The intelligent incontinence pad is a world sensation – spearheading our way into ‘wearables’

In partnership with diaper giant Abena, Mekoprint has created a printed and stretchable sensor for an intelligent pad which means enhanced quality of life for incontinence patients and fewer costs for the environment and care budgets in Danish municipalities. But it also paves the way for new opportunities for printing on stretchable materials and the development of smart products in many other sectors.

In care homes in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, staff and residents have been testing the sensational new development of a product that is used by many millions every year – the incontinence pad. In partnership with Mekoprint and a US tech company, Danish diaper giant Abena has developed an incontinence pad that uses sensor technology to send a message to care staff to tell them when the pad needs changing. Not only does this provide a significant increase in users’ quality of life – it also saves staff precious time as they avoid changing dry pads – or bed linen if the worst should come to the worst. The environment also wins as many pads will no longer be discarded unnecessarily. “This is a win-win-win situation,” says CEO of Abena Arne Terp-Nielsen who is pleased about being able to launch the new product after a design phase of several years.

Challenge: How are electronics printed on flexible and stretchable materials?
Before this product launch became a reality and a success, many hours had been spent in the engine room. The vision of an intelligent incontinence pad that is able to communicate with care staff started at MediSens, a company based in Silicon Valley. This is where the dataflow and cloud solution were developed. When the Americans needed a diaper manufacturer with the necessary experience and a production set-up that matched its global ambitions, they chose Danish Abena which has been manufacturing diapers for children and incontinence pads since the 1970s. Abena then had to find a partner in Europe who was able to print the electronic sensor technology on the extremely thin, soft and stretchable material that an incontinence pad is made of. They chose Mekoprint.

Business Manager at Mekoprint Tobias Holmgaard Stær explains: “The pad is made of a non-woven material which is much thinner than paper – it looks like a very thin fabric. A substantial number of development hours were required for us to ensure the correct run through the machines without the material creasing, breaking or stretching and to print the electrically conductive ink without the material shrinking when the ink set. But, luckily, we thrive on challenges at Mekoprint, and we have now found an optimum solution for printing electronics on ultra-thin stretchable foils – a solution that is both cost-efficient and scalable for high-volume production.”

Prospects: Internet of Things-ready solutions for all customers
“Mekoprint are masters at printing electronics on standard flexible materials, but stretchable materials were something new to us before this project. We have gained invaluable experience in this strategic business area”, says Morten Kjær, who is the sales director in Graphic Electronics at Mekoprint. “We see huge potential in having the skill to print on both flexible and stretchable materials – this will benefit all our customers. We know that many people out there will be thinking: ‘How can we differentiate our products and create a new value offering in our category?’ Now we will be able to help our customers on their digital journey because we have drastically expanded our skills set in printed electronics. We are able to go all the way from laboratory testing to high-volume production. This project has spearheaded our way into the category called wearableswhere digital functionality is added to products that do not usually have such a feature. We very much believe in the value of that.”

Built on a unique partnership
Anders Kold is CEO of Mekoprint, and he underlines that the partnership between Abena and Mekoprint is unique. “The Mekoprint motto is ‘Together, we create’ and that describes our approach to all our customer relationships and partnerships.  But this partnership with Abena and the US company has still been something special. We are supplying a key component for this product, the Americans are specialists in the handling of data and Abena are experts in the end product. It has been very clear from the beginning who knew something about what. Our partnership has also been characterised by major investment from all parties which has given us a very trust-based and open partnership in which we have overcome the challenges we faced together and celebrated our successes together,” says Anders Kold. “Abena has invested in the world’s largest and most expensive diaper machine which is capable of producing more than 100 million diapers a year. From the start, Mekoprint dedicated an entire high-volume production line to the project so that we continuously had access to testing our solutions on the right scale. We are really proud of the fact that we have reached this point, and we are looking forward to seeing the difference that this product will make to thousands of people.”