Project Description

The Customer:

A designer and manufacturer of industrial electric thermal solutions such as heaters, sensors, and controllers.

Customer Problem:

The manufacturer had continued quality/customer return issues on one of their panel mount temperature controllers. End users had to utilize ice picks or other instruments to push the silicone rubber buttons on the controller, which can wear out from use and harsh environments. This manufacturer had 10’s of thousands of these units in the field, with these rubber buttons, and was looking for a solution to improve the user experience.

The Solution:

DuraTech proposed manufacturing these controllers using our In-Mold Electronics, or IME technology. The end result was a 3D capacitive touch-IME controller. In-Mold Electronics is the combination of traditional In-Mold Decorating (IMD) with the printing of conductive inks. It is the perfect union of form and function.

With our IME technology, the silicone rubber keypads were replaced with a slider button, allowing the front of the controller to be smooth and more aesthetically appealing. Instead of end users pushing the rubber buttons, they can simply use the slider button with their finger.

Also, the IME material used in the new controller, provided more chemical resistance than plain Polycarbonate, which was used on their old controller. It also has surface finish which reduces finger prints and allows fingers to slide more easily. Additionally, we were able to seal the front of the controller, eliminating (contamination) entry points for dirt and debris.

Our In-Mold Electronics technology allowed the customer to have design flexibility. They were able to add custom graphics, including their brand colors and logo. They also had the ability to change the color and shape of buttons on the controller.

The Challenge:

The challenge DuraTech faced was trying to insert mold the connector (get it to consistently work) and avoid sink which is a surface imperfection. Our team, through considerable trial and error, found a way to overcome these concerns. Our solution was to utilize new inks and redesign molding tools to reduce surface imperfections with the header, which was done by our molding partner.

The Outcome:

With our In-Mold Electronics, the customer had a reduction in the total cost; a more reliable part, more design flexibility, and a reduction in their assembly time. The customer was very pleased with the first production part and have since ordered other versions.

More Uses for In-Mold Electronics:

In this case study, IME was used to replace dysfunctional rubber buttons with a slider button. However, IME has many other purposes, such as:

  • Eliminating the need for bulky tech boxes, wires and buttons, allowing for a smaller, more lightweight design. 

  • More design freedom without any compromise in meeting functional switch needs.

  • Encapsulating circuits, sensors and other components, allowing for long actuation life for buttons, since there are no moving parts to fail.
  • Lowering production costs, as IME requires less raw materials and no assembly.