In e-textile, you sit together with an electronic engineer who has, by that time, already been working on it for months—ordering resistors, capacitors, ICs; working at a breadboard, etc. And then you’re only just getting started! Compared to making computers, making a garment in e-textile is like making the garment AND having to invent zippers, reflectors, yarn, a sewing machine and a washing machine—and don’t forget the washing powder, too!
Developers are struggling not only with the absence of standards, but also with the non-existence of industrially proven solutions. You can find breathable and stretchable conductive fabrics that are used for many bio-sensing applications, like ECG, skin temperature measurement, and motion capturing.
But such fabrics are hard to fixate to a foil-based electronics board, which is industry standard in electronics. There’s no glue specifically developed for this purpose, so as a developer you need to conduct a lot of experiments yourself with pressure, heat, etc., before you can find the right combination that works for the wear and tear endured by that e-textile.
Speaking of wear and tear, washing is a good example of where the two supply chains need to join forces and be willing to venture out in each other’s field of expertise. Take, for instance, soft displaying—they have to endure washing when built into a sleeve. Here responsibility lies with both parties, but some people in electronics have been known to elegantly drop the responsibility like a hot potato, saying “washing is not our task.”
Yet I have also witnessed the textile side saying the same thing: “Oh, that’s electronics, we know nothing about that.” Yes, but in the case of washing there is, for obvious reasons, far more expertise on the textile side than on the electronics side! You can see how this slows down the development process. More expertise in stressing electronics, and standards for it, would benefit the whole e-textile industry significantly.