Integrating components into the thermoplastic of devices to create 3D embedded systems is set for dramatic growth according to a new report by IDTechEx.
In-mold electronics (IME) is a process of integrating printed decorations and electronic circuitry with thermoforming and molding. The results are 3D-shaped objects with embedded circuits of differing degrees of complexity.
The commercial uptake of IME has a complex history with Ford embracing this technology for an automotive interior device, but the product had to be recalled. Despite this setback the market is on the cusp of large adoption. Very large addressable markets are at different stages of adopting this technology with automotive interiors and touchpads for white goods providing the most significant volumes. IDTechEx forecast the market for IME devices to exceed $1.11bn by 2029.
The capacity to print electronic circuitry on a 2D substrate prior to converting this into a functional 3D part has many manufacturing and material challenges. The report, In-Mold Electronics 2019-2029: Technology, Market Forecasts, Players covers the commercial and emerging solutions from the key players as this technology progresses from R&D to gaining high-volume end-user designs.
The advantages of IME include light weight, space-saving, robustness, accelerated time-to-market, and high throughput capabilities. However, the technology does not come without its drawbacks in: shape limitations, yield, software immaturity, environmental stability, and post-processing. These merits and hurdles are detailed within the report with upcoming solutions in the material-space for the functional inks, substrates, and adhesives facilitating this.
The prototypes have been diverse, ranging from simple devices for wearable technology, automotive light heating, antennas, and white goods touchpads to more complex sensors, actuators, and displays.
IME is not the only technological solution to 3D electronics. Aerosol jet printing, Mold Interconnected Devices (including laser direct structuring, two-shot molding, and film inserting), and 3D printing electronics are all rapidly emerging and gaining traction. This report benchmarks these technologies and looks at some of the key players and latest advancements.