An Engineer’s Perspective of Incorporating In- Mold Electronics
An Engineer’s Perspective of Incorporating In- Mold Electronics
Thinking Outside the Box; An Engineer’s Perspective of Incorporating In- Mold Electronics
We’ve all heard the saying: “Think outside the box.” Simply put, thinking outside the box means you are willing to consider different methods and solutions to reach your outcome. But why should we do it? Just think of how the world would look if we continued using the same tried and true processes. There would be no innovation, or no new technologies.
Thinking outside the box led DuraTech Industries to develop a new, disruptive technology called, In- Mold Electronics or, IME. Known as the perfect union of form and function, IME integrates printed, conductive inks with In-Mold Decorating (IMD). Expected to exceed $1.11 Billion by 2029, IME is becoming more widely used over other switch technologies by user interface manufacturers in industries such as, home appliance, automotive, medical devices, retail, consumer electronics, defense, industrial and aerospace.
The multiple benefits that In- Mold Electronics offers no doubt plays a role in why some industry professionals are starting to incorporate it into their product designs. Including:
A lower cost alternative to traditional technologies, as it requires less raw materials, no assembly and produces a more reliable product.
A unique, flexible design
More durable graphics
The ability to design with fewer parts and manufacturing steps.
A design without wires and bulky tech boxes.
On the other hand, some believe that following a tried and true process is the only way to improve their products. Thus, applying IME into their designs may be a daunting approach, despite its benefits. During a recent interview with DuraTech, Sung Lee, a Process Engineer within the Medical Device industry, and a proponent of DuraTech’s IME, offered some insight and advice for those who are on the fence about implementing this emerging technology.
Lee’s role of a Process Engineer is to design for manufacture-ability and to be a technology champion. He is charged with looking at current design issues and finding solutions for product development. Through his research, Lee discovered In-Mold Electronics and tested its capabilities. With IME, Lee found that it is a mature and effective methodology. He said there were inherent design capabilities that allowed him to design a product to be more manufacture-able, such as the following:
Eliminates internal components that would have been a non-added value to manufacturing processes.
Increased design flexibility.
No need to add another layer of protection. E.g. Art work layer over clear layer-added extra protection. It provides an opportunity to protect components.
Added art work capability.
Allows color matching.
More design space to add different components.
Eliminated cables. We can do a simplified connector instead of the cable. We can connect the IME portion of the electronics to our central processing. The in mold ink system and circuitry being embedded protected that layer of electronics.
There are no seams. Parts can be physically washed to help adhere to sanitation standards.
Working in the medical device industry, Lee did find one drawback with using IME, which is being selective with what material can be used. He added, while IME is not the answer for every design, as there are certain things ink cannot handle; In Mold Electronics is a very viable opportunity, especially for the medical device industry, where it can be quickly implemented into a design and keep his manufacturing costs reduced. There are also less logistics and vendor handling and can be less expensive if you have multiple parts. Those factors, Lee emphasized, along with the ability to eliminate many non- value added processes as technology matures, will impact the future of his industry.
The medical device industry continues to soar. Grandview Research, Inc. reports that the medical device market is expected to reach an estimated $432.6 billion by 2025, and it is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 4.1% from 2020 to 2025. The major drivers for market growth are increasing healthcare expenditure, technological development, growing aging population, and chronic diseases.
Designing products for a highly regulated market, like medical devices, can be challenging; especially, as Lee says, with the responsibility of cutting costs, and ensuring the product will function properly and actually last a long time. More products are featuring digital interface designs and healthcare professional’s expectations for usability are growing. IME can play a vital role in solving these challenges.
Lee offered some advice to his fellow engineers on how to design with IME in mind.
Think outside the box.
Be open minded
Be more organic
Simplify your design
Make your parts smarter and connect without complexity: If your designs currently have LEDs, buttons or lights, pull those out and integrate them into the design without having that factor being part of your electronics. Eliminate and integrate certain features into your plastics designs. There are other ways of utilizing technology.
Stop thinking of traditional ways to design, such as with PCBs or plastic housing.
Do not be limited to colors and lines. If you think this way, you can really limit your design capability.
Don’t be limited to squares, boxes or rectangles.
As Lee continued to work on a new product design idea, with IME in mind, he met with different IME manufactures. He discovered some were not as willing to go in a different direction, or think outside the box. He expressed that In-Mold Electronics would not do well if you do not have any champions, or those that know this technology well enough to take it to its limits. Lee said his design idea was not normal, or within the current IME capabilities. DuraTech, he exclaimed, was flexible, and told him his idea was indeed doable as an IME product. DuraTech, he added, was willing to expand what they were doing with IME to give him a nice solution.
Steve Roellich, DuraTech’s Printed Electronics Development Engineer, concurs with Lee’s sentiments. He says, “Every customer is different and each has their own problems that they are trying to solve. We look to provide the customer options for new product development that will help differentiate their user interface from their competitors. Since we can mold in the electronics, we can provide the customer with 3D user interfaces using cost efficient manufacturing techniques. We also look to reduce the overall Bill of Materials (BOM) for the customer, in terms of physical components and assembly labor.”
If you are willing to think outside the box with your product design, let DuraTech show you how far In-Mold Electronics can take your product! We do, however, encourage you to collaborate with us early in your IME design. According to Roellich, there are many advantages of collaborating early. “Engaging early on in the development phase brings projects to a reality.” IME, or Printed Electronics technology may be new to some, or even daunting, so Roellich encourages OEM’s to take advantage of our knowledge and experiences, but the earlier the better. He emphasized, “Allowing enough time for development is the key to success.”
Innovation can truly happen when we change our mindset. We would be delighted to review your product designs. Contact us today!