Pireta is a spin out from the UK’s National Physical Laboratory and has developed a patented free-form process to print conductive patterns directly onto textiles. Unlike conductive inks, Pireta’s technology has no impact on the drape, handle, stretch-ability or breathability of the fabric. This is because the process involves applying a thin metallic coating to the textile at the fibre level – resulting in excellent conductivity without compromising the performance of the fabric.
Although the process is compatible with a number of base metals, Pireta is currently using copper as the metal that is plated onto the fibres to add conductivity. This is due to its excellent conductivity, wide availability and relatively low cost. The process can be carried out on a wide range of knitted, woven and nonwoven, natural, synthetic, glass and mineral-based yarns and textiles.
What is the Pireta process?
Pireta’s conductive patterns are applied using a five-step process based on straightforward aqueous chemistry and utilising commercially available equipment.
- Pre-treat – the fabric is pre-conditioned
- Activate – a chemical linker is applied to the fabric
- Fuctionalise – a nanometal catalyst is jetted onto the fabric using a standard industry printer
- Develop – the fuctionalisation is optimized using an electroless plating process
- Passivate – a protective layer is applied
The jet printing step, which is applied to one side of the textile, is entirely free-form allowing conductive tracks to be added only where needed. The result is discrete and with minimal impact on any final garment. Electronic components can be soldered directly to tracks created with Pireta’s process. There is excellent adhesion of the metallic layer to the textile fibres, resulting in mechanically robust soldering joints. In addition, the patterns are highly durable and resistant to rubbing, with conductivity being maintained across one hundred or more wash cycles.
As well as being compatible with existing electronic manufacturing processes, the technology is suitable for integration within the textile and garment manufacturing industry. Dyes and protective treatments can also be applied to the textiles that have been functionalised using the technology. The process is additive – meaning minimal waste – and uses low-cost materials that are readily-available and not environmentally hazardous.
What can the technology be used for?
Pireta’s technology enables the application of smart e-textiles within a wide range of sectors including healthcare, wellness & fitness, defence, emergency services and elite sports. This is due to the Pireta technology not only providing an ideal component interconnect solution for e-textiles, but also its ability to implement sensors and transducers. Allowing the integration of wireless technologies, such as NFC, RFID, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi into e-textiles and smart garments.
By allowing electronic systems to be assembled and interconnected directly on fabrics, Pireta’s technology is enabling a new generation of truly wearable smart garments and e-textiles.
For more information about Pireta’s truly wearable technology visit www.pireta.co.uk