Polycarbonate film replaces light pipes in newly developed electronic illumination devices that are very thin.
TactoTek, a Finnish manufacturer of 3D injection molded structural electronics is commercializing the technology that enables sophisticated lighting in very thin 3D plastic “smart surfaces”.
“This (is) a key innovation for IMSE technology—employing the plastic material that is the structure of a part as a light guide,” says Antti Keränen, TactoTek CTO and co-founder. “Using this technique we can create very bright, evenly distributed illumination within structures as thin as 2 millimeters.”
Traditional electronics typically include a cosmetic surface structure and use a separate light pipe structure to direct lighting. In the TactoTek invention, printed electronics and light emitting diodes (LEDs) are insert molded and use the optical plastic layer to conduct light.
Hasse Sinivaara, head of product management, says: “By using the molding material of a cosmetic surface as a light guide, TactoTek IMSE technology removes design constraints that have prescribed thick, multi-part assemblies, and as we remove parts, we remove design time, weight and minimize electrical and mechanical assembly—very appealing when considering form factor innovation and total cost of ownership (TCO).”
The design accommodates printed electronics, such as circuitry, touch controls and antennas, and discrete electronic components, such as LEDs and ICs.
The company prototypes and manufactures products in its Oulu, Finland, factory that includes complete, vertically integrated production capabilities; mass production can be performed by TactoTek or TactoTek-licensed production partners.
Eighty percent of its business is automotive, with most of the rest in appliances. Applications include:
- Control panels in cars and home appliances with mode-specific lighting, and “intelligence”,
- Encapsulated sensors, such as accelerometers, impact and ambient light sensors molded directly into the surface skins of designs,
- Printed capacitive buttons and sliders for responsive soft touch controls, and
- Sophisticated lighting for advanced styling,
The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program under grant agreement No 725076.