Another option for manufacturers looking to streamline decorative and functional printing steps.
Film insert molding (FIM) can be an excellent method for integrating printed graphics into plastic parts. Such parts are used in many applications, including automotive, consumer electronics, industrial, white goods, and medical devices. The greatest benefit of FIM, however, may lie in using it as a platform for integrating printed electronics and decorative printing into a single molded part that is both functional and durable. Manufacturers are beginning to incorporate circuitry created with conductive inks and encapsulate discrete semiconductor chips within molded, decorated parts.
The automotive industry represents an excellent opportunity for this technology, as auto makers seek to differentiate themselves with distinctive dashboard designs and displays that include both decorative and functional features. Auto makers are reaching out to companies in the FIM supply chain who can help them incorporate advanced technologies into their vehicles.
FIM is compatible with a wide variety of coatings and inks. Designers have complete freedom in color and design for decoration, since images are screen printed onto a flat film before the product is formed into a 3D shape. It is possible to include special effects such as metallic, mirror, or high-gloss black or white finishes.
In contrast, standard injection-molded 3D plastic parts are formed from a single color of resin. They are typically pad printed for decoration, or sometimes labeled using screen or inkjet printing if the surface is sufficiently flat. But printed images on the surface of the part tend to wear off after repeated use. FIM creates a durable image that cannot be rubbed off. The process can incorporate coatings with various desirable properties, including hardness, chemical resistance, and light reflection (or the lack thereof).
The automotive industry is especially demanding in its desire for coatings that are durable, scratch-resistant, and fingerprint-resistant with embedded graphics that will last the lifetime of the vehicle. Different surfaces – center consoles, dashboards, steering wheels, and interactive display screens – need different types of coatings and finishes. FIM provides a solution that can address all these needs, but it is important to optimize materials and process parameters to get the best results.
FIM is a multistep process that includes, at its core, screen printing, forming, and molding steps. Additional optional steps may be needed depending on product design and selected materials. The chart below shows a possible process flow.
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