Last week we kickstarted a five-part blog series on backlighting technologies. Our first blog provides a framework to approach any new backlighting project and overcome design challenges. In this blog, we will be focusing on the first and the most popular backlighting technology – discrete LEDs.
Light-emitting diodes (LEDs), also referred to as discrete LEDs, are point-source lights that can be lit individually or in a group to illuminate a small area. Thanks to their low cost, thin construction, and long operating life, discrete LEDs have enjoyed widespread popularity and adoption across industries as diverse as medical, aerospace, automotive, and more.
Types of LEDs
LEDs come in different packages of varying shapes, sizes, types, and heights. The most commonly utilized types include surface-mount LEDs (top-fire or side-fire) and bullet LEDs. LED-backlit designs can be constructed in a range of colors and brightness levels. For example, a bi-colored LED as an indicator light turns green when the device is in use and the same light turns orange when the device is in standby mode.
In addition to the traditional single and bi-colored LEDs, RGB LEDs have opened doors to a wide gamut of colors and accent lighting options. RGB technology, combining three LEDs in a single package, mixes the three primary colors (red, green, and blue) in varying intensities to generate any color on the RGB spectrum. As a result, a single LED is capable of producing multiple colors.
LEDs are available in different correlated color temperature (CCT) values like the cool blues, warm yellows, and other tints. Whether you need dimmable, flashing, or non-flashing lights, LED designs can be composed in various styles. They can also be configured to light up all at once or selectively, as the design dictates. While surface-mount LEDs can either be mounted on a silver printed membrane, copper-etched flex circuit, or a printed circuit board with a connector that attaches to the mainboard, bullet LEDs can only be mounted on the latter two.
Advantages of LED backlighting
As point-sources of light, LEDs are great for small icons or indicator light applications, communicating the working or the status of the device. Some of the core advantages of discrete LEDs are:
- Thin and robust construction
- Limited impact on the tactile feel of buttons or snap domes
- Long operating life (100,000 - 500,000+ hours)
- Ability to illuminate the same area with different colors
- Varying brightness level and color options
Limitations with LED backlighting
LEDs usually struggle with lighting up large surfaces uniformly. A high count of LEDs in a concentrated area or placement of them close to a graphic overlay can create unwanted hotspots (bright areas) over or near the light source. Fortunately, both of these issues can be overcome by utilizing an elastomer keypad or overlay. Rubber overlays optimize light diffusion from LEDs, thereby mitigating hotspots and ensuring consistent brightness over the surface. A common challenge with elastomer is that it has a very different texture compared to a polycarbonate overlay and adds substantial thickness to the construction stack-up. Light dams or barricades often need to be incorporated in the design to overcome light bleed from one LED to the adjacent window. If you need to backlight a larger area and elastomer is not possible, you may want to consider a light guide film or fiber optic weave, which will be covered in our upcoming blogs.
To see a few examples of LED backlighting projects and learn more about this technology, watch our short video below.
This month we are kicking off a five-part blog series on backlighting. The series will begin with an overview of how to approach a backlighting project and each subsequent blog will review one of the four most popular backlighting technologies: discrete LEDs, light guide film, fiber optic weave, and electroluminescence.
Why should you be thinking about backlighting?
Backlighting has become an industry standard to augment the functionality and aesthetics of a device. From home appliances to aircraft cabins, and car dashboards to industrial controllers, backlit devices and accents are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. Backlighting is a simple way to improve visual appeal, enhance the user experience, and lend a distinctive style to your user interfaces. It can assist and guide users towards the correct operation of a device, especially in dimly lit and dark environments. It also provides vital feedback about user actions and interactions.
How to determine the most optimal backlighting solution?
Designers and product development teams often wonder when the right time is to start thinking about backlighting when developing new products. Ideally, backlighting should be considered at the very beginning of the design phase. This gives you the flexibility to evaluate available technologies and allows engineers to integrate backlighting seamlessly with the other technologies and features of the design.
To establish the best backlighting solution, the first step is to create a list of requirements and assess the proposed design. Start by asking these questions:
- What environment will the device be primarily used in - indoor or outdoor?
- Will the device be primarily used in ambient light, bright sunlight, or dimly lit spaces?
- Do you want to light up a small indicator window or backlight large areas like texts and graphics?
- How many colors do you need?
- Will all the areas be lit at once or do they need to be independently controlled?
- Are there any buttons or snap domes that need to be integrated into the design as well?
- What power type is available – is it a portable unit or a plug-in?
- What are the cost constraints?
Backlighting design concerns and considerations
Based on the responses to these questions, you should be able to evaluate which backlighting solution or combination of backlighting solutions could work with your device. Once you have evaluated and selected the most appropriate technology, you need to address all the design concerns and challenges that the technology presents. A few parameters to address include –
- Will the light source create hotspots? If yes, how can they be mitigated?
- Will the light bleed from one section to the other? Do I need a light-blocking layer?
- Is the construction stack-up too thin or too thick for the design?
- Is the backlighting affecting the tactile feedback of the buttons or switch technology?
- What brightness level does the design demand?
- Should the light source be mounted on a printed circuit board or printed membrane?
- What are the minimum and maximum sizes of the light source that can be used in the design?
- How many light sources do I need?
It is the interplay of several factors that ultimately dictate and influence the design, each of which is important when examining the cost structure of the project. While this is not an exhaustive list of design considerations and concerns, it provides a framework to effectively begin to approach your backlighting project by forecasting design hurdles and addressing them promptly.
To dive deeper into the four most popular backlighting technologies, read our other blogs in this series -
When developing a user interface, it’s important to consider what the user needs to see during an interaction. For certain applications, calling attention to an indicator or warning light while keeping others hidden can be crucial. For situations where eliminating distractions, keeping a clean aesthetic, and emphasizing certain switches or indicators is imperative, look no further than dead front printing.
