Dutch-Belgian R&D powerhouse Holst Centre has presented a functional demonstrator for intuitive human-machine interfaces, based on the in-mold electronics (IME) technology developed there. The demonstrator, a center console for vehicles, illustrates the potential for the IME technology in automotive and consumer appliances – from shavers to cockpits, as Holst Centre advertises.
Developed by a group of industry players led by Holst Centre, the demonstrator features a mobile phone storage space with integrated NFC connectivity and touch controls illuminated by flexible OLEDs. Light and conformal, IME technology integrates all this functionality directly into a 3D plastic surface just 1.5 mm thick. The demonstrator highlights IME’s potential for transforming ‘dumb’ plastic structures with embedded intelligence to enable enhanced and intuitive user experiences. All the electronics are fabricated on a stretchable, flexible and formable smart skin that is then integrated into the plastic during standard thermoforming or injection molding processes. The technique can be used to create 3D smart objects or extremely thin functional surfaces of any form.
According to Jeroen van den Brand, Program Director for hybrid and printed electronics at Holst Centre, this is the first time a flexible OLED has been used to illuminate touch controls. Such effects typically require several LEDs, light guides, relatively bulky PCBs and a certain amount of separate wiring. Through OLEDs and printed electronics, the smart skin approach lets manufacturers of plastic objects add intelligence and functionality more easily and with much higher design freedom. It also dramatically reduces the weight and size of functional plastic products.
The demonstrator and the smart skin technology it employs were developed within Holst Centre’s IME shared research program. This is a complete, end-to-end innovation ecosystem of partners covering stages in the value chain: from materials suppliers like DuPont (who provide the key enabling thermoformable electronic inks and pastes) to potential end-users such as automotive interiors supplier Faurecia.