Electronics have an ever-increasing role in product content, features and value in many markets. The need to incorporate electronics into everything from stylish control panels to washable wearable devices has challenged the industry to find alternatives to the 100-year old components-in-a-box approach. VTT sets out to find a way of manufacturing the lightweight, thin and durable electronics global industries are now seeking. Its solution, Injection Molded Structural Electronics (IMSE), integrates printed circuitry and electronics components within three-dimensional injection molded structures to create one seamless part. Bringing functionality to shapes and places impractical or impossible for traditional electronics, IMSE has been commercialised by VTT spin-off TactoTek and is giving product engineers unparalleled freedom to deliver the electronic functions users want and companies the opportunity to differentiate their products in the marketplace.
IMSE technology reduces assembly costs by more than 30% compared to traditional manufacturing methods
IMSE structures are 50-75% lighter and take up 25% less space than conventional electronic assemblies
The time taken to change product functionalities and appearance is reduced by 40% with IMSE manufacturing
Reimagining the manufacturing process
Conventional multi-part assemblies made up of separate surfaces and electronic components limit possibilities in terms of functionality and form. Critically, alongside their weight and volume, they aren’t flexible or rugged enough for today’s applications. Applications such as Internet of Things and wearable devices and switches and lights for car interiors and appliances. These require electronics to be slim and uniquely shaped to enable elegant human-machine interfaces. In many cases, the electronics must also be protected from moisture, vibration and extreme temperatures. A new approach to manufacturing was needed to enable electronics and surfaces to be integrated into a single part.
Enabling innovative electronic designs
EARTO member VTT developed just such a solution by bringing together a mixture of well-known production technologies. Its IMSE technology enables electronic functions to be integrated inside injection-molded plastic to create smart structures with innovative contours. Easily configured for mass production, IMSE reduces manufacturing costs, bulk and weight – and increases performance and possibilities. The integrated electronics are inherently protected from the outside environment, for example, and, being closer to the surface, more sensitive to touch. They can also be combined with surfaces such as wood and leather to create beautiful fully-functional surfaces.
Inspiring new customised products
VTT spin-off TactoTek was named winner of the 2017 Global Technology Innovation Award by Frost & Sullivan and its impact supports this endorsement. The company adapts customer designs into IMSE solutions and develops prototypes for mass production in-house or by a licensed manufacturer. It has 12 projects ongoing with major brands and 100 in the pipeline. These include creating a natural wood trim with touch and lighting functions for car interiors and a smart connector capable of withstanding harsh environments for motion sensing solutions integrated into clothes and shoes. The market’s response to IMSE enabled TactoTek to secure $23m funding and predict a doubling of its workforce to 150 in 2018.