In-Mold Electronics: the transition from art to platform technology: Page 2 of 5

April 26, 2019 //By Dr Khasha Ghaffarzadeh
In-Mold Electronics
In-Mold Electronics (IME) is a technology for structurally integrating electronic functionality into 3D-shaped parts. The value proposition is compelling: the technology enables novel and elegant designs, reduces weight and saves space, and decrease part and assembly numbers.

The current state of affairs
First let us consider the current state of affairs. The know-how is being accumulated in a few hubs, but it is not yet delocalized and spread into a global value chain. The design process is complicated. Potential users do not know the possibilities and limitations and have few well-established guidelines and tools to deploy. The components or parts in IME are not module- or library-like. Developers must spend great effort each time to select the appropriate parts and materials, and match component performance with design possibilities. Manufacturers need to overcome a steep learning curve each time they wants to develop a product. They must also develop a highly optimized process which tolerates near-zero defects as post-production repair is not readily possible.

These challenges significantly increase the product development time, effort, and thus cost. This limits near-term prospects to (a) high-volume applications justifying the risk and timeline of development; (b) really simple and low-complexity products; and (c) companies that view IME as a strategic production competency and invest in learning it even without having specific products in mind.

The future state of affairs
The future state will, however, plausibly be very different. The design and production know-how will be highly spread across the value chain. Designers will be able to deploy software and other design tools to rapidly design products. These tools will provide access to libraries of functionalities and design guidelines. The accumulated industry know-how will make prototyping easy and fast, and the community will become more experienced in executing rapid lab-to-fab transitions. The menu of available IME-compatible parts will expand. Here, 'parts' include substrates, functional and graphical pasts, attachment adhesives, ICs, LEDs, and so on. The rigid parts today are all developed for other industries and force-fitted into IME designs. In the very long-term future, if volumes are large enough, special versions might be developed. This could build on the work taking place to enable flexible ultrathin IC for flexible hybrid electronics.


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