From Atoms to Apparel
The inspiration for Funxion’s core technology came from the printed electronics industry. Funxion has developed a platform technology that can print multiple materials (polymers, metals, ceramics, among others.) onto a range of textiles (including knits, wovens, non-wovens, and leathers) at high-throughput and at low-cost without altering the look, feel, and fashion of the textile. This results in an energy-efficient manufacturing processes that increases the value proposition of a commodity material like textiles to create futuristic user-experiences.
Cohort Five fellow Raj Bhakta and his Funxion co-founder Hasan Shahariar started their journey in the field of smart textiles in Jesse Jur’s research group at the North Carolina State University’s Wilson College of Textiles, where they both earned their doctorates in fiber and polymer science. They further honed the startup’s vision while conducting research at the NSF-funded Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST) self-powered wearables research center. Bhakta and Jur went through the NSF I-Corps program in Los Angeles, CA in Fall 2016 where they discovered the biggest pain point facing market adoption of smart textiles was the lack of a high-throughput, automated manufacturing process.
With a background in physics and philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin, Bhakta came into the textiles world seeing a huge white-space opportunity to innovate a material that sits on our human bodies 90 percent of our lifetime as a second skin. He met Shahariar and they quickly became friends sharing a mutual vision to push the boundaries of smart textiles manufacturing and create a platform for realizing a paradigm shift in the trillion-dollar textiles and fashion industries and create a better quality of life for humanity.
Since its founding in 2017, Funxion has received an NSF Phase I SBIR, made it as a top 4 start-up in Bayer’s Digital Health G4A pitch contest, and ultimately discovered its target market through the NSF I-Corps Fall 2016 program in Los Angeles, CA.
Advanced textiles could play an important role in everything from healthcare to worker safety to filtration, but the production of smart, sensor-enabled textiles is not currently scalable due to high labor costs and complex manufacturing processes. Attempts at using screen printing and electroplating combined with printing are limited by inconsistent performance and an inability to launder finished products. What the market needs is a system for functionalizing textiles in a high-throughput, automated, and multi-material manner — without altering the final products’ look, feel, utility, or fashion.
Funxion is developing a single manufacturing platform that will integrate sensors and circuitry into textiles that perform a range of functionalities, from thermal regulation to visual messaging, and self-cleaning features. With its key technical milestones met, Funxion’s platform will create smart textiles within minutes or seconds much like electronics are made today.
Potential for Impact
Currently, the use of conductive yarns, electroplating, and screen-printing of thick film conductive inks represents the state of the art for functionalizing textiles through sensors and circuitry. All of these processes have not been able to scale due to complexity in manufacturing and lack of materials selection. Funxion envisions a world where our textiles can change color on-demand, sense our vital signs, keep us thermally comfortable at all times, and do not require washing, thereby significantly reducing water consumption.
rajbhakta [at] funxion [dot] tech