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In-Mold Electronics 2022-2032: Technology, Market Forecasts, Players

In-mold structural electronics, film insert molding, 3D electronics, structural electronics, capacitive touch sensors, stretchable conductive ink, additive electronics manufacturing, automotive interiors, human machine interfaces, and more

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IDTechEx's report In-Mold Electronics 2022-2032 analyses the technology and market opportunities associated with this emerging manufacturing methodology that will enable electronic functionality to be straightforwardly integrated into 3D surfaces. Drawing on over 20 company profiles, the majority based on interview, this report evaluates the technical processes, material requirements, applications, and competing methodologies associated with IME in considerable detail. The report includes 10-year market forecasts by application sector, expressed as both revenue and IME panel area.
The report covers manufacturing methods for IME and competing methodologies for producing similar decorative touch-sensitive interfaces such as film-inset molding and direct printing. Materials requirements for IME, including conductive and dielectric inks, electrically conductive adhesives, transparent conductors, substrates, and thermoplastics, are also evaluated, with multiple supplier examples. Additionally, the report includes discussion of IME sustainability (including a life cycle assessment), discussion of target applications and the required functionalities, and discussion of future technical developments for IME, including greater integration of electronic components.
Structure of the 'In-Mold Electronics 2022-2032' report
Motivation for IME
Greater integration of electronics within 3D structures is an ever-increasing trend, representing a more sophisticated solution compared to the current approach of encasing rigid printed circuit boards. In-mold electronics (IME) facilitates this trend, by enabling multiple integrated functionalities to be incorporated into components with thermoformed 3D surfaces. IME offers multiple advantages relative to conventional mechanical switches, including reduction in weight and material consumption of up to 70% and much simpler assembly.
A new manufacturing approach
The IME manufacturing process can be regarded as an extension of the well established in-mold decorating (IMD) process, in which thermoforming plastic with a decorative coating is converted to a 3D component via injection molding. Since IME is an evolution of an existing technique, much of the existing process knowledge and capital equipment can be reused.
IME differs from IMD though the initial screen printing of conductive thermoformable inks, followed by deposition of electrically conductive adhesives and the mounting of SMDs (surface mount devices, primarily LEDs at present) are similar. More complex multilayer circuits can also be produced by printing dielectric inks to enable crossovers. The figure below shows a schematic of the IME manufacturing process flow.
Manufacturing process flow for in-mold electronics (IME)
Challenges and innovation opportunities
Despite the similarities to IMD, there are multiple technical challenges associated with the integration of electronic functionality that have to withstand thermoforming and injection molding. A very high manufacturing yield is crucial since the circuitry is embedded, and thus a single failure can render the entire part redundant. This comprehensively updated report covers the commercial and emerging solutions from the key players as IME progresses from R&D to gaining widespread adoption in multiple application sectors.
On the material side, conductive inks, dielectric inks, and electrically conductive adhesives need to survive the forming and molding steps that involve elevated temperatures, pressure, and elongation. Furthermore, all the materials in the stack will need to be compatible. As such, many suppliers have developed portfolios of functional inks designed for IME. Establishing an IME material portfolio before widespread adoption means that material suppliers are well positioned to benefit from forthcoming growth. This is because production processes and products are designed with their materials in mind, thus serving as a barrier to switching suppliers.
This report examines the current situation in terms of material performance, supply chain, process know-how, and application development progress. It also identifies the key bottlenecks and innovation opportunities, as well as emerging technologies associated with IME such as thermoformable particle-free inks.
Commercial progress
IME is most applicable to use cases that requires a decorative touch-sensitive surface, such as control panels in automotive interiors and on kitchen appliances. It enables a 3D, smooth, wipeable, decorative surface with integrated capacitive touch, lighting and even haptic feedback and antennas.
Despite the wide range of applications and the advantageous reductions in size, weight and manufacturing complexity, commercial deployment of IME integrated SMD components has thus far been fairly limited. This relatively slow adoption, especially within the primary target market of automotive interiors, is attributed to both the challenges of meeting automotive qualification requirements and the range of less sophisticated alternatives such as applying functional films to thermoformed parts. Competing technologies to IME for electronically functionalizing 3D decorative surfaces are discussed in the report.
