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New lightweighting smart surface manufacturing technology for automotive industry

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - TactoTek (New lightweighting smart surface manufacturing technology for automotive industry)

Reporting period: 2017-07-01 to 2018-03-31

The goal of the TactoTek SME Instrument project is to demonstrate mass manufacturing of a technology that enables design innovation and weight reduction in automotive electronics parts, and pilot manufacture at least two automotive parts. TactoTek will realize these objectives with injection molded structural electronics (IMSE) technology —innovative ‘smart plastics’ that replace multi-part, multi-layer traditional electronics.

IMSE technology enables design innovation that differentiates products in the marketplace. It supports OEM goals of adding electronic functions to vehicles, reducing weight, and minimizing the volume/depth of electronics. For TactoTek’s Tier 1 and Tier 2 automotive supplier prospects, often manufacturers of cosmetic parts, integrating electronic functions into their parts supports their objectives of adding value to their solutions and deepening existing OEM customer relationships. Today, EU automotive OEMs and their suppliers, Tier 1 and Tier 2 manufacturers, are actively engaging TactoTek in IMSE product prototyping in a progression to mass manufacturing and vehicle integration. Due to sooner than anticipated interest from Tier 1 and Tier 2 automotive suppliers to become IMSE manufacturers, it is likely that mass production will be performed by TactoTek Licensees.

In addition to supporting customer business objectives, IMSE solutions are environmentally friendly: they eliminate as much as 50% of the plastics used to produce traditional electronics, reduce mass by up to 70%, which can improve fuel efficiency, and are produced using clean, additive manufacturing processes.
TactoTek has made significant progress toward realizing overall project goals. The company has expanded its automotive project pipeline to over 100 cases. While some of these projects will be used to validate IMSE technology, many are mass production candidates.

The IMSE technology platform has been validated with a leading automotive OEM that subjected prototype parts to rigorous environmental testing and approved IMSE solutions in general, and the specific part for use in vehicles.

TactoTek manufacturing operations have matured significantly. During the reporting period the company operationalized an ISO 7 class clean room to support consistent, high visual quality electronics manufacturing demanded by automotive customers. Moreover, the company has achieved ISO 9001 certification.

TactoTek has formalized research and development and joint sales and marketing partnerships with key suppliers in the IMSE ecosystem. For R&D, these relationships accelerate product development, promote manufacturing consistency, and expand IMSE design possibilities by tailoring materials to TactoTek requirements. In addition, co-branded demonstrators have been designed to enable partners to promote TactoTek solutions using their materials.

While TactoTek expected to manufacture the first mass production IMSE parts for automotive OEMs to validate mass production feasibility, that may not be the case. During the reporting period, several Tier 1 and Tier 2 automotive suppliers entered negotiations with TactoTek to become licensed manufacturers of IMSE solutions. Under these agreements, TactoTek will transfer the technology, intellectual property and know how to licensees who will directly supply OEMs. This movement is dominated by EU automotive OEM suppliers. Accelerating the licensing stage of TactoTek’s business strategy, if realized, will accelerate the adoption IMSE solutions.

Complimenting the accelerated interest in licensed manufacturing, is facilitating independent 3rd party design of IMSE solutions. To do so, TactoTek has codified IMSE ‘design rules’ for reliable and repeatable IMSE design and manufacturing in a proprietary knowledge base. TactoTek is integrating these design rules into the computer-aided design (CAD), engineering (CAE) and simulation software that product designers use in their daily work. These IMSE designs can only be manufactured by TactoTek or a TactoTek licensed manufacturer. TactoTek is working in partnership with market leaders in CAD, CAE and simulation to achieve immediate market reach when these tools are released to market in 2019.
TactoTek’s objective is to enable OEMs to fulfill customer expectations, satisfy their design requirements and differentiate their products by transforming the way that electronics are designed and manufactured with injection molded structural electronics (IMSE). By encapsulating the complexity of multiple parts and technology layers into a single structure, TactoTek enables new design possibilities that align with automotive OEM objectives including lighter, thinner, seamless 3D active electronic surfaces. The EU OEMs leading IMSE adoption are embracing opportunities to differentiate their products with new styling and electronic functions. Moreover, they will do so while reducing plastics use (petrochemical products), reducing mass, simplifying assembly.

EU Tier 1 and Tier 2 automotive suppliers are positioning themselves to lead the market transformation to IMSE solutions by being the first to negotiate licensing agreements with TactoTek. These agreements include commitments to develop multiple IMSE solutions that they will directly market to their OEM customers. While most of these prospective licensees have international operations that extend beyond the EU, EU automotive OEMs are their initial target customers. What’s more, the value of IMSE technology is well-recognized in Asia and other markets, and TactoTek’s early licensees will be positioned to fulfill that demand.

Socio-economic impact can be measured on a number of dimensions, including:
• Direct and indirect job creation,
• Showcasing EU technology and manufacturing innovation that enables design advances, and
• Environmentally-friendly technology.

In addition to TactoTek’s own rapid growth, TactoTek’s licensing model supports advances, innovation and growth for its licensees. By transforming commodity decorative parts manufacturers into ‘smart surface’ providers, it also drives the need for highly skilled, employees engaged in high technology manufacturing.

Integrating electronic functionality into cosmetic surfaces is a global vision, not just of TactoTek, but one shared by OEMs and their suppliers. Within the scope of the H2020 project, TactoTek is contributing to establishing the EU as the global leader in smart automotive surface innovation and productization.

Because IMSE solutions often reduce the plastics content of control panels by 50%, they dramatically reduce petroleum derived materials use and their related processing. In addition, IMSE is additive manufacturing and doesn’t generate toxic waste streams associated with some substitute technologies. Lastly, because IMSE solutions are light and thin, they reduce vehicle weight—particularly important for maximizing range and efficiency of electric vehicles.