In many branches of industry, three-dimensional molded interconnect devices, MID for short, are increasingly gaining in importance. The integration of mechanical, electrical and optical functions into a component enables the miniaturization and rationalization of assembly units. Injection-molded parts are predominantly used as the basis for MID components. Under the catchword “additive mechatronization”, the development of new processes, for which the additive generation of mechanical structures is combined with electrical functionalization, is currently being brought to the fore.
Advantages over conventional metallization processes
For the selective metallization of polymer surfaces, procedures are primarily applied in which galvanic or wet-chemical process steps are necessary. Through prior laser structuring (as in so-called laser direct structuring), or through drying and sintering processes subsequent to the metallization, the process chain for the established procedures is comparatively extensive. Cold plasma spraying, developed at the Fraunhofer IST Application Center for Plasma and Photonics, enables polymer components to be selectively metallized without wet chemistry and without pre- or post-treatment steps. The adjacent figures top and middle show sections of such an MID component.
The main feature of cold plasma spraying is the utilization of a low-temperature plasma jet, generated from e.g. air or nitrogen. Particle-bearing aerosols or suspensions of ultra-fine character are fed into the process gas. In comparison to the powder material used in established processes such as thermal plasma spraying or cold gas spraying, the spray additive in cold plasma spraying exhibits a smaller particle size/mass or is morphologically so designed that the specific surface area is large.The coating material can therefore be efficiently melted in a low-temperature plasma jet. The heat transfer to a substrate is locally limited at the point of impact of the spray particles and occurs within a short period of time, i.e. until the molten spray particles solidify into so-called splats. This makes it possible to apply metal coatings to thermally and mechanically sensitive underlays such as polymer and elastomer components, natural materials such as wood and paper, or thin films, without causing damage.
The coating is produced without the use of binders and without wet-chemical pre-procedures. Per passage, layer thicknesses of 5 - 20 μm at a coating speed of approx. 100 mm/s can be realized. The objects are additionally refined under ambient pressure, enabling the process to be integrated into more complex inline-capable procedures. Due to the high degree of automation and the kinematic flexibility of a robot-aided coating facility, it is also possible to produce more sophisticated 3D molded interconnect devices (see the adjacent figures top and bottom). This enables the production of a wide range of functional layers for plastics. For example, plastics can be metallized in order to stabilize the substrate or can be equipped with a high electrical or thermal conductivity or antibacterial effect.