The fledgling in-mold electronics market could offer great opportunities ahead for R2R-processing converters of flexible materials and their raw-material suppliers. Researchers and developers in the IME field are taking the tried-and-true processes of in-mold labeling and in-mold decorating and applying them to breakthrough applications in the automotive, medical, durable-goods and consumer-electronics markets.
That’s the gist of today’s presentations at the joint IMLCON, IMDCON & IMECON 2019 technical conference in Rosemont, IL, organized by AWA Alexander Watson Associates.
Photo: Global IMD supplier Advanced Decorative Systems (ADS) and its customer JW Speaker created one of the first production applications of IME. 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 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. This development won the 2018 IMDA Best of Show Award.
Here are some Converting Curmudgeon
- In-mold electronics combines graphical decoration with functionality. The devices and parts are created by printing the film substrate with the graphic design, if required, using stretchable inks. Electronics functionality is incorporated by printing conductive inks and, in some designs, touch controls/sensors and antennae are included. A transparent conductive membrane effectively creates an electronic smart skin that can be combined with plastics through injection-molding into a 3D shape.
- 2018 IME market size was 2.5 million sq meters of material production. The field is expected to grow at a 10% CAGR through 2020.
- Europe represents the largest regional market with a 74% share, while Asia-Pacific had 15%, and North America with 10%.
- IME end-use applications currently are 70% automotive, 25% white goods, 3% medical, and 1% aerospace.
- Plastic-resin materials are concentrated on 85% polycarbonate, 10% PET, and 5% others.
- Opportunities for IME include supply-chain reliability, improvements in graphics and functionality of in-mold tech, sustainable solutions, and combining of IML and IME tech.
- Challenges for IME are getting electronics developers to embrace the technology and its processes; environmental concerns about disposal; functional reliability remains mainly unknown; the high cost of scrap and rework due to quality issues; and processability of materials such as inks and substrates.