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Flexible, highly sensitive motion device manufactured by extrusion printing – ScienceDaily

The creation of high-resolution extrusion printing — think 3D printing, but with ink that conducts electricity — has allowed UBC researchers to explore the potential of wearable human movement devices.

Wearable technologies — smartwatches, heart monitors, sleep aids, and even pedometers — have become part of everyday life. And researchers at UBC Okanagan’s Nanomaterials and Polymer Nanocomposites Laboratory have developed even smaller, lighter, and more precise sensors that can be integrated into clothing and gear.

In collaboration with Drexel University and the University of Toronto, the UBCO research team is exploring a high-resolution extrusion printing approach to design tiny devices with dual functionality – shields against electromagnetic interference (EMI) and a body motion sensor.

These EMI shields are tiny and lightweight and can be used in healthcare, aerospace, and automotive industries, explains Dr. Mohammad Arjmand, Assistant Professor and Canada Research Chair in Advanced Materials and Polymer Engineering at the UBC Okanagan School of Engineering.

Using a two-dimensional inorganic nanomaterial called MXene along with a conducting polymer, Dr. Arjmand customized a conductive ink with a number of properties that make it easier to adapt to wearable technology.

“Advanced or smart materials that offer electrical conductivity and flexibility are in high demand,” he says. “Extrusion printing of these conductive materials will allow for macro-scale patterning, meaning we can produce different shapes or geometries and the product will have excellent architectural flexibility.”

Currently, the manufacturing technologies of these functional materials are mostly limited to laminated and simple structures that do not allow the integration of monitoring technologies, explains doctoral student Ahmadreza Ghaffarkhah.

“These printed structures can be microcracked to develop highly sensitive sensors. Tiny cracks in their structures are used to track small vibrations in their environment,” says Ghaffarkhah. “These vibrations can monitor a variety of human activities, including breathing, facial movements, speech, and the contraction and relaxation of a muscle.”

By going back to the drawing board, UBCO researchers were able to address a major challenge faced by extrusion printing. Previously, the technology did not allow for a sufficiently high printing resolution, making it difficult to produce high-precision structures.

“Compared to traditional manufacturing technologies, extrusion printing offers customization, less material waste and fast production, while opening up numerous possibilities for wearable and smart electronics,” explains Dr. Arjmand. “The improvement in extrusion printing techniques opens the door to many unique innovations.”

Researchers continue to explore other applications for extrusion inks beyond EMI shielding and wearable electronics.

The study was published in carbonwith financial support from a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Alliance Grant and Zentek Limited.

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