Furthermore, COVID-19 has delayed the widespread adoption of IME as the automotive sector faced factory shut-downs and a temporary sales decline. Despite this setback, the market is beginning to change character towards product production, with equipment suppliers developing specialist capabilities and development projects reaching their conclusion. IDTechEx expects the market to show accelerated growth from 2024/2025 onwards, starting from simpler small-area devices then progressing towards more complex larger-area and higher-volume applications with more stringent reliability requirements.
The long-term target for IME is to become an established platform technology, much the same as rigid PCBs are today. Once this is achieved getting a component/circuit produced will be a simple matter of sending an electronic design file, rather than the expensive process of consulting with IME specialists that is required at present. Along with greater acceptance of the technology, this will require clear design rules, materials that conform to established standards, and crucially the development of electronic design tools.
IDTechEx has been researching the emerging printed electronics market for well over a decade, launching our first printed and flexible sensor report back in 2012. Since then, we have stayed close to the technical and market developments, interviewing key players worldwide, attending numerous conferences, delivering multiple consulting projects, and running classes and workshops on the topic. This report discusses the manufacturing methodologies, material requirements, applications, and challenges associated with IME in considerable detail. The report includes 10-year market forecasts by application sector, expressed as both revenue and IME panel area.
Note that IME is not the only manufacturing methodology that enables 3D electronics. Other approaches involve fully additive electronics manufacturing (i.e. 3D printing of electronics), and applying electronics directly to 3D surfaces using techniques such as aerosol jet printing and laser direct structuring (LDS). These methods are briefly explored within this report, but more detailed discussion and analysis can be found in the IDTechEx Report 3D Electronics.
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Table of Contents
1.1.Introduction to in-mold electronics (IME)
1.2.IME manufacturing process flow
1.3.Commercial advantages of IME
1.4.IME facilitates versioning and localization
1.5.IME value chain overview
1.6.10-year forecast for IME component area by application (in m2)
1.7.10-year forecast for IME component revenue by application (in USD millions)
1.8.IME forecast pushed back due to COVID-19
1.9.Reviewing the previous in-mold electronics report (2020-2030)
1.10.SWOT: In-mold electronics (IME)
1.11.Porters' five forces analysis of in-mold electronics market
1.12.Overview of IME manufacturing requirements
1.13.Overview of manufacturing methods for touch sensitive interfaces and 3D electronics
1.14.Distinguishing manufacturing methods for 3D electronics
1.15.Benchmarking competitive processes to IME
1.16.Overview of specialist materials for IME
1.17.Overview of IME applications
1.18.Overview of functionality within IME components
1.19.Overview of IME and sustainability
1.20.Main overall conclusions (I)
1.21.Main overall conclusions (II)
2.1.Forecast methodology
2.2.IME forecast pushed back due to COVID-19
2.3.Addressable market for IME: Automotive
2.4.Addressable market for IME: White goods
2.5.10-year forecast for IME component area by application (in m2)
2.6.10-year forecast for IME component revenue by application (in USD millions)
2.7.10-year forecast for automotive applications of IME - area (thousand m2)
2.8.10-year forecast for automotive applications of in-mold electronics - revenue (USD millions)
2.9.Future (2032) IME market breakdown by application
2.10.IME value capture estimate at market maturity (2032)
2.11.Ten-year market forecasts for IME by value capture element (revenue, USD millions)
2.12.Value capture by functional ink type (2021)
2.13.10-year market forecasts for functional inks in IME (by type)
3.1.Introduction to in-mold electronics (IME)
3.2.Transition from 2D to 2.5D to 3D electronics
3.3.Deciphering integrated/3D electronics terminology (I)
3.4.Deciphering integrated/3D electronics terminology (II)
3.5.Deciphering integrated/3D electronics terminology (III)
3.6.IME value chain - a development of in-mold decorating (IMD)
3.7.Current status of main IME technology developer (Tactotek)
3.8.IME value chain overview
3.9.In-mold electronics vs film insert molding
