WEAVeING) and triboelectric energy generators developed by the Southampton group. This has resulted already in several publications of integrated e-textile manufacturing strategies delivering textile-based circuits [Nature Commun. 8:1202], supercapacitors [Nanoscale 11:9912] for energy storage elements and textile-based displays [J. Mater. Chem. C 8:15788]. In co-creation with academics, industrial and manufacturing stakeholders we are preparing a new proposal for large a sustainable and large-scale manufacturing of functional e-textiles.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Collaboration with the EPSRC E-Textiles Network - Prof. Barbara Shepherd 
Organisation Manchester Metropolitan University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Our team will contribute with the innovative fibre-based electronic components and integration strategies developed by SWIFT and WEAVeING. This will provide a new set of tools to validate the scalability and suitability for manufacturing of electronic-textiles in collaboration with the team at the Manchester Metropolitan Univesity. We will co-create electronic textile circuits by integration of our electronic fibre components (contucting, photodetector, colour changing and thermal fibres) which will be integrated via the design patterns identified in our research to create a motion sensor patch, a textile touch-pad and textile display. These will then be integrated to create a textile system that sensed, received inputs and shows outputs. Antenna designs will also be attempted for external connection and data sharing.
Collaborator Contribution The Fashion Institute at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) offers a boad range of facilities to test the manufacturing viability of the fibre-based technology and the e-textile design rules developed by WEAVeING. In particular the team lead by Dr Barbara Shepherd offers has extensive expertise in textile manufacturing for commercial and specialised clothing. More recently they have lead the Fashion Institute response to covid by designing and developing personal protective equipment for NHS staff. They have offered access to their manufacturing testing facility in Manchester to validate the design rules and smart fibre integration strategies and verify the resproducivility and scalability of our approach. The access encompasses use of weaving and knitting facilities at the institute as well as characterisation techniques for flexibility and mechanical performance of the resulting textiles. A design strategy advise will also be provided by the MMU staff. Their in-kind contribution has been estimated to be valued at around £15,000.
Impact The collaboration has recently started and due to the current pandemic current outputs are not yet finalised. However more defined outputs will be deteiled as the project evolves.
Start Year 2021
 
Title Layered materials and methods for their processing 
Description Advanced exfoliation of layered materials for electronic textiles and fibres. We have developed a new process for quick and non-disruptive analysis of a large range of 2D materials in solution. The model is based on correlation of various spectroscopic and scattering techniques and allows litres of graphene and 2D material inks to be characterised in minutes. This allows quick process monitoring and feedback. 
IP Reference WO2017060497A1 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2020
Licensed No
Impact Enables reproducible and robust large scale manufacturing of composites devices with inks of graphene and 2D materials. Fibres based devices have a very large aspect ratio and this requires a large quantity of functional inks to be coated layer-by-layer on the fibre. With our techniques long wet-spun fibres can be continuously manufactured in a reproducible way, with a high yield.
 
Description E-textile 2020 webinar on "Sustainable fibres" - EPSRC E-Textiles Network 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This webinar was organised in collaboration with the EPSRC E-textiles Network as a replacement of a workshop and networking event planned to disseminate the results of SWIFT and WEAVeING projects. The webinar was hosted by the E-textiles netwoks and was adversited to the whole network community as well as to all the interested industrial and academic stake holders. A new manufacturing project proposal is being put together with relevant academic and industrial partners as a result of this webinar.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://e-textiles-network.com/e-textiles-network-webinar-fibre-based-electronics-for-sustainable-e-...
 
Description Masterclass and tutorial on "Wearable electronics and e-textiles" at IEEE-FLEPS 2020 conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This activity was intended to provide industry and relevant businesses with the fundamentals and updates on the rapidly emerging field of wearable electronics, with a particular focus on e-textiles. The one-hour masterclass covered first the basics of wearable electronics and e-textiles showing the advantages and open questions for this technology. Secondly, a more tecnical part introduced the state-of-the art of materials and processes to manufacture e-textiles and the range of applications. The activity also hosted a range of demonstrators showcasing applications in the Healthcare, welbeing and sensing sectors.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://2020.ieee-fleps.org/general/tutorials
 
Description Technology showcase at Imperial Techforesight 2020 - Session on Malleable Matter - A new era of wearables: Embedding advanced technology into our lives. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The event is a presentation of technologies developed in academia that have a high potential for industrial uptake. More than 100 industries participated to the event and this sparked questions after the presentation as well as lead to discussions afterwards. One company attending the event, is now discussing the option to engage in an industrially funded project to apply the manufacturing strategies developed by SWIFT and WEAVeING into future products in functional technical textiles for healthcare application.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://imperialtechforesight.com/tf2040/malleable-matter/