The researchers at Tsinghua University in Beijing has developed a 3D printer that deposits electronic flexible fibres onto transitional textiles or clothes, so that the printed pattern can harvest and store electricity onto fabrics. Zhang and her colleagues made their first 3D printed e-textiles using two inks – a carbon nanontube solution to build the conductive core of the fibres and silkworm silk for the insulating sheath. Injection syringes filled with the inks were connected to the coaxial nozzle, which was fixed on the 3D printer. These were used to draw customer-designed patterns.
This approach differs from other groups who are manually sewing electrical components, such as LED fibres, into fabrics, such that the 3D printer can build versatile features into fabrics in a single step. It is stated that the approach is also cheap and easy to scale, as the nozzle is compatible with existing 3D printers, and the parts can be swapped. However, there is a drawback mentioned: the resolution of what can be printed is limited to the mechanical movement accuracy of the 3D printer and size of the nozzles. But, it is believed that the very drawback will be overcome with the help of new solutions in near future.