3.10.The long road to IME commercialization
3.11.Tactotek's funding continues to increase
3.12.Comparative advantage of in-mold electronics likely to increase over time
3.13.Regional differences in IME development
3.14.IME players divided by location and value chain stage
4.1.1.Distinguishing manufacturing methods for 3D electronics
4.2.Manufacturing IME
4.2.1.Manufacturing IME components
4.2.2.IME manufacturing process flow (I)
4.2.3.IME manufacturing process flow (II)
4.2.4.IME manufacturing process flow (III)
4.2.5.Progression towards 3D electronics with IME
4.2.6.Manufacturing methods: Conventional electronics vs. IME
4.2.7.Alternative IME component architectures
4.2.8.Equipment required for IME production
4.2.9.Hybrid approach provides an intermediate route to market
4.2.10.Forecast progression in IME complexity
4.2.11.Surface mount device (SMD) attachment: Before or after forming
4.2.12.Component attachment cross-sections
4.2.13.One-film vs two-film approach
4.2.14.Multilayer IME circuits require cross-overs
4.2.15.IC package requirements for IME
4.2.16.IME requires special electronic design software
4.2.17.Faurecia concept: traditional vs. IME design
4.2.18.Conventional vs. IME comparison (Faurecia)
4.2.19.IME: value transfer from PCB board to ink
4.2.20.Print-then-plate for in-mold electronics
4.2.21.Automating IME manufacturing
4.2.22.Overview of IME manufacturing requirements
4.3.Similar manufacturing methodologies to IME
4.3.1.Multiple manufacturing methods similar to IME
4.3.2.Comparative advantage of in-mold electronic likely to increase over time
4.3.3.Applying functional foils (transfer printing) (I)
4.3.4.Applying functional films (evaporated lines)
4.3.5.Adding capacitive touch with films (Plastic Electronic)
4.3.6.Applying functional films into 3D shaped parts (I) (PolyIC)
4.3.7.Applying functional films into 3D shaped parts (II) (PolyIC)
4.4.Other 3D metallization methods
4.4.1.Molded interconnect devices (MIDs) for 3D electronics electronics manufacturing method flowchart
4.4.3.Approaches to 3D printed electronics
4.4.4.Aerosol deposition of conductive inks onto 3D surfaces
4.4.5.Laser direct structuring (LDS)
4.4.6.Applications of LDS
4.4.7.LDS MID application examples: Automotive HMI
4.4.8.Extruding conductive paste for structurally-integrated antennas
4.4.9.Two shot molding - an alternative method for high volume MID devices.
4.4.10.Printing electronics on 3D surfaces for automotive applications (Neotech-AMT)
4.4.11.Replacing wiring bundles with printed electronics (Q5D Technology)
4.4.12.Application targets for printing wiring onto 3D surfaces (Q5D Technologies)
4.4.13.The premise of 3D printed electronics
4.4.14.Emerging approach: Multifunctional composites with electronics (Tecnalia)
4.4.15.Emerging approach: Electrical functionalization by additive manufacturing (CEA)
4.4.16.Benchmarking competitive processes to 3D electronics
4.4.17.Overview of electronics on 3D surfaces
5.1.1.Integrating functionality within IME components
5.2.Capacitive touch sensing
5.2.1.Capacitive touch sensors overview
5.2.2.Capacitive sensors: Operating principle
5.2.3.Hybrid capacitive / piezoresistive sensors
5.2.4.Emerging current mode sensor readout: Principles
5.2.5.Benefits of current-mode capacitive sensor readout
5.2.6.SWOT analysis of capacitive touch sensors
5.3.1.Motivation for integrating lighting with IME
5.3.2.Comparing conventional backlighting vs integrated lighting with IME (I)
5.3.3.Comparing conventional backlighting vs integrated lighting with IME (II)
5.4.Additional functionalities
5.4.1.Integration of haptic feedback
5.4.2.Thermoformed polymeric haptic actuator
5.4.3.Thermoformed 3D shaped reflective LCD display
5.4.4.Thermoformed 3D shaped RGD AMOLED with LTPS
5.4.5.Molding electronics in 3D shaped composites
5.4.6.Antenna integration with IME
6.1.1.IME requires a wide range of specialist materials
6.1.2.Materials for IME: A portfolio approach
6.1.3.All materials in the stack must be compatible: Conductivity perspective
6.1.4.Material composition of IME vs conventional HMI components
6.1.5.Stability and durability is crucial
6.1.6.Company profiles of IME material suppliers
6.2.Conductive inks
6.2.1.Comparing different conductive inks materials
6.2.2.Challenges of comparing conductive inks
6.2.3.Comparing conductive inks: Conductivity vs sheet resistance.
6.2.4.Stretchable vs thermoformable conductive inks
6.2.5.In-mold electronics requires thermoformable conductive inks (I)
6.2.6.Bridging the conductivity gap between printed electronics and IME inks
6.2.7.Gradual improvement over time in thermoformability.
