Fairlawn, Ohio — Thermoplastic elastomers play a key role in wearables, one of the hottest markets today — but challenges remain in designing plastics that come into constant contact with your body and perform demanding functions, according to speakers at the Society of Plastics Engineers' TPE TopCon 2016.
To fashion soft materials for wearables, the materials industry traditionally has pumped in additives to existing plastics, said Chris Schroder, DSM Engineering Plastics' global business manager of Arnitel and Armite A materials.
But he said future devices in medical wearables will need things like integrating an antenna substrate into a flexible strap.
“If we want to grow in the market of wearables, we need to aim for better solutions in the medical area, and this is where there's still a huge hurdle for the industry,” Schroder said.
But success in medical wearables could bring fast growth and development of new technologies, he said.
And even in other, more common devices like a smartwatch, there are issues of skin irritation of the strap that can cause rashes, and unpleasant smells, plus the need to add more measuring devices inside the product, Schroder said.
“Skin compatibility needs to be rapidly improved,” he said.
TPE applications in wearables include head set cables, flexible connectors, grips and ultrathin keyboards, Schroder said.