Using a standard inkjet-printer, researchers claim to be able to produce flexible electronic circuits that could advance bendable electronics for clothing, soft robotics, and wearable devices (Image: Alex Bottiglio/Purdue University)
Researchers at Purdue University have shown how standard inkjet-printers can be employed to produce flexible electronic circuits from liquid-metal nanoparticle inks. This simple printing solution promises faster, cheaper, and easier production of stretchable, bendable electronics for clothing, soft robotics, and wearable devices.
Making circuits elastic means that many rigid platforms could be made pliable, opening up a range of potential new applications for electronic devices.
To make this possible, however, new manufacturing techniques are required. Nanoparticle ink-jet printed ductile circuits may well solve this problem.
“We want to create stretchable electronics that might be compatible with soft machines, such as robots that need to squeeze through small spaces, or wearable technologies that aren’t restrictive of motion,” says Rebecca Kramer, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University. “Conductors made from liquid metal can stretch and deform without breaking. This process now allows us to print flexible and stretchable conductors onto anything, including elastic materials and fabrics.”
To create the flexible metal ink, liquid metal is distributed evenly through a non-metallic solvent by using ultrasonic energy to fracture the liquid metal into nanoparticles. This nanoparticle suspension is then usable in an ink-jet printer, as if it was ordinary ink.