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The wireless industry demands increased complexity and miniaturization of antennas, combined with a need to integrate a multi-radio environment into one component. We offer a wide array of customized antenna solutions to accommodate the mechanical constraints of your application, design and manufacture antennas that comply with the most stringent operating requirements, and are a pioneer of customized embedded antenna solutions. Let us design the antenna you have been looking for.
To manufacturing antennas for our customers, molded interconnect device (MID) technology is a tried and true method; however, three dimensional printing is an emerging manufacturing process we are now using to produce antennas. In addition, our in-house capability for designing, assembling, and testing speaker acoustic modules (SAMs) allows us to design the antenna and acoustic chamber as one assembly. We offer details on these technologies and methods below.
Molded Interconnect Device (MID) Technology
TE is one of the leading providers of MID technology with more than 25 years mass production experience. In its most basic form, MID technology is defined as a process that results in selectively plated plastic parts. This technology is most often used in three basic ways: electromechanical (signal or current carrying traces), RF technology (antennas), and for shielding applications. MIDs can integrate electrical and mechanical elements into almost any shape of interconnect device allowing entirely new functions to be created while facilitating the miniaturization of products.
TE is a global leader in MID technology. As a focused and agile company, we have many years of experience in designing and manufacturing custom solutions – making everyday products better. Our technology and products deliver superior performance needed to operate diverse applications in various industries around the world.
Two-shot molding is a mature and well understood process that remains viable for cost effective and repeatable production of MIDs. The basic process has only two steps, injection molding of two distinct thermoplastic polymers and the electroless plating process, resulting in a selectively plated component. In order to achieve the selectivity during plating, a catalyst doped “plateable” resin is molded in conjunction with a standard non-plateable resin to define the desired area to be plated. This area is metalized initially with copper, followed by nickel and, optionally, gold plating. The following are just a few of the advantages MID two-shot technology delivers compared to alternative technologies: Design flexibility for complex 3D geometries, ability to integrate multiple functions into one component, tightest tolerance for pattern registration to carrier, fewest manufacturing steps and processes, higher yields, improved scaleability.
Manufacturing process for 2-shot molded interconnect device (MID) antennas, including molding, plating, RF test, and packaging.
Summary below video: 2-Shot Molded Interconnect Device (MID) Antennas
Manufacturing process for 2-Shot Molded Interconnect Device (MID) antennas; includes molding, plating, RF test and packaging.
Transcript: Molded Interconnect Device
- The 2-shot MID process begins at molding. Here, two plastics with specific properties are molded together to form a single piece.
- In most products, a first-shot plastic, which will not be plated, will be shot into the mold. This plastic forms the base of the part and leaves space for the next plastic to be injected.
- The mould rotates, and a special second-shot plastic is injected. This material is chosen for its high plateability, as well as compatibility with the first shot.
- This fully automated moulding process degates the parts, removing leftover material and transferring it for reuse or scrap.
Electroless Plating Process
- The Qingdao Plating Line is one of the biggest of its kind. Parts are loaded into racks, carrying four plastic barrels, specially designed to allow easy, quality assurance sampling…
- …during the plating process. Parts are transferred, using an automated hoisting system, to the first part of plating process: Chromic Etch. The etch activates the surface of the product… allowing the second-shot material to plate.
- The full-build copper bath can hold three individual lots of product at a time. The electroless copper deposits on the activated areas of the part and places anywhere from six to 15 microns on the part.
- After the copper layer has been deposited, a palladium initiator is used to promote the application of one to three microns of electroless nickel. The nickel provides a strong barrier to corrosion and protects the copper surface from oxidation.
- A final plated layer of electroless gold is used on some products to allow for the easy attachment of components through soldering.
- Once the plating process is completed, the parts are transferred from the plating barrel to…
- … industrial spin dryers. Water is removed efficiently from the parts to reduce the chance of staining the finished metal surface.
Antenna RF Testing
- Finished antennas undergo 100% RF testing at TE Qingtao. Specially designed features are used to test the resonating characteristics of the parts and make sure that they meet strict performance criteria.
- For large-scale processing, TE has developed an automatic analyzing system, which uses a robotic handling system to move parts through RF testing and directly into the tray for packaging. The network analyzer checks the parts and activates an alarm if a product fails, so it can be separated from good product.
- Parts are placed in trays designed individually for each product to ensure that no damage can occur to the part during shipment.
- Some electronic components can be fragile and contamination of the surface can damage their performance. TE recognizes this and puts emphasis on proper packaging. Stacks of trays are first bundled with tape, and then placed within a plastic bag.
- A final layer of packaging material is then secured around the bundle and the parts are placed in boxes for final shipping.
Laser direct structuring (LDS) is an exciting technology used to create molded interconnect devices (MIDs). Through the use of the dedicated laser system and a variety of the proprietary resins, it opens up many possibilities to create 3D MIDs with finer line width and spacing than what is possible with the conventional MID processes. LDS is a three-step process. First, the antenna is molded in a standard single shot mold using one of the LDS resins. Second, the desired pattern is directly structured onto the antenna by the 3D laser system. Finally, the pattern is plated using industry-standard methods where the plating adheres to the plastic only where the plastic has been activated by the laser, thus creating a conductive pattern. LDS offers additional two-shot technology advantages: the ability to produce thin (0.15 mm) traces; flexibility for pattern changes during production; and simple, fastest, and lowest cost tooling.
