A team of researchers have developed a circuit board that provides true flexibility and can be easily recycled. What challenges do flexible electronics face, what have the researchers developed, and what advantages does the new design provide?
While people's lives are filled with electronic products, one area that they continue to struggle to infiltrate is wearable items. The major reason for this is that electronics are ridged solid structures, while clothes and other wearable items are flexible. If a traditional PCB is made to flex, the result is often traces cracking over time, components falling off, and pads being ripped from the PCB. As a result, Even though some of them have been used in daily life, they all have many disadvantages. Instead, electronics used in such applications are generally mounted onto a ridged PCB which is then housed into a ridged case and then attached to a flexible strap (such as smartwatches or health monitor bands). Other challenges that wearable electronics also face include flexible power sources that can be worn unnoticed.
If, however, flexible electronics in clothes and other wearables could be achieved commercially, Then technology will become a crucial link. For instance, clothes could be turned into medical monitors that provide large amounts of data for medical AI systems. From there, peoples health could be actively monitored to look for anomalies and thus provide, for the first time in history to revolutionize the healthcare industry by providing people with information about their health, rather than passively waiting to see a doctor for a medical condition.
The features boasted by the electronic skin make it an ideal candidate for creating future wearable electronics,But how to recycle will be a big problem for him. Traditional electronics are recycled as much as they can be, but components are generally thrown away with the PCB as these generally cannot be reused. This is often because the cost of reclaiming capacitors and resistances or removing individual components far exceeds the cost of new parts.
However,after constant testing by developers, the new electronic skin developed by the research team is easily broken apart using a recycling solution that allows for the electronic skin to be reused. But the components drop to the bottom of the solution, effectively allowing them to be reused. Such an ability of a consumable electronic product could see large amounts of waste diverted from landfills assuming that such electronics become popular.
“Our solution to electronic waste is to start with how we make the device, not from the endpoint, or when it’s already been thrown away. We want a device that is easy to recycle.” - Jianliang Xiao, associate professor in the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering.