A new invention by Xerox
researchers will allow electronic circuits to be printed on fabrics and plastics, according to an October 2009 press release from the printing brand. The new conductive silver ink paves the way for e-readers that can be folded like newspapers, or circuits that can be integrated into clothing and worn. It may make redundant the silicon chip, on which electronics have been dependent.
The Xerox silver ink has a uniquely low melting point for a metal, essential for printing on plastics. While normal metals have a melting point of 1,000 degrees, plastic melts at 150 degrees. Yet Xerox’s silver ink
melts at 140 degrees, meaning the circuit can be printed, before the plastic is compromised. This opens the way for countless applications. Xerox’s press release for example raises the possibility of pill boxes that can measure their remaining contents, ideal for medication.
Speaking in the press release, Laboratory Manager at the Xerox Research Centre in Canada Paul Smith said: "We've found the silver bullet that could make things like electronic clothing and inexpensive games a reality today. This breakthrough means the industry now has the capability to print electronics on a wider range of materials and at a lower cost."
According to an October 2009 post by Dean Takahashi at VentureBeat.com, the silver ink has been in development at Xerox since 2001. The silver ink enables circuits to be printed like an everyday printer, using an ongoing feed. It doesn’t require the clean rooms necessary for making a silicon chip, and bypasses the cost of production. For the first time, circuits could be almost weightless, integrated into the fabric of a shirt.
Scientists have sought this development for some time: Hewlett Packard for example has been working on plastic electronics since the 1990s. Having created a silver ink viable for commercial use, Xerox intends to “aggressively seek interested manufacturers and developers by providing sample materials to allow them to test and evaluate potential applications.” Expect to see electronic billboard t-shirts before the end of the next decade.