The laser direct structuring (LDS) manufacturing process for molded interconnect device (MID) antennas.
Title: LDS Molded Interconnect Device (MID) Antennas
Summary: Laser Direct Structuring (LDS) manufacturing process for Molded Interconnect Device (MID) antennas.
Headline: Laser Direct Structuring: 160i MicroLine vs. Fusion High Volume Laser
Subhead: TE illustrates two methods for the laser direct structuring (LDS) manufacturing process for molded interconnect device (MID) antennas.
- The 160i from LPKF is a specially designed laser system that etches away the surface of a moulded plastic part, made with a compounded resin. The resin has a filler material blended into it that can be activated for plating. Parts are placed within fixtures designed to meet specific tolerances and hold the product during the lasering process. These fixtures can be fixed to the table as shown here for prototypes or also used in a rotating jig for production processing.
- Location is important, so TE fixtures are fitted with clamps and other mounting devices to make sure that the parts do not move, and that they align precisely every time.
- Once the product has been secured within the fixture, the table rotates, using a two-hand control system. A protective shield of laser safety glass separates the worker from…
- … the operation. The track of the laser…
- …is controlled by computer, where a CAD program has been loaded and conditioned.
- Based on the plastic substrate, settings for power, speed and frequency are chosen.
- Patterns on laser products range from large areas up to 160 millimeters to delicate trace widths of 150 microns. Ventilation pulls dust generated from the ebullition process to avoid contamination on the surface. Here, three patterns are being drawn…
- …using the same program. This is often necessary for large or complex products.
- The LDS fusion high volume laser process is essentially the same as that of the 160i, with the added benefit of automation. Parts are initially placed on trays designed to convey the parts into the machine. A number of trays are used so that parts can be queued up in advance of the process.
- Once inside the machine, the parts are picked up by a robotic system, equipped with vacuum suction or mechanical grippers and placed precisely into the laser fixture. These fixtures rotate the part 360 degrees to expose all surfaces and ensure precise location of the part during the lasering process. Empty trays leave the machine for further loading, while the finished part is placed on a conveyor belt for transport to a holding bin before going to plating.
Printing is an emerging manufacturing process being used to produce antennas. The antenna carrier is molded of standard resin materials, then the antenna pattern is structured onto the carrier by applying a conductive, non-plate particulate in a tightly controlled manner with a 3D print system. This process uses no special resins; requires no plating; offers flexibility to make pattern changes easily; and is a simple, fast, low-cost, and environmentally friendly tooling method.
TE has in-house capability for designing, assembling, and testing speaker acoustic modules (SAMs). The antenna and acoustic chamber are designed together as one assembly. The acoustic chamber becomes the carrier for the antenna using one of two different technologies to manufacture MID antennas: 2-shot molding or laser direct structuring (LDS). SAMs are 100 percent radio frequency (RF) and acoustic tested in the production line prior to packaging. This antenna offers a space-saving combination of acoustic chamber and antenna, as well as RF testing after speaker integration to SAM.
Manual and automated assembly of a flexible printed circuit (FPC) antenna onto a molded plastic carrier.
Title: Flexible Printed Circuit (FPC) Antenna Assembly
Summary: Manual and automated assembly of a Flexible Printed Circuit (FPC) Antenna onto a moulded plastic carrier.
Headline: Assembly Process of a Flexible Printed Circuit Antenna onto a Carrier
Subhead: TE is proud to illustrate both the manual and the automated assembly process of a flexible printed circuit antenna onto a carrier.
View the manual assembly process
- The manual assembly starts with the FPC bending process, which is divided into two stages. Shown here is Stage 1 where a specific bend is performed…
- …after which the part is handed off to Stage 2, where the bending process of the assembly is complete.
- Next, we see the attachment of the FPC to the carrier. First, the adhesive backing is removed, and then the carrier is attached to the FPC.
- At this final stage, the carrier and FPC assembly are placed in the press, where they are held under pressure to assure that a proper FPC to carrier adhesion is achieved.
View the automated assembly process
- Here we see the first stage of the automation process. The FPCs are hand-placed onto the jigs. The jigs move the FPCs into position to be picked and placed onto the automation table.
- Next up are the two, FPC bending stages. Each stage performs a specific bend to the FPC.
- At this stage, the FPC adhesive backing is removed, in preparation for attaching the carrier onto the FPC.
- All carriers are placed into a barrel, which automatically feeds the line with carriers. A feeding line moves the carriers into position, to be placed onto the FPCs.
- Once in place, the carrier is attached onto the FPC.
- We then see the carrier and FPC assembly being moved to the hold under pressure portion of the automation process. Each part is held under pressure for a determined amount of time to assure proper adhesion between the FPC and the carrier is achieved.
- At final stage of the automated process, the parts are picked from the press and hold jig to the storage trays.
Applying TE’s leading consumer and composite technologies to deliver lighter, smaller solutions for harsh environments in aerospace and defense. The future of antenna packaging begins with TE today: TE’s expertise in moldable composites, sophisticated metallization, and manufacturing yields advanced antenna configurations. Save space and weight. Achieve conformal designs integrated into your platform. Reduce the number of discrete antennas with multifunctional designs.