VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a new high-volume production method for hot-embossing microscopic channel structures onto large areas of plastic film at a low cost for use in areas such as wearable technology and cosmetic applications.

VTT is developing a smart fabric that can be used as “personalized air conditioning” in outdoor clothing and is seeking partners within sports, outdoor recreation, wearable technology and the cosmetics industry for the commercialization of the technology.

With VTT’s method, microchannels can be produced on large areas of plastic film in a short time. Pumping cold or hot liquid through a network of microchannels enables the temperature control of functional clothes.

So far, the utilization of microscopic channels for other than diagnostic purposes has been limited by relatively high production costs and the small size of the networks of microchannels that can be manufactured through traditional methods, the company noted.

“Minuscule microfluidic channels can be compared to the cardiovascular system, for example,” said Ralph Liedert, VTT’s key account manager for wearable technology and printed diagnostics. “This gave us the idea for other applications of our new method, in addition to diagnostics, such as heating or cooling channels for clothing, or the storage and transport of substances that are only needed in small volumes (perfumes and fragrances) or that are very expensive (medicine).”

The channels can be embedded either into hard or soft plastics, depending on the purpose. For example, the feel and shape of a soft and elastic plastic film is better suited for integration into a coat compared to rigid plastics, which in turn are better suited for application in card format, such as a travel perfume dispenser that is the size of a credit card, the company noted. Other possible uses of the thin cards include precise dosing of medicines or serving strong spices in restaurants.

VTT is one of the leading research and technology companies in the Nordic countries. The company said it uses 4 million hours of brainpower a year to develop new technological solutions.

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