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07-22-2013

IML-Technology

Contour-Hugging 3-D Film with Capacitive Switching

In the 3-D film, printed conductors are directly integrated into the film by screen printing (figure: Schuster Group)

Schuster Group, Walterhausen, Germany, has developed a high-gloss, electrically conducting film which can be three-dimensionally shaped and has gone into series production.

The company has succeeded in integrating decorative and functional elements in a multistage process. After the designs have been printed, the conducting and non-conducting layers are applied to the film. The film is then die cut and shaped by means of special high-pressure technology in ISO standard cleanrooms at an air pressure of 150 to 300 bar. This technology enables the printed conductors to mechanically withstand deformation. Once the film has been shaped, the hard coating is cured with UV radiation. 3-D contour die cutting is followed by back-injecting the finished film first with clear polycarbonate (PC) and then with black acrylonitrile-styrene copolymer (ABS)/polycarbonate (PC) using 2-component injection molding.

The integrated capacitive sensor is 0.25 mm below the visible, high-gloss surface. The control elements and associated functionality can be designed to hug the contour. Separate sensors are not required, a fact which reduces part depth.

Currently, all film production takes place in Germany. Integrating the capacitive sensor into the decorative part reduces the costs of electronic parts. In addition, it offers new design possibilities for designers and product developers in all kinds of industries. One current trend is products that “become invisible”: the control icons only become visible when they are backlit. This permanently alters the optics and the use of electronic devices for the operator.

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