Pilot factory for next-generation smart wearable patches

17th May 2024
Paige West

Wearable sensor patches are revolutionising healthcare and wellness applications by providing continuous monitoring with optimal comfort and reliability.

For these patches to be effective, they must be flexible, soft, conformable, or even stretchable. Printed and hybrid electronics offer the perfect technology to achieve this, enabling the use of a wide range of substrate and packaging materials, making them ideal for next-generation wearables.

The production of printed and hybrid electronics involves several complex manufacturing processes and tools, which might not be readily available through commercial manufacturing partners. VTT’s Printocent Pilot Factory addresses this gap, offering a versatile infrastructure that supports the transition to full-scale manufacturing. Key capabilities of the Printocent Pilot Factory include:

Roll-to-roll printed electronics lines

  • Interchangeable printing methods: high curing capacity and automated layer-to-layer registration
  • Printing and coating processes: suitable for thin films (<100nm) to thick films (tens of micrometres)
  • Experienced team: expertise in ink tailoring, process development, and quality control

Component assembly in roll-to-roll format

  • High throughput pick and place line: for low-temperature soldering or adhesive bonding
  • Flip-chip high-precision and bare-die assembly line: ensures precise component placement

Extensive converting and post-processing capabilities

  • Versatile lamination and cutting line: equipped with a cutting laser, robot arms, soldering, and ultrasonic welding capabilities
  • Injection moulding machine: includes a roll feeder for overmoulded electronics

Roll-to-roll testing line

  • Automated functionality testing and programming: ensures product reliability and performance

Dedicated pilot line for silicone material processing

  • Reduced pressure processing: for silicone materials, enhancing their integration into wearable devices.

Laboratory-scale capabilities and verification

For early-stage screening and testing, the Printocent Pilot Factory offers laboratory-scale capabilities for all key processes. Verification capabilities include material testing, profilometry, and 3D X-ray imaging, ensuring the highest standards of quality and performance.

Smart patch development: a proof-of-concept

VTT has developed a smart patch proof-of-concept for a single-lead ECG (Electrocardiogram) wireless patch, printed and assembled onto a TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) substrate. This development was piloted in a versatile environment using highly scalable technologies. The accompanying video showcases part of the converting and post-processing for the ECG patch at VTT’s Printocent Pilot Factory. This technology provides a versatile manufacturing platform for developing elastic wearable skin contact patches.

Sustainable and biodegradable wearable patches

Printed electronics allow for an unlimited selection of materials, including options for disposable smart patches that can be reused, recycled, or made from biobased or biodegradable materials. In a recent study, VTT developed a fully recyclable and biomaterial-based electrocardiogram patch. This modular device allows for easy removal and reuse of electronic components, with the patch itself made from nanocellulose and printed with carbon conductors and sensing electrodes. The biodegradable patch is crafted from VTT’s cellulose e-skin, replacing traditional plastics in wearable applications.

VTT’s Printocent Pilot Factory and its experienced team offer a rapid pathway from proof-of-concept feasibility to scalable continuous web manufacturing. They also address specific technical challenges or process bottlenecks, complementing customers’ existing competencies. This approach facilitates quicker market entry and enhances the precision of manufacturing investments. The insights gained from pilot developments can be effectively transferred to third parties or used to establish in-house production, with expert support from VTT. 

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