Digital Manufacturing of 3D Printed Wearable Sensors (D-SENSE)

The ultimate autonomous smart wearable system is a device in which all parts are seamlessly integrated. Due to the recent strong progress in the field of 3D printing, it is becoming ever easier to develop systems integration strategies and novel structural and functional elements. In order to introduce smart features into 3D printed customized wearables, it is necessary to integrate the printing of functional layers and sensing components directly into a flexible process chain.

Our approach, called digital manufacturing, allows for new design possibilities of smart objects which are made available by the use of digitally driven 3D printing techniques. Complex digitally manufactured sensors and systems could be introduced by fabricating stacks of multiple functional layers within 3D space. Other added benefit is that digital manufacturing enables easy customization, self-packaging and seamless integration into pre-existing products.

D-SENSE aims to solve one key challenge of integration of sensors into smart objects: Enabling the integration of functional sensing layers into the fabrication process of 3D-printed constructs. The objective is to apply digital printing of functional and structural inks targeting the whole processing in a single tool.

In this fashion, smart wearable systems can be developed for robots and humans alike. Demonstration will happen through the fabrication of smart prosthesis, developed through the collaboration between the partners, which will integrate physical and mechanical sensors able to communicate their readout wirelessly. These smart prosthesis will in effect be smart revalidation monitoring systems which can be conformably worn on the skin.

First 3D printed elastomeric capacitive, piezoresistive, and triboelectric sensors prototypes have been produced. These are currently being integrated into wearable demonstrators for human gait and joint motion monitoring. Transfer of silicon components, SMDs and Si chips for the electronic and wireless communication, has also been demonstrated in 3D printed parts.

 Project funding and partners

The project, named D-SENSE, is funded by the Strategic Focus Area (SFA) Advanced Manufacturing program and is executed in collaboration with the following partners whom all have their own focus:

  • EPFL on the development of processes for the digital printing of sensors embedded in the 3D printed structures;
  • EMPA on the inks formulation and 3D-printing of biomaterials and functionalization;
  • ETHZ on 3D/4D printing of polymer nanocomposites;
  • CSEM on the industrialization of the process through the integration into a multi-nozzle 3D printer to realize a wearable demonstrator.


Dr. Danick Briand