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Researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU; Singapore) have successfully printed complex electronic circuits using a common t-shirt printer. The technique brings down the cost of manufacturing the electronics from dollars to a few cents, according to Associate Professor Joseph Chang, leader of the NTU research group. The breakthrough creates countless new possibilities in medical and other applications. Think wound-care products that tell you when they need to be changed, or inexpensive patches that monitor vital signs.

Norbert Sparrow

November 19, 2014

2 Min Read
Electronic circuits made with a t-shirt printer open opportunities for disposable smart devices

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU; Singapore) have successfully printed complex electronic circuits using a common t-shirt printer. The technique brings down the cost of manufacturing the electronics from dollars to a few cents, according to Associate Professor Joseph Chang, leader of the NTU research group. The breakthrough creates countless new possibilities in medical and other applications. Think wound-care products that tell you when they need to be changed, or inexpensive patches that monitor vital signs. In fact, Chang told PlasticsToday, "We are in the midst of realizing several biomedical devices, and one design has been filed as a patent. This should be undergoing trials within six months."

NTU-300.jpgResistors, transistors, and capacitors, the key components of a complex electronic circuit, are printed using nontoxic organic materials such as silver nanoparticles, carbon, and plastics.They can be layered on top of common flexible materials such as plastic, aluminum foil, and even paper. "We can print our circuits on several different plastic substrates, including PET, polycarbonate, and polyimide," said Chang. "Overall, the printed transistors and other components perform consistently on the different substrates, but printing is adjusted to accommodate the different surfaces," said Chang.

The types of complex circuits the team has successfully printed include a 4-bit digital-to-analog converter, which is typically used to turn digital signals into sound for speakers and headphones, and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags for tracking inventory.

The key difference between this technology and other types of printed electronics is that it is fully additive, which makes it very eco-friendly, according to NTU. The circuits are printed without the use of any toxic chemicals or oxidizing agents.

"Our innovative process is green, using noncorrosive chemicals," said Chang. "[The electronics] can be printed on demand within minutes. It is also scalable, as you can print large circuits on many types of materials. Most importantly, it is low cost, as print technology has been available for decades," said Chang.

A startup company has been founded and a venture capitalist has expressed interest in funding commercialization of the invention, according to NTU. A multinational biomedical company has also expressed interest in adopting the technology for biomedical devices.

Moving forward, the four-person multidisciplinary team—two engineers, a material scientist, and a chemist—will be looking to develop both digital and analog printable circuits for other biomedical applications in sensing and processing and for smart lighting systems.

The three-year research project is funded jointly by NTU, the Agency for Science Technology and Research (A*STAR) Science and Engineering Research Council, and the Ministry of Education Singapore.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.

www.linkedin.com/in/norbertsparrow

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