Tier 1 vehicle lighting solutions provider J.W. Speaker Corp. is commercializing one of the first production applications of in-mold electronics, also known as plastronics.
The new cost-effective application uses indium-thin-oxide ink bars to pull current across a thermally conductive grid to defrost the hard-coated polycarbonate lens of a light-emitting-diode source.
The heated headlamp lens can resolve the inability of LED-based vehicle headlights to generate enough heat to defrost themselves in winter driving conditions. "Industry has been looking for this solution for 15 years," said Dragan Popovic, J.W. Speaker chief technology officer.
The Germantown, Wis., firm offers its legacy SmartHeat-brand heating system for flat truck lights now.
The new proprietary technology can match the curvature for automotive light surfaces. The idea is currently working its way through original equipment manufacturer design iterations with potential to reach the commercial market on model-year 2022 or 2023 vehicles, Popovic said in an interview.
J.W. Speaker and applique specialist Advanced Decorative Systems Inc. of Millington, Mich., collaborated on the heated-headlamp-lens project. ADS handled the molding and supplied the label.
The innovation won both best-of-show and gold best-injection-molded-durable-part awards in the 2018 In-Mold Decorating Association contest.
Judges noted that the headlamp reflects a merging of in-mold decorating and printed electronics and could open the door to more adoption of IME.
J.W. Speaker has worked on the concept for more than seven years.
In past decades, "some products had ITO coatings, but it was mainly on military helicopters and aircraft windshields," said Eric Deering, J.W. Speaker lead concept engineer. "It was not economical."
ADS and J.W. Speaker began discussions in 2015.
"We were immediately impressed with their eagerness to get started," said Marshall Paterson, ADS vice president of development. "Within a week or two, we had created proof-of-concept parts using existing tooling we had."
Beta trials occurred during 2017 on an existing aluminum tool, and ADS shipped the first production-level parts to J.W. Speaker in December 2017.
The processor uses polycarbonate from multiple brands including Covestro AG's Makrolon and Saudi Basic Industries Corp.'s Lexan.
The conductive heating element is printed on the layer of PC film prior to its in-molding into the headlamp lens. A specially-designed connector system provides access to the embedded electronics.
A temperature-sensing element guards against destruction of the heater.
Skokie, Ill.-based IMDA will show the winning entries in its booth during the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute's Pack Expo International show Oct. 14-17 in Chicago.
IMDA will present the awards to the winners in a ceremony during its 2018 symposium and supplier trade fair Nov. 11-13 in San Diego.