So what exactly is “micro injection molding”? Well, as the term would lead you to believe, micro injection molding (MIM) is a process which requires a highly-specialized molding machine with high-injection pressure and speed, precise shot control and ultra-fine resolution for molding tiny tools and parts. MIM is used for the manufacture of small products that require exact specifications.
Micro injection molding is usually reserved for parts that weigh less than a milligram and are less than 1mm in length and is centered around medical and healthcare applications, which accounted for 35% of the total market in 2012. The rapid advancement of micro-fluidics technology, mainly in North America and Europe, is expected to drive the market for micro molding in medical and healthcare over the next few years.
Of course, MIM is not limited to the manufacture of small parts but also may be employed for larger products which require micro-sized features such as thickness, diameter hole, etc.
In the medical parts industry, MIM is used to manufacture parts such as sensors, implants, tubes, catheter tips, micro optics and others. MIM products are quickly supplanting traditional machined components, such as silicone, that have been standard in the industry for decades. While heretofore silicone was the major raw material used for micro molding, thermoplastics are the raw materials of choice these days because of silcone’s relative high cost. Accelerating the growth of MIM-produced small devices has been the inexorable wave of new, minimally invasive surgical procedures which call for these tiny parts.
The chief advantage of micro injection molding over micro-machining is economic. Micro injection molding takes a fraction of time to mold components and utilizes cheaper raw materials as compared to machining. This results in higher profit margins.
While medical and healthcare applications dominated the thermoplastics micro molding market and accounted for 35% of the total market in 2012, the technology is not limited to this segment. For example, micro molding is used for manufacturing micro connectors in telecom fiber optics. Telecom fiber optics applications of MIM are expected to exceed $95 million by 2019. MIM is also used for manufacturing micro switches, connectors and airbag sensors in the automotive industry, which is expected to grow almost 14% from 2013 to 2019.
Worldwide, thermoplastic micro-molding demand for drive systems and control is expected to rise to $89 million by 2019.