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Materials and Cost Benchmarking

Wearables: Stretching Innovation and Imagination with Flexible Materials

25 April 2017

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Finding the right flexible material or material composite can be a long, frustrating and inefficient process. Now, Sourcebook will have material answers and samples in your hands virtually overnight.

Wearable technology is not new. What is new, however, are the number and types of flexible materials and material combinations enabling a new generation of wearables. Also new is that wearables, over the past two decades are finally morphing into devices that are truly useful to our quality of life.

Today, flexible-material-based wearables find themselves in a myriad of medical applications and increasingly in consumer apps as well. These new smart materials are used in monitoring heart rates, in wound-care dressings that don’t hurt when removed, withstands sweat, yet sticks to the body firmly for days and are sometimes electrically conductive so that the materials function as a circuit or battery.

As materials get smarter, more functional, breathable, disposable, wearable, embedded-electronics based, conductive, able to read chemical and biological data, and improve patient outcomes, their use is naturally increasing.

Wearables run the gamut between consumer products that support fitness and wellness to medical applications that assist in diagnosis, monitoring, as well as the healing process. The latter represents most of the focus. Materials play a major role in solving such big challenges as reducing the number of hospital visits through diagnosis and monitoring, to healing a wound in less time, and being able to prove the success of the product used in the healing.

The flexible materials, used in a wide range of wearable applications, are broken down into nine material types, including:

  • Film
  • Membranes
  • Composites
  • Foam
  • Nonwovens
  • Extruded Nets
  • Foils
  • Technical papers
  • Technical Textiles

While some are looking for a simple adhesive film for use as a bandage, or a nonwoven material to use as a wet wipe, many more companies are mired in the arduous search for just the right material or composite for their advanced products, featuring functionality they have not yet implemented in any other product, or based on a means of harvesting energy from human motion or the sun. Finding these flexible materials to be used in these applications is no easy feat.

The average material sourcing cycle, for example, ranges between 3.5 to 4.5 months, and the process is not only time consuming, it’s costly, largely inefficient, and global. In response, Boyd Technologies, a 35-year veteran in advanced flexible materials worldwide, developed Sourcebook, a comprehensive material sourcing platform, to streamline material sourcing.

Sourcebook

Simply put, Sourcebook assists R&D and purchasing professionals search for materials, compare them, and request samples of materials. Sourcebook connects product developers, engineers, and sourcing departments directly to material manufacturers, substantially reducing the time, frustration, and cost to source materials and improve innovation, product development, and commercial success. Instead of months, it literally takes only one day to search, compare, and request samples—and the samples are in the requester’s hands the next day.

More than 7,000 flexible materials can be searched instantly from Sourcebook’s sample library. Everything needed to make an informed flexible materials sourcing decision for the most advanced wearable project is now in one place. In addition, support is available via a Sourcebook Knowledge Center and through one-on-one access to a Sourcebook Engineer, dedicated to assist in narrowing down solutions and accessing them efficiently.

At the core of our business is our unparalleled expertise in precision converting and the manipulation of advanced flexible materials. Our range of capabilities allows us to operate as a development partner providing short run production, as well as a commercial partner capable of supporting mass production and global distribution.

Companies have a good idea of what they want out of their material technically, but need to find what their options are globally. Through their Sourcebook subscription, they locate the appropriate flexible materials for the application, as well as information on quality, regulatory issues, supply chains, materials in R&D, and more.

The commercial realities of dealing with flexibles materials for wearables can be especially challenging. For example, flexible films are made on meters-wide production lines and are not conducive to direct implementation into tiny devices that stick onto a wrist. It is therefore necessary to work closely with suppliers willing to do small-volume production runs and customized products to achieve an adhesive that doesn’t hurt when removed, but can also remain on the skin for 10 days.

Putting a circuit into a flexible material for a disposable wearable product is also problematic. Rolled goods are on one end of a wound care production line and finished or nearly finished products come off the other end. Typically, it’s an automated and hopefully fast process. If it is necessary to pick and place a chip at some point in the process, and the chip is not delivered in a flexible roll, the challenge must be identified and solved early in development. Taking the manufacturing process to scale, in some cases, can seem close to impossible.

Highly experienced companies are typically in search of greater transparency and comprehensiveness around materials and logistics. The Sourcebook subscription offers them transparency regarding the supply chain, identifies the risk of working with certain companies or geographic locations, and assists with supply-chain challenges, helping them to minimize risk from inception through production and beyond.

Sourcebook offers product procurement services to all clients, matching requirements with the best and most appropriate material and supplier available for each project, at the lowest cost.

Sourcebook Engineers work closely with procurement to ensure that recommended materials are compatible with your technology goals and that time to implementation is minimal.

Global OEM partners rely on Boyd’s knowledge and expertise of advanced flexible materials during the commercialization of new technologies and products. Boyd guides its partners through the specification and validation of new materials, products, and equipment.

Wearable technology will continue to advance at breakneck speed. Shaving more than four months off the material sourcing cycle and obtaining consistent and comprehensive assistance through all materials, suppliers, risk mitigation, and manufacturing processes also saves valuable time and resources. After all, getting that wearable properly manufactured and to market in a timely manner is what it’s all about.



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