Exploring plastic components with electronically active surfaces
Painting thin films of electronically active surfaces onto plastic components using injection moulding is the focus of a £300,000 research programme at the University of Warwick, UK. The team is looking to refine the technology for products such as packaging with moving displays.
‘Electronic functionality on plastic components is usually created by embedding a chip in the mould, or back injecting a printed film,’ says lead researcher Professor Gordon Smith, of the Warwick Manufacturing Group. ‘This technology is unique in that it can create an electronic surface over the whole of a 3D object. The film is restricted to general flat areas.’ The approach builds on an ‘in mould’ paint technique developed for automotive paint shops. This involves exploding paint directly into a moulding tool during plastic injection. ‘The explosion of paint creates the randomisation necessary for complete and even coverage,’ says Smith. It produces a thin, even film – about 25 microns or less – to which multiple coatings can be applied by blasting into the cavity. These could be electrically conductive and are applicable to all plastics using a tie layer as one of the coats. Smith says, ‘For instance, a part may be touch sensitive at any point or the whole surface [or product] could be a battery, light or a radio frequency identification tag’. The team hopes to demonstrate a component with electronic functionality within six months.
Researchers interested in applying for two postgraduate studentships on offer as part of this project should email G.F.Smith@warwick.ac.uk. Applicants must be EU nationals.