Our report, In-Mold Electronics 2019-2029: Technology, Market Forecasts, Players, suggests that in-mold electronics (IME) can become a market larger than $750m by 2028. The market take-off will however occur only around 2023 or 2024, if not later. This is despite the fact that the technology has been in the making for many years. Indeed, first near-success in the automotive sector came as early as 2013/2014.

 

This article discusses some of the challenges on the way towards production of a successful IME product. It will also outline some of the key progress made which paves the way towards future adoption. To learn more please visit www.IDTechEx.com/IME. It provides a detailed assessment of the materials, processes, products and prototypes, applications and markets for IME and multiple rival technologies such as molded interconnect devices (MID) or aerosol deposition. Furthermore, this report provides application-segmented ten-year market forecasts and overviews of the key companies across this emerging value chain.

 

Successful development of an IME product requires a steep learning curve. This is despite the fact that the individual processes used in IME are fairly standard. Indeed, a somewhat similar process, IMD or in-mold decoration, is already commercial. We seek to highlight challenges by contrasting IME with IMD in parts of this article.

The chart below shows the process steps involved in an IME production. In this article, we consider the differences between a conventional IMD and an IME process to highlight development challenges.

 

 

3D Forming: the next step is 3D forming, e.g., thermoforming. The equipment set is similar to that used in IMD. However, process optimization will be required. This is because the thermoforming must respect the formability limitations of the functional materials and stacks thereof. Design knowhow will play a key role here because by design the circuit patterns and the placed parts can be in locations which experience the least change in dimension. Note that enabling this step in IME has required extensive material innovation. This is because the printed functional inks will need to be stretched. The conductors will be required to give a predictable behaviour and the insulators/cross-overs will need to remain pin-free and insulating on the substrate of interest (PC or PET or even on graphite inks). This has required the development of special inks with the right resins, the right particle distribution/morphology, and so on. The limitations of the materials dictate many design and process restrictions. As such, intimate knowledge of their workings, characteristics, and performance limits is essential. Finally, note that the thermoforming step will have an elevated temperature (150-170C). The impact of this will need to be considered in performance of previously cured or partially cured materials.