Markus Thamm

Salcon International
Aug. 12, 2022
Markus Thamm

Salcon International

Enviromental performance of inmold structural electronics (IMSE) across the lifecycle

TactoTek focuses on reducing the environmental impact of its IMSE technology and thereby improving its sustainability - from the initial design of its products through their endof-life. Striving for continuous improvement, TactoTek partners with different organizations to conduct studies on the topic and get reliable results. 

Assesing enviromental performance 

As per best practice, TactoTek works with external experts and institutions to provide objective views on environmental performance. This is to ensure to work with the latest methods and analysis techniques to find out the real data and facts on environmental performance. Most recently, they worked with a company called ‘2.-0 LCA Consultants’, a well-known actor in the field with a proven track record for LCA studies. 

Their methodology, ‘Consequential LCA’, or cLCA for short, answers what the different drivers for the environmental impacts are, for example, the production of consumer electronics. This method is particularly appropriate for TactoTek’s technologies.

Source: Pixabay

Comparing IMSE to conventional solutions

In practice, this means to compare two different digital twin IMSE solutions against a conventional solution to see how IMSE fares against product components in the current market and get further information about the environmental performance of IMSE parts contrasted to conventional solutions.

As objects to the study, a conventional HumanMachine-Interface (HMI) panel, a panel made with IMSE technologies, and a panel with an IMSE System in Package (SiP) were chosen. SiP means bringing the control electronic components inside part, further minimizing the size of the PCB. 

The study was designed in cooperation with Dr. Ivan Muñoz from 2.-0 LCA Consultants to get accurate, robust, and reliable results of the environmental impacts of IMSE. For the input information on the parts, the team at TactoTek gathered the required data on the conventional part and created comparable IMSE designs. After the input data, certain aspects of the study have been agreed on, such as amounts produced annually, geographical locations of materials, components, manufacturing, use, etc. The rest is subject to the LCA modeling done by 2.-0 LCA Consultants.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

The chosen reference part was deliberately close to an IMSE solution regarding its technical features and technologies to achieve realistic results. The aim was to see the differences between the environmental performance of IMSE head to head with other modern capacitive touch devices. For example, the reference part had capacitive touch buttons instead of mechanical switches.

Comparing the reference device with the ones using IMSE technology showed that IMSE helps lower lifetime greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 56% for an IMSE solution with external electronics and 62% for an IMSE System in Package (SiP) solution. Considering the similarity of the devices, the circa 60% reduction in GHG emissions was a positive surprise and proves that IMSE lowers the environmental impact significantly. Another outcome was the unexpectedly high impact of the printed circuit board on GHG emissions. 

As already known from a previous LCA study, the printed circuit board (PCB) affects GHG emissions, but when the relative mass of the PCB to the total mass of the control panel was higher, the impact was remarkable.

Better performance of IMSE among the other impact categories 

The study results also showed that IMSE performs better not only in greenhouse gas emissions but in all of the 14 measured impact categories. The results were monetized to rank their environmental impact according to their perceived damage to the environment. This enables the comparison of different impact categories, even if the actual units are different per category. The list contains a few examples from the impact categories with percentages for the relative impact of IMSE and IMSE SiP against the reference part: 

  • Respiratory inorganics: IMSE 62% reduction, IMSE SiP 68% reduction
  • Greenhouse gas emissions: IMSE 56% reduction, IMSE SiP 62% reduction
  • Human toxicity, carcinogens: IMSE 58% reduction, IMSE SiP 65% reduction
  • Nature occupation: IMSE 39% reduction, IMSE SiP 48% reduction
  • Acidification: IMSE 54% reduction, IMSE SiP 63% reduction

 A similar trend is visible in all impact categories.

Source: TactoTek®

Developing sustainability of IMSE further 

TactoTek is dedicated to investigating more ways to improve the environmental performance of its technology. One main effort is researching replacement materials for the IMSE production that are more sustainable and still ready for mass production. The company already has some in use that are industrystandard, but is working on verifying more. Replacement materials have identical technical properties as conventional materials but with biobased materials mixed in.

Another promising approach is the recyclability of IMSE. TactoTek cooperates with recycling companies and research facilities in developing knowledge on the recyclability of IMSE. Initial results state that recycling is a no-brainer for materials created during manufacturing. For IMSE parts, pyrolysis looks to be a promising approach; circular material loops can be made for metals and plastics, as well. Currently, the company is placing a big emphasis on generating sufficient knowledge and gathering a group of recycling companies to recycle IMSE, and then providing these contacts to license partners.

An Outlook to the future

TactoTek is still a young company but has been focused on sustainability from the beginning. LCA and recycling studies have proven that IMSE provides substantial benefits to the environmental performance of electronics manufacturing with possibilities to enable circular material loops. TactoTek is committed to developing and enabling ecodesign principles through IMSE technologies for all industries. In addition to the continuous efforts in terms of materials and recyclability, we have already commissioned 2.-0 LCA Consultants to conduct another LCA study. This time, the focus is on automotive interior parts and comparing a new center console control panel to an IMSE part that can produce the same or similar features and functionalities.

These results will help to create a holistic picture of IMSE environmental impacts during the total lifecycle of any product using IMSE technologies. There will also be a focus on further development of the IMSE recycling and circular economy knowledge. With the right partners it is possible to find a way to enable material loops for not only metals but also plastics, making IMSE the most sustainable technology for producing smart surfaces across industries. For more information on the LCA study and upcoming activities a webinar on the Environmental Performance of IMSE can be downloaded. 


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