Wearable technology devices seek to provide value in the augmentation of the wearer by design and function. From this perspective, electronic skin patches are a particularly interesting device type, anchoring the device to the skin in order for it to achieve a specific function.
An IDTechEx report on the topic found that electronic skin patch products generated over $7.5bn in 2018, rising to over $20bn per year by 2029.
Whilst themes can be observed throughout the sector, many of the most successful products on the market are not necessarily known as ‘electronic skin patches’. In diabetes management, key products include continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) devices and insulin pumps deployed as so-called ‘patch-pumps’.
In cardiovascular monitoring, devices range from traditional ECG options and general inpatient monitoring or outpatient monitoring devices to specific products such as Holter monitors, event monitors, and other mobile cardiac telemetry devices (MCT, also known as ‘extended Holter’). Beyond these two largest sectors, electronic skin patch products include devices such as axillary temperature sensors, sweat sensors, motion sensors, biopotential (e.g. TENS, EMS) patches, and devices across many other sectors and product categories.
However, whilst the devices may differ in their final function, the innovation trends around these skin-worn devices remain relatively consistent throughout. One of the most common issues is increasing the potential wear time of the patch, which includes making them more comfortable, managing battery life and power consumption, and optimizing this for a specific application case.
An essential technology is the adhesives used to attach the device to the skin. These present a significant challenge to developers; adhesives need to be strong enough to secure the device and enable its function for as long as is needed but must also be easy to remove, not cause skin irritation and work for all skin types. A large group of exhibiting companies including Elkem Silicones, Henkel, Innovize, Lintec, Delo Industrial Adhesives, Dycotec Materials, Lubrizol and more highlight these challenges and present each of their unique solutions.
Similarly, there are challenges around other components in electronic skin patches. Innovation trends are moving towards devices that can be increasingly conformal to the skin, utilizing flexible electronics and processes such as screen printing. This involves the development of many new material and component types that are needed to enable the next generation of these products. These themes are a particular strength of the event, which has been the largest and most comprehensive conference on printed and flexible electronics in North America for the past decade.
Another key area discusses how these devices can be powered and charged. Batteries are traditionally one of the more challenging components to make flexible and small, but there are increasingly mature and reliable options on the market today.
The event includes many prominent players providing flexible, printed and/or thin batteries, including Lionrock Batteries, Jenax, Soteria and Grepow, as well as others with more traditional options such as Renata (Swatch Group). There is also a dedicated conference session on this topic in the co-located conference track: Energy Storage Innovations 2019.
An essential part of the value chain for any skin-worn product is the manufacturing experts, who bring knowledge and suppliers from the whole value chain together to be able to deliver these new innovative products in increasingly large volumes. They serve as vital and integral partners to companies large and small when taking devices from concept to design to mass manufacturing.
As innovators from throughout the value chain bring new materials, component and process options to the market, these specialist integrators are key in bridging these innovations to the final products and markets. Examples of such players at the event include Eastprint Incorporated, Nissha GSI Technologies, Delta ModTech, ABeetle Corporation, and more.
Wearable USA: Applications and Commercialization is taking place on November 20th to 21st in Santa Clara, CA, as part of the IDTechEx Show! Its focus on innovation, particularly in the materials and processes behind making new types of wearable devices, aims to create a ‘catalytic’ environment for decision makers, product designers and business developers to learn, network and help to grow this exciting industry area.