What are antimicrobial textiles? Read more how these specialty healthcare fabrics are manufactured, how and why they perform, and what they are good...
Conductive Fabrics 101
Conductive fabrics are relatively new to the specialty fabrics industry. What are they, how can they be used, and what does the future hold?
We’ve all heard of cotton, wool, and silk fabrics, and with technological advancements, we’ve also learned about moisture, mildew, and ultraviolet-resistant materials. But do you know what conductive fabrics are and how they are used?
Let's quickly dive into conductive fabrics, what they are, how they work, and their ideal uses.
What are Conductive Fabrics?
Conductive fabrics are textiles woven or coated with conductive materials, allowing them to conduct electricity. These fabrics are designed to have electrical conductivity while retaining flexibility and textile-like properties. They are commonly used in applications requiring electrical conductivity and flexibility, such as wearable technology, smart textiles, electronic textiles (e-textiles), and electromagnetic shielding.
According to the Conductive Fiber Manufacturers Co, two main categories of conductive fibers exist. The first category is “intrinsically conductive fibers and conductive polymers, which constitute the largest portion of the industry, with carbon fiber being the biggest portion." While "the second group includes non-conductive or less conductive substrates, which are then either coated or embedded with an electrically conductive element, often carbon, nickel, copper, gold, silver, or titanium.”
There are several ways conductive fabrics can be created:
- Metallic Coating: Fabrics can be coated with a metal layer, such as silver, copper, or nickel, to make them conductive. These metals have excellent electrical conductivity and can be applied using sputtering, chemical vapor deposition, or electroplating.
- Conductive Yarns: Conductive yarns blend conductive materials like metal or carbon fibers with traditional textile fibers. These yarns can be woven or knitted into fabrics, making them conductive.
- Intrinsically Conductive Polymers: Certain polymers, such as polyaniline and poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) - PEDOT, can conduct electricity. When these polymers are incorporated into fabrics, they make the material conductive.
- Graphene: Graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice, is an excellent conductor of electricity. It can create conductive coatings on fabrics, making them highly conductive.
Conduct Fabric Uses
Conductive fibers are used in products ranging from metal mesh, aerospace textiles, taser or stun gun vests, conductive threads or yarns, fabric sheets used for thermal heating, etc. Conductive fabrics can also be used to conduct electricity in small spaces, for static dissipation, EMI shielding, signal, power transfer in low resistance versions, medical equipment like electrodes, and so much more.
Conductive fabrics have a wide range of applications, including:
- Wearable Technology: Conductive fabrics are used in wearable devices like smart clothing, fitness trackers, and health monitoring devices. These fabrics can incorporate sensors and conductive traces for transmitting data and power.
- Electronic Textiles (E-Textiles): E-textiles combine electronics and textiles to create fabrics with integrated electronic components like LEDs, wires, and microcontrollers. Conductive materials are crucial in building circuits and connections within these textiles.
- Electromagnetic Shielding: Conductive fabrics create electromagnetic shielding materials that block or reduce electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI) in electronic devices and sensitive equipment.
- Heating Elements: Conductive fabrics with integrated heating elements are used in heated clothing, blankets, and other applications where controlled heating is required.
- Touchscreens: Certain conductive fabrics can be used in touchscreen technology, allowing them to conduct the electrical signals from the touch, enabling interaction with the screen.
- Antistatic Applications: Conductive fabrics are used in environments where static electricity needs to be controlled, such as in cleanrooms, laboratories, and manufacturing facilities dealing with sensitive electronic components.
One primary conductive fabric product is ARACON, d meta metal-clade by Micro-Coax. ARACON fibers are built on a modified KEVLAR® base and provide good thermal and dimensional stability with very yarn strength.
Conductive fibers can be woven, knit, sewn, cut, or braided. This is an excellent benefit for manufacturers using conductive fibers for their flexibility, low weight, and versatility.
The Future of Conductive Fabrics
Even though Thomas Edison used a carbonized sewing thread in his light bulb Conductive fabrics are relatively new to the specialty fabrics industry. With today’s technological advances, the possibilities for conductive fibers have grown tremendously. Engineers and manufacturers are developing products that can be worn for sports activity and even used in a new type of neuroprosthesis - precision mapping of responses from different areas/regions of the brain or spinal cord.
In fact, by 2025, more than $25 billion will be spent on formulations and advanced textiles for wearable technology, according to a report "Wearable Technology Materials 2015-2025" published by analysts IDTechEx. The industry for E-textiles or E-fabrics (AKA conductive fabrics, is growing, and we will likely see advances in the fitness, healthcare, and medical industries. Also, conductive materials are used in the electronics industries to help make smaller products. Fabrics are much more flexible than standard metal wire, making it easier to create smaller electronics.
To learn more about conductive fabrics, visit the Conductive Fiber Manufacturers Council – an international trade and business development resource – at http://cfibermfg.com.
In the meantime, you can contact your local manufacturer or Herculite Products to inquire about their Lectrolite® brand of conductive fabrics and learn how to use them today. Remember, you can use conductive materials to help control static and provide conductivity in small spaces where thick metal wire or sheets won’t do. Conductive fabrics have a variety of uses in the specialty fabrics industry. Manufacturers like Herculite Inc. custom engineer specialty products like conductive fabrics. Visit Herculite at www.herculite.com for more information.