In-mold electronics (IME) is a process of integrating printed decorations and electronic circuitry with thermoforming and molding. The results are 3D-shaped objects with embedded circuits of differing degrees of complexity. This is part of the global emerging trend to 3D structural electronics and the progression away from the rudimentary solution of components encased in a box.
Photo: Global IMD supplier Advanced Decorative Systems (ADS) and its customer JW Speaker created one of the first production applications of IME – in-mold electronics or “plastronics.” Their solution to the problem of LED-based vehicle headlights not generating enough heat to defrost themselves in winter driving conditions features a layer of polycarbonate film onto which a conductive heating element has been printed prior to in-molding into the headlamp lens. The technology is pushed even further with the inclusion of the electronic components, which control the heating cycle of the lamp and feature a specially designed connector system, to access these embedded electronics. IME is widely regarded as the logical next step in the development of in-mold technology. This development won the 2018 IMDA Best of Show Award.
The capacity to print electronic circuitry on a 2D substrate prior to converting this into a functional 3D part has many manufacturing and material challenges. The report covers the commercial and emerging solutions from the key players as this technology progresses from R&D to gaining high-volume end-user success.
The advantages of IME are numerous and include lightweighting, space-saving, robustness, accelerated time-to-market, and high-throughput capabilities. However, the technology does not come without its drawbacks in shape limitations, yield, software immaturity, environmental stability, and post-processing. These merits and hurdles are detailed within the report with upcoming solutions in the material-space for the functional inks, substrates, and adhesives facilitating this.
The prototypes have been diverse, ranging from simple devices for wearable technology, automotive light heating, antennas, and white goods touchpads to more complex sensors, actuators, and displays.
The commercial uptake of IME has a complex history with Ford embracing this technology for an automotive interior device, but the product had to be recalled. Despite this setback the market is on the cusp of large adoption. Very large addressable markets are at different stages of adopting this technology with automotive interiors and touchpads for white goods providing the most significant volumes. IDTechEx forecasts the market for IME devices to exceed $1.11 billion by 2029.
More info: www.IDTechEx.com/ime