Find out how FIM functions in a variety of high-end applications and determine whether it’s a fit for your business.
By Neil Bolding
In the U.S., the perception of interior automotive fitting as inferior is changing fast as the vogue for a hard silver and chrome look shifts towards a warmer European styling, a moved welcomed by the market (Figure 2). In Asia, there’s great potential for the same type of design-led added value in automotive molding. FIM had huge application in mobile phones, many of which were made in China, but now that mobiles are essentially a glass window in a frame, use of FIM has naturally become limited in this market. However, as this manufacturing base develops in the automotive supply chain and wins OEM confidence, we will see more innovation. In Europe, designers are already using FIM to push OEM specification, and in America, projects are increasingly OEM-led. In Asia, there’s a wonderful opportunity to repeat the same story.
The FIM process involves four manufacturing steps: printing, forming, trimming, and molding. But it is critical to choose the correct material for the job and have optimized design criteria for the forming and molding stages.
The first stage is typically screen printing the necessary graphics onto the underside of a special, hardcoated film. The printed sheets are then transferred to a vacuum, pressure, or thermoforming press, where they are formed to the exact shape of the components being made, with the outer side of film effectively becoming the outer side of the finished component. The sheet is trimmed and individual components cut to size, and each is then inserted in a female injection mould cavity, where molten polymer is injected behind the film, bonding the two materials together to create a solid and finished part ready for subsequent product assembly.
The benefits of FIM
In addition to offering a quick and simple method of producing three dimensional components, FIM provides a number of benefits, including the ability to realize complex, high-definition designs and produce durable, textured parts.
As the components can be shaped extremely accurately, with print registration within ±0.2 mm, high-quality designs can be achieved that may not be possible with alternative production methods. In addition, for products such as mobile phones it is possible to integrate the decorated enclosure and the clear display window into a single component, reducing the materials required and, therefore, costs.
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