More than Human Centred Design


FabriClick: Interweaving Pushbuttons into Fabrics Using 3D Printing and Digital Embroidery

  • Maas Goudswaard, Department of Industrial Design, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, Netherlands
  • Abel Abraham, Department of Industrial Design, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, Netherlands
  • Bruna Goveia da Rocha, Department of Industrial Design, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, Netherlands
  • Kristina Andersen, Department of Industrial Design, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, Netherlands
  • Rong-Hao Liang, Department of Industrial Design, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, Netherlands
  • Corresponding email(s): r.liang@tue.nl
  • Research group webpage
  • ACM DL Link: Associated Paper or Pictorial

We present FabriClick, Interweaving Push Buttons into Fabrics Using 3D Printing and Digital Embroidery. We show a new way to seamlessly integrate tactile pushbuttons into fabrics, enabling eyes-free inputs on soft wearables. This is made possible by combining 3D printing and digital machine embroidery on stretchable fabrics. By taking the best of both fabrication techniques, we are able to a) 3D print geometry that uses the stretch of the fabric as a spring, b) embroider the electrical circuitry that enables the buttons to work functionally and c) accurately assemble the the layers that create the tactile pushbuttons through digital machine embroidery. To enable this combination, we devised a frame system that operates as a passive machine augmentation tool that forces the calibration between machines. Through this system, frames simply click or clamp on either machine, allowing the materials to transfer between them while the fabrics stay stretched.

Who is the target audience and why design for them? We aim to inspire makers, designers, researchers, and practitioners to experiment with this frame system and with the button design. We think that passive augmentations like the frame system can be appropriated to a lot of other machines and processes. And the innate value of using simple and cost-effective ways to increase prototyping capabilities can potentially increase research in otherwise expensive machinery. These passive systems can highlight and explore the capabilities of materials and machines by not adding extra parts but keeping it simple. Using the properties of the fabric itself to enable functionality using different techniques. We would like to see an increase in smart simple durable electronics making them actually usable in future wearable applications. We believe that buttons like these have a future because of their intrinsic simplicity and ease of manufacturing.

What were the challenges or limitations encountered in this project? One of the largest challenges was consistency. As we were hand-stretching the fabric, self-calibrating the printer. Manually tensioning the yarns. It became very hard to consistently make samples that acted as we expected. Some buttons acted by-stable, while the same design sometimes did not. Throughout the project, we aimed to one-by-one eliminate these inaccuracies. Our first frame system had screws to calibrate the printed pattern with the embroidery. The second printed on the right area of fabric right away losing this extra calibration. The buttons were constructed by two layers, one using 3D printing and the other embroidery. Another challenge we faced was designing the elements of each layer in a way that would allow the stretch and relaxation of both textiles to behave together when assembled. We also coped with a lot of on-body limitations. When placed on the body, buttons in some areas behaved differently than others. We discussed these limitations in our paper.

What are the opportunities and next steps for this project? The pushbuttons and the fabrication process developed to create them open up opportunities in many potential directions. Making springs by 3D printing on a stretch fabric may be used in a lot more application areas than functional buttons. By experimenting with their scale, their strength and their patterns, we believe this principle could be used to craft multi-state materials that could, for example, transform the look of garments or radically change interior or exterior design. Additionally, the use of wearable applications is often limited by the scalability of its production systems. New developments like Project Jacquard are innovative because they are deployable on a larger scale. We believe that the fabrication process we developed to create the pushbuttons allows them to be implemented on a larger scale as well, which can enable future tests to explore the possibilities of button-like interaction in soft wearables.

To the Demo Visitors: We are most interested in your vision on the future of this technique. What other “Older problems” can be solved by functionally using fabric tension, or combining techniques? Additionally, we would also like to know what would be the future for these buttons in wearables. Would you wear these buttons? What functionality could they serve? What form factor should they be?