Being at the right place at the right time. Some call it serendipity. Others consider it plain luck. When it comes to printed electronics, the right time is now. And the right place? The wearable industry.
Thanks to advancements in material science and production techniques, flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) have advanced in power and reliability. Simultaneously, the demand for compact wearable devices has skyrocketed. Put them together, and product design teams have a tremendous opportunity in front of them.
In this article, we’ll explore the applications, benefits, and manufacturing considerations of FHE wearables.
Applications of flexible hybrid electronics in wearable devices
Flexible hybrid electronics combine the flexible nature of printed electronics with traditional rigid components to maximize power and performance. This hybrid approach has unlocked many applications within the wearable device market.
In medical devices, FHE circuits are instrumental in creating innovative devices for continuous health monitoring, such as heart rate monitors, glucose sensors, and sleep trackers, that are discreet and comfortable for prolonged wear. Advancements in remote patient monitoring can reduce the strain on medical facilities for in-patient care while reducing healthcare costs.
On the recreational side, fitness enthusiasts benefit from FHE circuits through skin patches, shoe insoles and flexible electronics embedded in textiles, allowing for seamless physical activity and body metrics tracking.
Benefits of Flexible Hybrid Electronics in Wearables
Flexible hybrid electronics give product teams unprecedented design opportunities by reducing rigid components and offering a pliable form factor.
Compact and lightweight – Flexible circuits reduce the size and weight of the device without compromising functionality.
Improved comfort – Flexible substrates conform to the wearer’s body, making the device more comfortable. This feature often leads to excellent user experience and improved patient compliance (which equates to more successful outcomes).
Durability – Flexible circuits make wearables more rugged by withstanding bending and flexing. Comparatively, traditional rigid electronics are more prone to damage during real-life use.
Versatility – Product designers can incorporate flexible circuits in various products, from stick-to-skin wearables to devices embedded in clothing.
Sustainability – Flexible circuits utilize an additive process, which reduces material usage and lowers the environmental impact of manufacturing.
While it’s evident that flexible hybrid electronics offer tremendous untapped potential for wearables, there are several manufacturing challenges to consider.
Material selection – Successful production begins with selecting suitable materials for both rigid and flexible elements. These different materials must work together to create a durable, efficient product. The chosen materials must also meet safety standards, particularly for wearables that stick to skin.
Component integration – Attaching dissimilar materials is always tricky, and the challenge only magnifies when attaching rigid components to a flexible substrate. Material integration is both a design challenge (where components are placed to achieve a mechanically sound connection) and a manufacturing challenge to ensure quality and durability.
Regulatory requirements – Medical devices are subjected to a wide range of regulatory and safety requirements, namely by the FDA. Startup and research teams unfamiliar with the regulatory landscape often find their projects delayed.
Scaling from lab to production quantities – Product teams are focused on proof of concept and building a working prototype during development. However, if the one-off or small-scale batches can’t quickly scale to production quantities, the team may have to go back and reconsider the materials or design.
Manufacturing partner for FHE wearables
Flexible hybrid electronics are revolutionizing the wearable device market. At Tapecon, we are eager to work alongside forward-thinking engineers and product designers to make the most of this impressive technology. With a combination of design consulting and manufacturing capabilities – including printed electronics – we’re uniquely positioned to bring FHE wearable devices to life and get it to market quickly. We also have extensive experience producing medical devices in our FDA-registered facility.
If you’re working on a wearable using flexible hybrid electronics, we encourage you to reach out to our team early in the development process.
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With over 100 years of manufacturing experience, Tapecon works with product teams to solve challenges, create products, and enhance lives. Learn more about ourflexible printed electronicsapplications.