Electronics in textiles said to be a step closer

The concept of weaving electronic components into clothing is a step closer with the development of a system which can deposit organic semiconductor elements on to glass fibres.

Materials scientist Tobias Könyves-Toth from TU Darmstadt said: "We used OLEDs because they require the highest standards concerning the substrates. Today, we can apply functioning OLEDs to a thread and make it glow. Applying other devices such as transistors or photovoltaics brings other problems, but is comparatively less complex when it comes to the actual coating."

Small molecule fibre coating has to be carried out in a vacuum. "With our rotational coating process," said Könyves-Toth, "we have been able to coat the fibre evenly and then remove it from the vacuum without it coming into contact with air, because OLEDs are highly sensitive to oxygen and water."

However, while textile fibres have a rough surface, the electronic components only work on a smooth surface; even scratches of just a few nanometres' thickness can cause problems such as short circuiting. "That is why we used glass fibres for our first trials," said Könyves-Toth.

The next step is to carry out trials with polymer coated glass fibres. The aim is to use the polymer coating to smooth surface to enable the subsequent application of organic semiconductor elements and the flexibility for the fibres to be woven in a textile.

Graham Pitcher

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