The accessibility of In-Mold Electronics: can IME transition from black art to platform technology?

An image to illustrate the concept of in-mold electronics
© iStock/matejmo

Dr Khasha Ghaffarzadeh, Research Director at IDTechEx, explains the technology of In-Mold Electronics, and answers the question of how realistic its transition to a platform technology is.

Ghaffarzadeh defines In-Mold Electronics (IME) as 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”, he said.

“The technology is no longer young. Its successful realisation however still resembles a black art. IDTechEx Research believe that in time the technology can become an accessible platform technology. Once this occurs, numerous products can be designed and manufactured using IME in diverse sectors including automotive, white goods, consumer electronics, and others. Basically, IME can become the method of choice when it makes sense to integrate relatively simple electronics with structural parts. To consider this scenario consider the PCB industry which is an accessible technology that underpins the electronic industry.”

The current state of affairs

According to the new report, “The knowhow 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. The user does not know the possibilities and limitations and has few well-established guidelines and tools to deploy. The components or parts in IME are not module- or library-like. The developers must spend great effort each time to select the appropriate parts and 2materials, and match component performance with design possibilities. The producer needs to overcome a steep learning curve each time it wants to develop a product. The producers must also develop a highly optimized process which tolerates near-zero defects as post-production repair is not readily possible.”

This increases the production development time, effort, and cost, according to

Ghaffarzadeh, and limits to the near-term prospects to:

  • High-volume applications justifying the risk and timeline of development;
  • Really simple and low-complexity products; and
  • Companies that view IME as a strategic production competency and invest in learning it even without having specific products in mind.

Can this transition take place?

IDTechEx Research think there is no fundamental barrier. “In fact, it represents a natural progression of the state of the technology. The industry has had a decade or so of experience. Multiple materials are available, and many suppliers are active. There is good knowhow in terms of stack design and production process management. The industry also knows what trade-offs not to make in scaling up pilot lines to mass production.”

“A new wave of commercial products is arriving. Despite this, the industry requires one or more major success stories. Some users remain unconvinced even in sectors such as automotive. Questions over cost of production persist especially in segments where pennies matter like in the whitegoods sector. These are not fundamental barriers or showstoppers though. Similar challenges and uncertainties are to be found in commercialising nearly every new technology especially those involving a significant change in production.”

To learn more refer to the IDTechEx Research report In-Mold Electronics 2019-2029: Technology, Market Forecasts, Players. Contact research@IDTechEx.com for more information or visit www.IDTechEx.com/ime.

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