Trend towards integrated electronics to bring the in-mold electronics (IME) market to $ 1.5 billion by 2032, reports IDTechEx
BOSTON, September 22, 2021 / PRNewswire / – In-mold electronics allow the integration of electronic functionality into molded and thermoformed plastic components. With the integration of capacitive touch, lighting and even haptics along with size and weight reductions of up to 70%, IME is an effective approach to creating curved touch interfaces. In view of these advantages, IDTechEx anticipates that the EMI will be a $ 1.5 billion market by 2032, with applications primarily in the automotive and consumer goods sectors.
Greater integration of electronics into 3D structures is an ever-growing trend, representing a more sophisticated solution to the current approach of wrapping rigid printed circuits. In-Mold Electronics (IME) facilitates this trend, allowing multiple built-in functionality to be incorporated into components with thermoformed 3D surfaces.
A new approach to manufacturing
IME can be seen as an extension of the well-established in-mold decoration (IMD) process, in which the thermoforming of plastic with a decorative coating is converted into a 3D component by injection molding. Since IME is an evolution of an existing technique, much of the existing process knowledge and capital goods can be reused.
The manufacture of an IME part begins with the screen printing of conductive thermoformable inks, followed by the deposition of electrically conductive adhesives and the assembly of electronic components such as LEDs. More complex multilayer circuits can also be made by printing dielectric inks to allow crossovers. The figure below shows a diagram of the flow of the IME manufacturing process.
Manufacturing process flow for in-mold electronics (IME). Source: “In-Mold Electronics 2022-2032: Technology, Market Forecast, Players” – IDTechEx
Innovation challenges and opportunities
The integration of electronic functionality poses multiple technical challenges, primarily the need for circuitry and components to withstand thermoforming and injection molding to enable the high manufacturing efficiency required. The fully updated IDTechEx report, “In-Mold Electronics 2022-2032: Technology, Market Forecasts, Players,” covers business and emerging solutions from key players in design, materials, and manufacturing as IME is moving from R&D to widespread adoption in several application sectors.
On the materials side, conductive inks, dielectric inks, and electrically conductive adhesives must survive the forming and molding steps that involve high temperatures, pressure, and elongation. In addition, all materials in the stack must be compatible. As such, many vendors have established functional material portfolios for IME to position themselves for future growth.
The IDTechEx report examines the current situation in terms of material performance, supply chain, process know-how and progress in application development. It also identifies key bottlenecks and innovation opportunities, as well as emerging technologies associated with IME such as particle-free thermoformable inks.
IME is most applicable to use cases that require a decorative touch surface, such as control panels in automotive interiors and on kitchen appliances. It enables a smooth, wipeable, 3D decorative surface with built-in capacitive touch, lighting and even haptic feedback and antennas. As the first commercial examples begin to emerge in the consumer goods space, adoption in commercially available vehicle interiors has been delayed due to COVID-19.
Despite this setback, the market begins to shift in character towards product production, with equipment suppliers developing specialized capabilities and development projects reaching conclusion. IDTechEx expects the market to show accelerated growth from 2024/2025, starting with simpler small area devices and then progressing to more complex larger area and volume applications with stricter reliability requirements.
The long-term goal of the IME is to become an established technology platform, just as rigid PCBs are today. Once this is achieved, the production of a component / circuit will be a simple matter of sending in an electronic design file, rather than the tedious process of consulting with IME specialists that is currently required.
âIn-Mold Electronics 2022-2032: Technology, Market Forecasts, Playersâ is the new report from IDTechEx that covers this disruptive manufacturing methodology for producing 3D interfaces that are both decorative and functional. It discusses in detail the manufacturing methodologies (including competing technologies), hardware requirements, applications and challenges associated with IME. A 10-year market forecast by application sector, expressed in both revenue and IME panel area, is provided along with associated material opportunities. Also included are several sample application prototypes and several company profiles based on interviews with start-ups and established companies. Further details and sample downloadable pages are available at www.IDTechEx.com/IME.
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