Trend towards integrated electronics to drive in-mold electronics market to US$2BN by 2033.

In-Mold Electronics 2023-2033

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

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In-Mold Electronics 2023-2033 analyses the technology and market opportunities associated with this emerging manufacturing methodology. 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 such as functional film bonding. It includes 10-year market forecasts by technology and application sector, expressed as both revenue and IME panel area. For the largest target market of automotive interiors, these forecasts for human machine interfaces (HMI) are segmented into mechanical and four distinct types of capacitive switches.
The report covers manufacturing methods for in-mold electronics, both with and without integrated SMD (surface mount device) components such as LEDs. It also evaluates competing methodologies for producing similar decorative touch-sensitive interfaces such as functional film bonding, and direct printing. This includes evaluation of the applications and circumstances for which IME is most compelling, including detailed discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of greater integration of electronic functionality.
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 2023-2033' 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 mounting rigid printed circuit boards (PCBs) behind decorative surfaces. In-mold electronics (IME) facilitates this trend, by enabling integrated functionalities to be incorporated into components with decorative thermoformed 3D surfaces. IME offers multiple advantages relative to conventional mechanical switches, including reduction in weight and material consumption of up to 70%. It also requires far fewer parts for the same functionality, simplifying supply chains and 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 equipment can reused.
IME differs from IMD though, the initial screen printing of conductive thermoformable inks, followed by deposition of electrically conductive adhesives and optionally the mounting of components such as LED and even ICs s. 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 must 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 of production processes and products 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 require 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 with 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 arguably simpler, less integrated alternatives such as functional film bonding (FFB). The report discusses why FFB has enjoyed faster uptake to date within the automotive sector, comparing the competing value propositions and outlining how these will evolve as IME integrates more functionality.
IME also has great potential outside the automotive sector. The ability to produce decorative, lightweight, functional components is especially compelling for aircraft interiors, where the weight reduction brings fuel savings. Other potential applications where IME offers simplification of existing HMI surfaces, or even the introduction of HMI functionality to new locations, are white goods, medical devices, countertop appliances, and even smart furniture.
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. 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. 'In-Mold Electronics 2023-2033' utilizes this experience to evaluate all aspects of this emerging manufacturing methodology for HMI surfaces.
Key aspects
This report provides the following information:
Technology trends & manufacturer analysis:
  • An introduction to the in-mold electronics (IME) manufacturing methodology and associated commercial landscape. This includes the motivation for developing IME, along with analysis of opportunities and threats.
  • Evaluation of the applications and circumstances for which IME is most compelling, including discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of functionality integration.
  • Detailed discussion of the manufacturing requirements for IME, where the biggest technical challenges lie and how they may be addressed.
  • Analysis of the IME specific material landscape and technical requirements, including conductive and dielectric inks, conductive adhesives, transparent conductors, and substrates.
  • An example life cycle assessment for an automotive component manufactured using IME and with conventional methods.
  • Motivation, challenges, and examples of functionality that can be integrated within IME components, including lighting, heating, and haptics.
  • An overview of the manufacturing methodologies that compete with IME, including functional film bonding, applying functional films to 3D surfaces, laser direct structuring and printing onto 3D surfaces.
  • Updates from recent conferences FLEX, LOPEC, CPES and PRINSE.
  • Primary information from key companies, including multiple detailed company profiles based on interviews.
Market Forecasts & Analysis:
  • 10-year granular market forecast for IME, split by application area (including different automotive use cases). These are expressed in terms of total HMI area and revenue.
  • Forecasts are further segmented by technology, covering IME (both with and without SMD components) and competing approaches such as functional film bonding.
  • 10-year market forecasts for the associate material requirements.
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Table of Contents
1.1.Introduction to in-mold electronics (IME)
1.2.In-mold electronics applications (and prototypes)
1.3.IME manufacturing process flow
1.4.Comparing smart surface manufacturing methods
1.5.Commercial advantages of IME
1.6.IME facilitates versioning and localization
1.7.IME value chain - a development of in-mold decorating (IMD)
