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Will e-textiles take the next step towards the mass market?


The electronics industry is in the midst of a major paradigm shift ranging from the introduction of limited stretchability through to ultra-elastic and conformable wearable electronics, says research company IDTechEx.

This shift goes beyond the traditional incremental technology development along well-established industry lines.

Instead, it seeks to create new functions, new applications, and new users.

As such, the main innovators of this technology currently have only limited insight on mass customer needs.

This transfiguration has been in the making for more than a decade now, but it is only now that it is beginning to make a substantial commercial impact, so much so that an IDTechEx Research report, Stretchable Electronics 2017-2027, predicted that stretchable electronics will become a $USD600m market by 2027.

 At the same time, IDTechEx also sees what will be the step towards the inevitable endgame of these new electronics: structural electronics.

The structural electronics phenomenon is a disruptive megatrend that is set to transform traditional electronics from being components-in-a-box into truly invisible electronics that are part of the structure of the world around us.

This is a major long-term shift that will lead to a root-and-branch change of the electronic industry, including its value chain, its materials, and its components.

At the same time, flexible PCB manufacturers are also busy perfecting their process to create stretchable boards following either the rigid-island-flexible-connector or ultra-thinning approaches.

The challenge is to increase throughput without compromising yield or high-temperature compatibility.

In the long-term these manufacturers have their sights set on creating an enabling platform, while in the short term they are working with partners on applications such as skin patches or fully conformable wearable devices.

Some stretchable sensor technologies have been in the semi-commercial mode of years, changing hands multiple times, yet continue to get closer to commercialisation.

Accumulated industry experience means that suppliers are finding hard-to-identify industrial applications, while solving the challenges that hampered success in more visible high-profile applications.

This emerging technology frontier represents an exciting opportunity for commercial R&D and innovation.

This is why, said IDTechEx, companies need to establish a closer collaboration between their commercial and research units, and offer customised solutions, while at the same time, fine-tuning their research direction.

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