In Mould Decoration or IMD has been around for a long time now. It was almost exclusively the realm of mobile phone lenses and keypads in the late 90s. Film, ink and moulding technology has moved on significantly over the years.
For new product design the term IMD or FIM often gets discussed, sometimes all too briefly as there seems to be a fear of the unknown. Success or failure appears on a knife edge and very often it is the lack of experience from the printer coupled with a lack of understanding from the moulder that forces the inevitable final decision to steer away. However, from the projects that have benefitted from good process knowledge, married with project experience it has won over. Very often the process is adopted wholly and with confidence delivering outstanding results. The flexibility that this technology brings to design and production is diffcult to ignore.
So, what is In Mould Decoration?
Surface intergrated graphics might be a reasonable way of putting it. Whether it is just a flat film placed in a cavity or a fully formed and trimmed applique design to work as a transition fit into the mould tool. It can make the difference between something looking like it’s out of the 70s to a modern automotive or mobile phone fascia. The functionality is one of the key benefits, clear windows, living switches, hard coats, anti-glare, anti-microbial, hidden till lit legends. All full surface wrapped and no post printing, dipping, trimming, coating. That’s one of the other key benefits, get finished parts off the press. How much value can be attributed to that?
Firsty, advice costs nothing. We know it’s an old cliche but it is true and especially relevant to IMD and new product design. Process qualification is best affected at the design inception stage before the design has gone down previously explored paths. We’ve been here before and find ourselves witnessing again, a comprehension design review as the penny drops. So, before you put pencil to paper, look at some examples of what can be achieved. We’re an experienced bunch that are willing to offer reliable advice and there’s not many of us about. It’s certainly not in anyone’s interest to steer designers down a blind alley.
Benefits vs drawbacks:
Every process has its limitations as well as its benefits. So, to try to evaluate a potential project we have to compare processes before deciding which route to product we are going to take. Below is an example of the benefits and challanges for a single design. It shows a sectional view of a made-up front moulding. The method on the left is a more conventional route to a functional fascia, on the right is the IMD route. I hope you find it informative.
The biggest hurdle for IMD is the tooling costs. However, more often than not, the added tooling for forming and trimming costs are easily recovered with increased efficiency. Sometimes this is difficult to quantify though; a good example here is using one mould tool production set up and running through a range of printed appliques with different colours or designs. The added functionalities including self-contained windows and switch buttons speak for themselves. Functional surfaces such as anti-scratch, anti-fog or anti-microbial, to suggets a few, save on expensive secondary processing. In flat film applications the tooling is virtually eliminated.
There are a few myths surrounding this process such as the thinking that it is only for high volume parts. This isn’t necessarily true as product designs can facilitate an easier application of lower volume films or appliques, maybe hanging from pins around gates to be later trimmed.
Another myth is that it can’t be applied to exisiting products. More often than not an existing mould tool can be adapted to work with a film insert or applique. This usually involves modifying the gates and ejection. The application of the ink to strengthening areas where gate wash is present can also help.
So, onto materials; this is a big one, you don’t have to like for like printed appliques or films to moulding materials. The ink manufacturers have spent a good deal of time with film systems developing and proving ranges of inks and lacquers which created the bond between the inserts and the moulding resin. So, you can have a hard coated polyester film or applique and mould with ABS. Food for thought if you are using expensive moulding materials to achieve certain first surface criteria, let the film do the work!
Looking back over the years, the process is developing in the UK and we have some clever companies adopting IMD for their products. Uncertainties and price increases with off-shore manufacturing fuelling re-sourcing within our own borders can be a factor in product design. Projects are easy to quality and it costs nothing to have those early discussions to advise on designs or products.
Anyhow, if you would like to learn more, please visit our website at https://www.customark-limited.com/in-mould-decoration/ or alternatively you can call us on 01249 822010.