What is this project about?

The purpose of this project is to research and develop new manufacturing and assembly methods to allow for the embedding of electronic functionality into the heart of textiles by incorporating semiconductor devices into yarns, creating electronic yarns (E-yarns). This project will build on previous work that has developed a semi-automated E-yarn production process (which can create hundreds of E-yarns) to a fully automated process (that can create thousands to tens-of-thousands of E-yarns). Critically the semi-automated E-yarn production process can only be used to produce E-yarns based on simple semi-conductor devices (i.e. LEDs, thermistors); the new process will allow for the automated fabrication of E-yarns with complex embedded devices (i.e accelerometers).

This project has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) under grant reference EP/T001313/1 (details available here). The EPSRC have provided £1,322,905 to support this research.

What is an E-yarn?

Electronic yarns are an innovative method of integrating electronics within textiles by incorporating the electronic functionality within the heart of yarns, which can then be used to create textiles. To create an E-yarn a semi-conductor or Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) device must first be soldered onto fine copper wires. These copper wires are multi-filament and behave similarly to a normal textile fibre. The copper wires create the electrical interconnections needed to power and communicate with the device. The device and solder joints are then paired with a high-strength textile yarn (such as Vectran™) and encapsulated within a small resin cylinder, or micro-pod. The micro-pod protects the device and solder joints from mechanical and chemical stresses, while the high-strength textile yarn supports the copper wire and ensures that it will survive commercial knitting or weaving processes. Finally the copper wires and the micro-pod are covered in packing fibres and a textile sheath that is either created with a knit-braiding machine, or braiding machine. This gives the final E-yarn the look and feel of a conventional textile and further improves its mechanical durability.