1.8.Reviewing the previous in-mold electronics report (2022-2032)
1.9.SWOT Analysis: IME-with-SMD
1.10.Tactotek announces multiple licensees and collaborations
1.11.Overview of IME manufacturing requirements
1.12.Overview of competing manufacturing methods
1.13.Distinguishing manufacturing methods for 3D electronics
1.14.Overview of specialist materials for IME
1.15.Overview of IME applications
1.16.Overview of IME and sustainability
1.17.Conclusions for the IME industry (I)
1.18.Conclusions for the IME industry (II)
1.19.10-year forecast for IME-with-SMD component area by application (in m2)
1.20.10-year forecast for IME-with-SMD revenue by application (in USD)
1.21.Forecast adoption proportion of manufacturing methodologies for automotive HMI surfaces
2.1.Introduction to in-mold electronics (IME)
2.2.Transition from 2D to 2.5D to 3D electronics
2.3.Motivation for 3D/additive electronics
2.4.In-mold electronics applications (and prototypes)
2.5.Deciphering integrated/3D electronics terminology (I)
2.6.Deciphering integrated/3D electronics terminology (II)
2.7.Comparing smart surface manufacturing methods
2.8.Current status of main IME technology developer (TactoTek)
2.9.IME value chain overview
2.10.In-mold electronics with and without SMD components
2.11.The long road to IME commercialization
2.12.TactoTek's funding continues to increase
2.13.The functionality integration paradox
2.14.In-mold electronics lags functional film bonding in automotive adoption
2.15.When is functionality integration worthwhile?
2.16.Greater functionality integration should enhance value proposition (yields permitting)
2.17.Regional differences in IME development
2.18.IME players divided by location and value chain stage
2.19.Porters' analysis for in-mold electronics
3.1.Forecast methodology
3.2.IME forecast adjustments relative to previous report
3.3.10-year forecast for IME-with-SMD component area by application (in m2)
3.4.10-year forecast for IME-with-SMD revenue by application (in USD)
3.5.10-year forecasts for IME-without-SMD by application (area and volume)
3.6.10-year forecasts functional foil bonding by application (area and volume)
3.7.Addressable market for IME: Automotive
3.8.Forecast adoption proportion of manufacturing methodologies for automotive HMI surfaces
3.9.10-year forecast for HMI manufacturing methodology in automotive (area)
3.10.10-year forecast for HMI manufacturing methodology in automotive (revenue)
3.11.Future (2033) IME market breakdown by application
3.12.IME value capture estimate at market maturity (2033)
3.13.Ten-year market forecasts for IME by value capture element (revenue, USD millions)
3.14.Value capture by functional ink type
3.15.10-year market forecasts for functional inks in IME-with-SMD
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
4.3.6.Functional film bonding: an introduction
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
4.4.11.Replacing wiring bundles with partially additive electronics
4.4.12.Application targets for printing wiring onto 3D surfaces
4.4.13.The promise of 3D printed electronics
4.4.14.Emerging approach: Multifunctional composites with electronics
4.4.15.Molding electronics in 3D shaped composites
4.4.16.Emerging approach: Electrical functionalization by additive manufacturing
4.4.17.Benchmarking competitive processes to 3D electronics
4.4.18.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.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.IME material suppliers
6.2.Conductive inks
6.2.1.Silver flake-based ink dominates IME
6.2.2.Comparing different conductive inks materials
6.2.3.Challenges of comparing conductive inks
6.2.4.Conductive ink requirements for in-mold electronics
6.2.5.Stretchable vs thermoformable conductive inks
6.2.6.In-mold electronics requires thermoformable conductive inks
6.2.7.Bridging the conductivity gap between printed electronics and IME inks
6.2.8.Gradual improvement over time in thermoformability
6.2.9.Thermoformable conductive inks from different resins
6.2.10.The role of particle size in thermoformable inks
6.2.11.Selecting right fillers and binders to improve stretchability (Elantas)
6.2.12.The role of resin in stretchable inks
6.2.13.All materials in the stack must be compatible: forming perspective
6.2.14.New ink requirements: Surviving heat stress
6.2.15.New ink requirements: Stability
6.2.16.Particle-free thermoformable inks (I) (E2IP/National Research Council of Canada)
6.2.17.Particle-free thermoformable inks (II) (E2IP/National Research Council of Canada)
6.2.18.In-mold conductive inks on the market
6.2.19.In-mold conductive ink examples
6.2.20.Polythiophene-based conductive films for flexible devices (Heraeus)
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
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
7.4.6.Weight savings make IME compelling for aerospace applications
8.1.IME and sustainability
8.2.IME reduces plastic consumption
8.3.VTT life cycle assessment of IME parts
8.4.IME vs reference component kg CO₂ equivalent (single IME panel): Cradle to gate
8.5.IME vs reference component kg CO₂ equivalent (100,000 IME panels): Cradle-to-grave
8.6.Summary of results from VTT's life cycle assessment
9.1.IME with incorporated ICs
9.2.Laser induced forward transfer (LIFT) could replace screen printing
9.3.Thin film digital heaters for in-mold electronics thermoforming
9.4.S-shape copper traces facilitate stretchability without loss of conductivity
10.1.ACI Materials
10.2.Advanced Decorative Systems
10.3.Butler Technologies
10.6.Clayens NP
10.16.MacDermid Alpha
10.17.Nagase ChemteX
10.19.Plastic Electronic
10.21.Sigma Sense
10.22.Sun Chemical

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Slides 236
Forecasts to 2033
ISBN 9781915514479

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