In July 2017, IPC (Association Connecting Electronics Industries) hosted the first web meeting of the IPC E-Textiles Materials Subcommittee. Formed by volunteers from the e-textiles community, the group had approached IPC with interest in developing industry standards for e-textiles.
IPC was chosen because it is a developer of consensus-based international industry standards for electronics. It has more than 200 standards in its library, which the electronics industry uses for designing, manufacturing and assembling printed wiring boards and printed wiring board assemblies.
These volunteers looked to IPC as a home for forming a committee to develop standards of their own for e-textiles. These standards will enable a growing industry to “speak the same language” between customers and suppliers, find common ground on key performance characteristics for these technologies, and have agreed-upon industry test methods to verify characteristics and frequencies for the tests to be conducted.
Why are they needed?
Standards are incredibly beneficial to an industry supply chain. For example, if a manufacturer of a nickel-coated polyester fabric sells its product to 12 customers, and each customer has its own lists of tests for measuring thickness, temperature range, shielding and other properties, it will have to run the same tests—or versions of the tests—at least 12 times. As that manufacturer builds its market, additional customers will request the same. They may also require tests that they think are necessary but may not be, based on the product, its performance expectations, end use and other factors. This all leads to wasted time, money and materials.
When all of the available materials types are combined, and with a variety of industry tests being used—or adapted for e-textiles—it’s not hard to see how this can cause confusion. Add in that the customer base will expand to companies that may not have knowledge about what they are buying or how it should be tested, and the confusion grows.
With a consensus standard, manufacturers, their competitors and customers come to agreement on baseline test requirements and frequencies. Rather than having to repeat the tests time and again, industry participants can rely on a certificate of materials compliance to the requirements of the standard. This can be done at the time of contract, or a compliance certificate can be part of marketing materials for customers.
The IPC-4931 standard
The IPC E-Textiles Materials Subcommittee is addressing critical issues in its new standard, IPC-4931, Requirements for Electronic Textiles (E-Textiles), Conductive Fibers and Conductive Yarns. This includes establishing the classification system, qualification and quality conformance requirements, and electrical/electronic performance requirements for electronically integrated textiles (e-textiles).
The standard also covers similar requirements and performance variables for conductive fibers and conductive yarns, essential components of e-textiles. This includes wovens, knits, nonwovens, laminated textiles, braided textiles, embroidered textiles and printed textiles.
The standard does not cover preprocessed or non-electronically integrated textiles or nonconductive fibers or yarns. Those materials are already covered in other textile industry standards.
During the initial meeting, the subcommittee members in attendance shared constructive input on the direction for this new standard. They also concluded that the first pass of a brand-new standard should not be done by committee, so the group assigned the task to a subcommittee comprised of industry experts in a variety of markets. The team’s first task was to develop a draft of the Section 1 requirements for the standard; the section lays out the classifications for e-textiles, fibers and yarns.
Establishing these classifications is important, because it groups materials by general categories to show users the variety of options they have when ordering materials. The subcommittee volunteers developing this standard will use these classifications to assign key performance characteristics and test methods.
Ideally, the subcommittee will also use these classifications to develop industry specification sheets for various materials types. These will list expected minimum performance characteristics or data ranges when tested to industry test methods, such as ASTM, IPC and others.
As the subcommittee continues its work on IPC-4931, it will solicit manufacturers for their data sheets in order to develop these specification sheets. Participation on IPC standards committees is open to all industry members. There is no cost or membership requirement, and the level of participation is at the participant’s discretion. There are several ways to get involved:
1. Comment on the draft document and provide input on key characteristics and test methods to include in IPC-4931.
2. Email IPC (ChrisJorgensen@ipc.org) to be added to the subcommittee roster, to receive important announcements about the development of IPC-4931, including calls for content or comments and invitations to future web and face-to-face meetings, and to receive the draft document and a comment form.
3. Attend a meeting. One was held on March 1 during IPC APEX EXPO in San Diego, Calif. Key performance characteristics and test methods were discussed.
Regardless of the method of participation, what matters is that you do participate. The result of the work on this subcommittee will culminate in a standard that will help the e-textiles industry grow and flourish, reduce costs and decrease time to market. As a participant in the development of this standard, you can have a voice in shaping its content and will have firsthand knowledge of decisions made by the subcommittee.
Several people from the e-textiles industry have also approached IPC about forming a subcommittee to develop a guideline for connections for e-textiles. The goal of this guideline is to provide the industry with an educational resource about appropriate considerations regarding e-textiles connections. Those specifically interested in this topic may contact IPC for more information.
If a company has a need for any other standard, IPC would like to know. The organization has minimal barriers to approving a committee to develop a standard. A demonstration of the need for a standard and three to five companies committed to starting the project is all that’s required.
IPC E-Textiles 2018 in Rosemont, Ill., will bring together the e-textiles supply chain for technical committee meetings on September 12 and a full day of technical presentations, hands-on product demonstrations and networking on September 13. Email IPC for more information.
Chris Jorgensen is director, technology transfer for IPC (Association Connecting Electronics Industries) and the IPC e-textiles committee staff liaison. He can be reached at ChrisJorgensen@ipc.org.