6.2.8.Thermoformable conductive inks from different resins
6.2.9.The role of particle size in thermoformable inks
6.2.10.Selecting right fillers and binders to improve stretchability (Elantas)
6.2.11.The role of resin in stretchable inks
6.2.12.All materials in the stack must be compatible: forming perspective
6.2.13.New ink requirements: Surviving heat stress
6.2.14.New ink requirements: Stability
6.2.15.Particle-free thermoformable inks (I) (E2IP/National Research Council of Canada)
6.2.16.Particle-free thermoformable inks (II) (E2IP/National Research Council of Canada)
6.2.17.Polythiophene-based conductive films for flexible devices (Heraeus)
6.2.18.In-mold conductive inks on the market
6.2.19.In-mold conductive ink examples
6.2.20.Suppliers of thermoformable conductive inks for IME multiply
6.3.Dielectric inks
6.3.1.Dielectric inks for IME
6.3.2.Multilayer IME circuits require cross-overs
6.3.3.Cross-over dielectric: Requirements
6.4.Electrically conductive adhesives
6.4.1.Electrically conductive adhesives: General requirements and challenges for IME
6.4.2.Electrically conductive adhesives: Surviving the IME process
6.4.3.Specialist formable conductive adhesives required
6.4.4.Different types of conductive adhesives
6.4.5.Comparing ICAs and ACAs.
6.4.6.Attaching components to low temperature substrates
6.5.Transparent conductive materials
6.5.1.Stretchable carbon nanotube transparent conducting films
6.5.2.Prototype examples of carbon nanotube in-mold transparent conductive films touch using carbon nanobuds
6.5.4.Prototype examples of in-mold and stretchable PEDOT:PSS transparent conductive films
6.5.5.In-mold and stretchable metal mesh transparent conductive films
6.5.6.Other in-mold transparent conductive film technologies
6.6.Substrates and thermoplastics
6.6.1.Substrates and thermoplastics for IME
6.6.2.Different molding materials and conditions
6.6.3.Special PET as alternative to common PC?
6.6.4.Can TPU also be a substrate?
6.6.5.Covestro: Plastics for IME
7.1.1.IME interfaces break the cost/value compromise
7.2.1.Motivation for IME in automotive applications
7.2.2.Opportunities for IME in automotive HMI
7.2.3.Addressable market in vehicle interiors in 2020 and 2025
7.2.4.Automotive: In-mold decoration product examples
7.2.5.Early case study: Ford and T-ink
7.2.6.GEELY seat control: Development project not pursued
7.2.7.Capacitive touch panel with backlighting
7.2.8.Direct heating of headlamp plastic covers
7.2.9.Steering wheel with HMI (Canatu)
7.2.10.Quotes on the outlook for IME in automotive applications
7.2.11.Readiness level of printed/flexible electronics in vehicle interiors
7.2.12.Threat to automotive IME: Touch sensitive interior displays (I)
7.2.13.Alternative to automotive IME: Integrated stretchable pressure sensors
7.2.14.Alternative to automotive IME: Integrated capacitive sensing
7.3.White goods
7.3.1.Opportunities for IME in white goods
7.3.2.Example prototypes of IME for white goods (I)
7.3.3.Example prototypes of IME for white goods (II)
7.4.Other applications
7.4.1.Other IME applications: Medical and industrial HMI
7.4.2.Home automation creates opportunities for IME
7.4.3.IME for home automation becomes commercial
7.4.4.Consumer electronics prototypes to products
7.4.5.Commercial products: wearable technology
8.1.1.IME and sustainability
8.1.2.IME reduces plastic consumption
8.1.3.VTT life cycle assessment of IME parts
8.1.4.IME vs reference component kg CO2 equivalent (single IME panel): Cradle to gate
8.1.5.IME vs reference component kg CO2 equivalent (100,000 IME panels): Cradle-to-grave
8.1.6.Summary of results from VTT's life cycle assessment
9.1.IME with incorporated ICs (I)
9.2.Laser induced forward transfer (LIFT) could replace screen printing (I)
9.3.Thin film digital heaters for in-mold electronics thermoforming (Wattron)
9.4.S-shape copper traces facilitate stretchability without loss of conductivity

Report Statistics

Slides 228
Forecasts to 2032
ISBN 9781913899745

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