In-mold electronics (IME) has been gaining ground for applications in several markets over the past two decades. A new report from IDTechEx projects that the technology will continue to show good growth over the next 10 years.
IME integrates printed electronic circuitry in thermoforming and injection molding processes, embedding the circuitry within the polymer component. This is part of a global emerging trend toward 3D structural electronics and a move away from the rudimentary practice of encasing components in a box, said the report.
The capacity to print electronic circuitry on a 2D substrate prior to converting it into a functional 3D part has many manufacturing and material challenges. Some of those drawbacks include shape limitations, yield, software immaturity, and environmental stability. However, the advantages of IME are numerous and include lightweighting, greater design freedom, saving space, robustness, accelerated time to market, and high throughput, given that no secondary operations are involved.
Markets embracing IME include the automotive, medical device, household appliance, consumer electronics, industrial, and aerospace sectors.
DuraTech Industries, headquartered in LaCrosse, WI, has provided decorative and functional identification products to Fortune 500 customers in these and other markets for more than 40 years.
IME improves industrial controller design
The use of in-mold electronics improved the user interface of Watlow's PM Plus industrial controller. Image courtesy Watlow.
Watlow, a global supplier of industrial electric thermal solutions, has successfully applied DuraTech’s IME technology to the design and production of its new industrial controller, the Watlow PM Plus.
Watlow’s PM Plus is an improved version of Watlow’s EZ-Zone PM controller, said the company. Because of DuraTech’s IME technology, Watlow’s PM Plus is more intuitive and features an enhanced interface for easier programming and readability with a smooth touch keypad, replacing legacy rubber buttons. The PM Plus reduces the complexity at the front of the control while eliminating the dependency of cables when configuring the product, creating an industry-leading user experience, said DuraTech.
“DuraTech is proud to help Watlow become an early adopter of in-mold electronics,” said DuraTech Sales Manager Paul Hatlem. DuraTEch reportedly is one of the first companies worldwide to implement a technology that embeds circuits between layers of plastic to protect them from the environment and reduce weight and size while improving reliability. "The form, fit, and function requirements of Watlow’s controller made IME a perfect solution," said Hatlem.
Oulo, Finland–based TactoTek Oy, a developer of injection molded structural electronics (IMSE), announced in December 2019 the completion of two new agreements to license its IMSE technology. The first agreement allows Yongsan to market and sell automotive interior parts with TactoTek’s IMSE technology. Under the agreement, South Korea–based Yongsan will develop and validate solutions for a number of automotive interior uses including seats, trim, sun visors and leather-wrapped parts.
A Tier 1 and Tier 2 automotive supplier with manufacturing operations in South Korea, India, China, Japan, Vietnam, Mexico, and the United States, Yongsan serves a global customer base. “TactoTek IMSE technology supports our vision for design and our commitment to environment-friendly products and processes,” said Jaedock Yoo, Executive Director, R&D Chief of Yongsan. “We expect good results in our new products with IMSE application on various automotive interior parts.
“Our customers want the styling and function of electronics throughout the vehicle interior, and IMSE technology enables us to integrate those capabilities in locations prohibitive for traditional electronics. Meanwhile, IMSE part structure reduces plastics use significantly and relies on clean, additive manufacturing processes.”
|TactoTek's injection molded structural electronics technology combines printed electronics and electronic components within single-piece injection-molded structures. Image courtesy TactoTek.|
TactoTek’s IMSE technology combines printed electronics and electronic components within single-piece, seamless, 3D injection molded structures. Surface finishes range from plastics to elegant natural materials, including wood, explained TactoTek. The company packages its technology for licensees in two products: IMSE Designer for part design and IMSE Builder for part mass production, testing and quality assurance. For automotive markets, TactoTek licensees mass produce IMSE parts.
“Yongsan is a respected manufacturer in the automotive interiors market,” said TactoTek CEO Jussi Harvela. “Their success in design and manufacturing is reflected in their expanding global operations, and we are very pleased to have them promoting solutions that integrate our IMSE technology.”
In a second agreement, TactoTek announced the signing of a marketing deal with Kyocera Corp., which aims to bring IMSE solutions to several new market segments, including industrial and automotive components and electronic devices, said TactoTek’s announcement.
The Kyocera Group has global operations in a range of business segments, offering industrial and automotive components, communications equipment, electronic devices, environmental and energy related technologies, and consumer lifestyle products. The company’s core expertise covers advanced materials, components, devices, and communications equipment networks and services.
“Kyocera has the unique ability to offer high-technology solutions in three dimensions—by region, product, and market,” said Masafumi Ikeuchi, General Manager of the Corporate Display Group at Kyocera Corp. “Geographically, we cover the globe” with a range of “custom solutions” and “deep expertise in servicing the needs of the automotive, industrial, medical, aerospace, and communications markets. I believe that TactoTek’s IMSE technology is well-positioned to integrate with Kyocera’s core competencies across regions, products and markets.”
TactoTek’s Harvela commented: “We are very pleased to partner with Kyocera, a recognized technology innovator and global leader in multiple markets with strong demand for IMSE. This partnership will significantly strengthen our presence in Japan and around the world.”