In-Mold Electronics (IME) enables electronic functionality to be embedded within molded and thermoformed plastic components. With the integration of capacitive touch, lighting, and even haptics alongside size and weight reductions of up to 70%, IME is an efficient approach to making curved touch-sensitive interfaces. Given these benefits, IDTechEx forecasts IME to be a $1.5 billion market by 2032, with applications mainly within the automotive and consumer goods sectors.
Greater integration of electronics within 3D structures is an ever-increasing trend, representing a more sophisticated solution compared to the current approach of encasing rigid printed circuit boards. In-mold electronics (IME) facilitates this integration trend, by enabling multiple integrated functionalities to be incorporated into components with thermoformed 3D surfaces.
A new manufacturing approach
IME can be regarded as an extension of the well-established in-mold decorating (IMD) process, in which thermoforming plastic with a decorative coating is converted to a 3D component via injection molding. Since IME is an evolution of an existing technique, much of the existing process knowledge and capital equipment can be reused.
Making an IME part begins with screen printing of conductive thermoformable inks, followed by deposition of electrically conductive adhesives and the mounting of electronics components such as LEDs. More complex multilayer circuits can also be produced by printing dielectric inks to enable crossovers.