3D-HiPMAS technology build circuits directly on to Plastics components


In the race for new markets, electronics manufacturers have to produce ever smarter and more streamlined devices. An EU-funded project helps companies achieve this more cheaply and with less waste – a boost to their competitiveness.

The trend towards smaller, smarter devices is pushing electronics manufacturers to use streamlined components that integrate electronic circuitry directly onto plastic parts (moulded interconnected devices – MIDs). The EU-funded 3D-HiPMAS project has found solutions to several technical problems to help European manufacturers take full advantage of this trend.

The project team predict that the technology could save up to 50% or more of current production costs through labour, materials and energy savings, with more as it develops further. By helping small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) develop cheaper ways of producing new products, they hope to promote technical innovation in Europe, help small businesses grow, and create jobs.

Project coordinator Heinz Kueck of the German Institute for Micro Assembly Technology of the Hahn-Schickard-Gesellschaft e.V. says: “The 3D-HiPMAS technology uses new materials and techniques to build circuits directly onto plastic components. For a broad range of electronic systems, this saves time compared to the traditional process of making plastic parts and circuits separately then assembling them in an additional stage.”

He adds, “Electronics are scaling down all the time. The aim is to make metal lines smaller on the plastic parts so you can have more components on the device, supporting the trend towards miniaturisation.”

Three technologies make the estimated savings possible, all developed by the project:

  • new plastics and plastic moulding technology combined with new laser technology and metal deposition for applying circuit tracks would halve the size of the tracks;
  • new assembly technology would build 3D pieces more accurately, creating less waste from defective parts;
  • new inline monitoring and inspection would allow faster, cheaper quality control during manufacturing.

To showcase its solutions, the project is developing a pilot factory to manufacture miniaturised components that meet the needs of high-tech industries such as health care, communications and energy.

The factory will include all the new technologies from the project to help micro-electronics SMEs build prototype components and small volume series in order to develop more efficient ways of producing their products. Kueck expects the factory to be ready by the end of the project in September 2015.

Industry potential

A group of seven companies outside the project is currently assessing the technology. 3D-HiPMAS has also developed four demonstrator products to test the factory and to show how the technology could work: a miniaturised controllable fuel cell, a more streamlined hearing aid, an advanced 3D micro switch and a miniaturised pressure sensor.

According to Kueck, components built with the 3D-HiPMAS technology have better mechanical performance and better, more reliable circuitry than state of the art MID circuits.

Healthcare companies are already interested in the project’s process for applying smart plastic based systems to medical devices that come into contact with human tissue and liquids, says Kueck, because the new process makes very robust circuitry.

At the same time, companies are already interested in the new laser machinery, while the project’s new heat-conducting materials are generating interest for solid-state lighting such as LED lamps, he says.

At the end of the project, the team will hold a competition for new MID ideas from outside the project. Three winners will have the chance to try the project’s technology by having their proposed products made at the pilot factory.

Kueck says, “This is a very powerful technology. It can develop new, miniaturised smart devices that are not currently possible, enhancing quality of life. The overall impact in Europe will be to introduce a high-performance, difficult-to-manufacture technology to Europe, improving its economy”.