Printed electronics: LOPEC trade fair presents fashion apps

Wearable technology is a growing market in the fashion and sports industry. To accelerate innovation, the Messe Muenchen wants to actively help bring the different research and business sectors closer together. The first example was the LOPEC trade fair for printed electronics that was held from 13 to 15 March 2018 at the exhibition center in Munich.

Style as a field for printed electronics

LOPEC was an unusual sight for the fashion professional: Small booths, very few or no products on display, and many dark suits. Anyone who wanted to understand how relevant printed electronics can be for the fashion industry could initiate a conversation with the exhibitors or participate in the extensive conference programme. Presentations were held by Cutecircuit of London, a pioneer in the field of electronics in fashion.

Cutecircuit began its work already in 2004 and has conducted a lot of research since then. Its accomplishments include developing illuminated stage outfits for Kate Perry; the computer-generated graphics were embedded in the fabric. But portable electronics can do a lot more than just put on a light show. They add a functionality to clothing that could not be accomplished with any other technology. An example is the Cutecircuit sound shirt. It was designed for deaf people and allows them to experience concerts through their sense of touch. There are 16 microactuators embedded in the fabric, which convert sounds into vibrations – for example, wearers would feel the sounds of the violin on their arms and the beat of the drums on their back. The Cutecircuit Hug Shirt has similar functionality - it gently squeezes the wearer if someone sends a hug signal to the shirt from a mobile phone.

Researching new fabrics

The opportunities for using printed electronics in the textile industry are vast and the development of new ideas is just beginning. “In years past, materials researchers could make the electronic components significantly more resilient to being washed in the washing machine and they were able to increase their overall resilience“, says Dr. Klaus Hecker, managing director of the OE-A (Organic and Printed Electronics Association), co-exhibitors of LOPEC. Researchers from the Holst Centre in the Netherlands have developed fabrics with integrated electronics that can withstand up to 100,000 stretching cycles as well as being washed and dried more than 25 times without any damage. The Swiss Research and Development Centre CSEM presented printed electronic patches that can be worn on the body. They contain sensors, displays, solar cells and rechargeable batteries. Particularly exciting is the MediLight high-tech wound dressing. It has sensors that measure temperature and oxygen levels as well as an LED with natural antibacterial effects from the light that could heal chronic wounds.

Printed electronics: LOPEC trade fair presents fashion apps

Sensor technology in demand for IoT and Retail

With even more prototypes and commercial products than in the past few years, LOPEC exhibitors make it clear that the introduction of printed electronics into various market industries has been successful. One of the driving forces is the growing demand for sensors, which are just as indispensable for the Internet of Things as they are for industry 4.0 or the healthcare industry of the future. The benefits of printed sensors are obvious: They aren’t only thin, lightweight and flexible, as well as inexpensive to produce, they also fulfil many measurement tasks with a high level of accuracy. IKEA demonstrated an example of this in a presentation. IKEA wants to use printed electronics to optimise processes, while adding value for their customers. The furniture manufacturer designs the tags for its products using E-labels, with razor-thin, printed displays that are programmable. It is easy to deploy country-specific information, changes or updates. IKEA is also thinking about using printed RFID and NFC tags.

Printed electronics for cosmetics

A relatively new development is the use of printed electronics in the cosmetics industry. The Changzhou Institute of Printed Electronics Industry (CZIPEI) has developed an eye mask that uses micro currents to treat the sensitive eye area: it is said to smoothen fine lines, reduce dark circles and minimise bags under the eyes. Visitors to the LOPEC Innovation Showcase could experience and see demonstrations of these and other products.

A successful event

With more than 1,550 cubic metres of exhibition space, the annual fair was able to break its own record from the previous year once again. Part of the programme were over 180 presentations by internationally renowned scientists and distributors. “We could already sense the positive vibe from the industry while we were planning the fair. Many exhibitors have clearly increased the size of their booth in comparison to last year”, says Barbara Ismaier, Project Manager for LOPEC / Messe München.

Originally written by Regina Henkel for Yankeemagazines DE

Photos: dress by Cutecircuit, Max Oppenheim / VTT FlexNode; copyright VTT