Are e-textiles ready for the next step towards the mass market

March 23, 2017 // By Jean-Pierre Joosting
In the making for more than a decade now, the electronic industry is giving rise to emerging novel form factors, ranging from the introduction of limited stretchability, through to ultra-elastic and conformable electronics. Such form factors are now beginning to make a substantial commercial impact.

In its latest report, IDTechEx Research predicts that stretchable electronics will become a $600m market by 2027.

This shift goes beyond the traditional incremental technology development along well-established industry lines. Instead, it seeks to create new functions, new applications, and new users. As such, this technology frontier currently only has vague figures-of-merit and limited insight on customer needs.

Indeed, many opponents have long argued that this entire class of emerging materials/components is a classic case of technology-push: a solution looking for a problem. This view may have been justified in the early days, but we now see this trend as an essential step towards the inevitable endgame of new electronics: structural electronics.

Structural electronics is a disruptive megatrend that will transform traditional electronics from being components-in-a-box into truly invisible electronics that are part of the structure of the world around us. This is a major long-term shift that will lead to a root-and-branch change of the electronic industry, including its value chain, its materials, and its components.

Stretchable and conformable electronics is giving shape to this megatrend. Indeed, the material and components menu for stretchable electronic is already very extensive: it includes basic and comparatively more mature technologies such as inks, transparent conductive films, and sensors, but also more complex devices such as transistors, batteries, energy harvesters, displays and so on.