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Tech Watch: KURZís IMD/IMR Technology

Edited by Lara Copeland, contributing editor

Plastics Decorating

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KURZ, Charlotte, North Carolina, offers a broad portfolio of IMD/IMR transfer foils that affords great flexibility in design, enabling flexibility in aesthetic design via a wide range of effects, such as piano black, high-resolution four-color process graphics, engineered patterns and woodgrains (in continuous patterns or single image designs) and backlighting.

In-Mold Decoration, or IMD (also referred to as In-Mold Roll, or IMR), is a process of decorating plastic parts during the injection molding process, eliminating the need for post-decoration processes. The IMD/IMR process is utilized globally across a variety of industry sectors, including automotive, consumer electronic, medical and white goods, among many others, enabling unique and contemporary surface designs.

IMD foil is composed of decorative and functional coatings applied to a polyester carrier. The foil is fed into the injection molding tool and is precisely positioned within the cavity. The coatings, including multicolor print layers, are then transferred to the surface of the molded plastic part during the injection molding process.

IMD/IMR is frequently confused with In-Mold Labeling (IML), but these are two very different processes. IMD/IMR is commonly utilized in higher-value applications requiring mid- to long-range product life, such as automobiles, appliances and electronics, and in which stringent functional requirements are needed, such as chemical- and abrasion-resistance properties provided by custom-engineered coatings layers. IML is generally associated with disposable packaging applications or products with minimal functional characteristics and shorter lifecycle requirements.

The breadth of applications in consumer electronics, automotive and white goods sectors attests to the versatility of IMD. IMD/IMR technology also can be used to implement functional elements by equipping the foil with conductive or non-conductive layers or tactile properties, including metallization in multiple variants.

The IMD/IMR process offers substantial efficiency and cost effectiveness vs. alternative decoration media, especially for high-volume production. As the decoration of the part is integrated into the injection molding process, downstream application of decorative images is not required, providing significant savings in labor, work-in-process and time. Multiple aesthetic design elements can be replicated easily, as changing the graphic image in the IMD process is as simple as changing a roll of foil on the machine. Additionally, the IMD/IMR process is environmentally friendly, as the coating layers that are transferred are extremely thin.

IMD/IMR offers advantages in flexible design enhancement, quality, cost, time-to-market and differentiation. The process has proven to be highly cost effective in low-volume applications through screen printing, and in high-volume applications through rotogravure printing. IMD/IMR provides high flexibility in forming geometry and is a low-cost and lean process providing broad coverage of OEM decorative and functional requirements. IMD/IMR offers real flexibility in design variants, from a silky soft touch to tactile surfaces, and can be integrated with innovative backlighting, for example, for interior panels in automobiles.

IMD/IMR effectively combines molding and hot stamping into one working operation. By the complete decoration of plastic parts during the injection molding operation, production efficiencies are high, costs and in-process inventories are reduced, and downstream operations can be eliminated.