Creating Smart Surfaces with Electronic Functionality


Reading time ( words)

Of all of the technical user presentations I attended at the AltiumLive design summit in Munich, the one I found most fascinating introduced an innovative technology that encouraged a bit of lateral thinking and appealed to my creative side. “IMSE: Creating Smart Surfaces with Electronic Functionality” was the title of the presentation by Sini Rytky, VP of product management, and Tuomas Heikkilä, senior hardware specialist, both from TactoTek in Finland.

Rytky explained that IMSE stood for injection-moulded structural electronics—a technique for integrating flexible printed circuitry and electronic components into three-dimensional moulded structures with touch-sensitive functional surfaces, using standard high-speed manufacturing methods and equipment.

The IMSE manufacturing process was logical and straightforward in concept. Starting with a flat thermoplastic film—typically a polyurethane or an in-mould labelling film—standard printed-electronics techniques were used to apply conductive features such as circuitry, touch controls, and antennas as well as decorative features and user-interface graphics. Surface-mounted components and LEDs were added by standard pick-and-place techniques while the substrate was still flat—presumably using conductive adhesive, although this was not disclosed. Then, the assembly was thermoformed into a three-dimensional shape and injection-moulded to form a thin, lightweight, functional unit with a smart, touch-sensitive surface and all of the electronics fully encapsulated and embedded. Of the numerous potential application areas, the most obvious was the integration of touch controls into automotive interior trim.

Designs could incorporate one or two films with electronics on one or both. Rytky showed an example of the stackup for a two-film structure. The top surface layer was an in-mould labelling film—although it could have been a natural material like leather or wood—printed with decorative inks. Next, came the first electronic layer, which was printed with conductive and dielectric inks and assembled with SMT components. At the centre of the stack was a layer of thermoplastic resin, polycarbonate, or polyurethane; then, the second electronic layer; and finally, an in-mould labelling film. Rytky stressed that the essence of IMSE design was to understand how these different materials and components would behave once they were put together, stretched to a three-dimensional form, and ultimately injection-moulded into a single unit.

Because IMSE enabled electronic functionality to be integrated into three-dimensional surfaces and in space-limited locations, there was enormous scope for innovative design, and decorative surfaces could be made functional without changing their mechanical structure. Further, conventional electronic assemblies could be substantially reduced in thickness, weight, and complexity.

An example demonstrated by Rytky and passed around the audience was a typical automotive overhead control panel. In its conventional form, it was a bulky structure, 45-mm thick, and weighing up to 1.4 kg with 64 individual mechanical parts, and its assembly required 30 separate operations. In terms of durability and reliability, the structure was fully encapsulated and protected from debris and moisture, and fully functional over a -40°C to +80°C temperature range. In another automotive example, touch-sensitive illuminated seat controls had been integrated within a real-wood door trim and the overall thickness was only 3 mm.

To read the full article, which appeared in the April 2019 issue of Flex007 Magazine, click here.

Share




Suggested Items

I-Connect007 Editor’s Choice: Five Must-Reads for the Week

07/15/2022 | Andy Shaughnessy, Design007 Magazine
I’m getting a lot of out-of-office replies. Are you all on the beach now? It’s 91 degrees every day here in Atlanta lately, but each afternoon it rains like we’re in a horror movie, and that drops the temperature down to the subtropical arena. Still, I’ll take heat over freezing any day. Things are heating up in our industry too, as we see from my top five choices this week. First-quarter electronic design revenue is up year-on-year, but PCB revenue barely moved the needle YOY. Editor Nolan Johnson spent the week at SEMICON West and the FLEX Conference, and he brings us a review of these conferences, co-located at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. As he notes, printed electronic circuits are beginning to gain a foothold in the market.

I-Connect007 Editor's Choice: Five Must-Reads for the Week

11/20/2020 | Andy Shaughnessy, Design007 Magazine
In my top five picks, we have news about columnist Tara Dunn moving to Averatek to work with their A-SAP additive processes, and an interview with Audrey Sim regarding the “hybrid” model adopted by the HKPCA for its upcoming Electronic Circuits World Convention. We also have a compilation of the questions that readers have asked Joe Fjelstad and news about DownStream Technologies adding support for flex, rigid-flex, and embedded component designs. Finally, we share a review of some of KYZEN’s new training sessions on cleaning electronic assemblies—virtual courses that pack a lot of information into 15-minute snapshots. Knowing how tight everyone’s schedules are now, 15-minute events might be the ticket.

Nano Dimension Appoints LM Instruments to Market PCB/Hi-PEDs 3D-Printers

07/09/2020 | Globe Newswire
Nano Dimension Ltd., a leading Additively Manufactured Electronics (AME)/PE (Printed Electronics) provider, has signed an agreement with LM Instruments, which will represent Nano Dimension in the Mid-Atlantic States by marketing its 3D-Fabrication Machines for High-Performance Electronic Devices (Hi-PEDs).



Copyright © 2022 I-Connect007. All rights reserved.