What is dead front printing?
Dead front printing is the process of printing alternate colors behind the main color of a bezel or overlay. This allows indicator lights and switches to be effectively invisible unless actively being backlit. Backlighting can then be applied selectively, illuminating specific icons and indicators. Unused icons stay hidden in the background, calling attention solely to the indicator in use.
Printing methods and substrates for dead front overlays
There are two ways to illuminate a dead front overlay, each of which requires a different printing approach. The first method is to use LEDs directly behind each indicator or icon. This approach simplifies the printing process (since LEDs provide the colors, the printing generally employs a single color behind each button). Alternatively, different translucent colors can be printed selectively behind various indicators. With the use of translucent colors, almost any backlighting method can be used since it’s the ink behind the iconography that gives the indicator its hue.
Diffusers are often applied behind the lights to maintain consistency throughout an overlay. Particularly with LEDs, diffusers can help eliminate hotspots, where one part of the letter or icon appears much brighter than other parts. Once a part is ready, a standard is made, so any future overlays or alterations are readily available and can easily be matched to the standard.
While dead front printing is technically possible with almost any colored bezel or overlay, it’s generally seen on overlays and bezels printed with neutral colors. Typically printed on polycarbonate, polyester, or glass, colors such as white, black, or gray tend to hide unused indicators the most effectively.
Developing dead front control panels with GMN
When developing a new dead front overlay, experimentation is often necessary to get the perfect look. Given the breadth of possible lighting options, ink densities, color palates, and substrates, maintaining a consistent look across an overlay often requires several prototypes to be developed. At GMN, we have a state-of-the-art color lab, a light lab, and a full printing team that works in tandem to match and perfect colors. Within our color lab, spectrophotometers and spectroradiometers are frequently utilized to get specific color values necessary for matching. Our light lab will then work with the printing team to narrow down the exact mixture and density of ink necessary for the specific substrate and required look.
Dead front printing is an excellent option for a wide variety of applications such as automotive dashboards, aerospace indicators, and touch user interfaces. Want to learn how dead front printing can help your product be more efficient while ensuring a clean aesthetic? Watch the video below and schedule a consultation with our experts.
In our previous blog, we talked about the different kinds of resistive touchscreens and how they compare. While resistive screens offer a high level of versatility, another one of the most widely used touchscreen varieties is the projected capacitive touchscreen. Below, we’ll be discussing the key features and advantages that make projected capacitive technology such a popular touchscreen option.
What are projected capacitive (PCAP) touchscreens?
In contrast to resistive touchscreens, projected capacitive touchscreens don’t require any physical pressure to activate. Rather, they rely on projecting a capacitive field through the display. This field is then disrupted by electrical impulses from the human body when the cover glass is touched. PCAP touchscreens have grown immensely in popularity over the last several years and are primarily used in smartphones, monitors, and any other device that requires both durability and precision.
Advantages of projected capacitive (PCAP) touchscreens
Originally thought of as expensive and unreliable, the technology for projected capacitive touchscreens has consistently improved. Over the years, the cost of manufacturing has come down significantly enough to rival that of many resistive options. The specificity to which the input sensitivity can be tuned has also become advanced enough to reject dust, oil, grease, gels, and other agents, while still effectively gauging user input. This makes them ideal for industries where high cleanability and input precision is required.
Since the input is simply a disruption to the capacitive field, PCAP screens allow for multi-touch functionality, such as zooming, rotating, and more. However, due to the reliance on electrical impulses for input, there are limits to what can be used to activate it. The sensitivity can be tuned to register styluses and gloves, but the item used has to be able to successfully disrupt the capacitive field. This may be less ideal than resistive touchscreens for certain applications, where it may be necessary to use other objects to input information.
Due to PCAP touchscreens not relying on separate panels making contact, damage to the cover glass or acrylic generally won’t affect user input, making them durable enough to handle nearly infinite activations. Because of their construction, PCAP touchscreens also display an extremely high-clarity image. Since the layers are bonded together with optically clear adhesive (as opposed to with an air gap between layers as with resistive touchscreens), the displayed image has a high level of light transmission and is very clear. Coupled with rarely losing calibration, they are durable and remain precise throughout their lifespan.
Ultimately, the decision to use either a resistive or projected capacitive touchscreen comes down to the application. Regardless of what type of user interface system you’re looking for, GMN’s experts can help you find the perfect touchscreen for your next product. Find out more about our display integration capabilities or set up a consultation with our experts.
In today’s world, touchscreens are omnipresent and expected by users on almost any interface system. Widely used in a variety of industries, there are many different types of touchscreen constructions available. Once you have decided to use a touchscreen, there are important design considerations to take into account. How should the touchscreen function when interacted with? Does it need to be durable enough for heavy usage and millions of actuations? Should it be incredibly precise and not require any calibration? Whether your biggest concern is cost, durability, or functionality, there are many different options.
The most commonly used touchscreens broadly fall into two categories: resistive and capacitive. In this blog, we will be focusing solely on the different types of resistive screens and their core advantages.
What are resistive touchscreens?
Resistive screens are made up of two conductive and transparent layers: a flexible top panel (typically made out of polyester or PET) and a rigid bottom panel. An adhesive spacer lies between the two layers. When pressure is applied to the top panel, it makes contact with the panel below. This contact interrupts a continuous current flowing between the panels, where a grid of horizontal and vertical lines allows a controller chip to know what was touched and gauge input accordingly. Since the input is calculated through physical pressure causing the two layers to make contact, resistive touchscreens work well for any gloved or stylus usage.
Types of resistive touchscreens
4-wire resistive touchscreen
The least expensive of all of the touchscreen options, 4-wire touchscreens are typically found in games, toys, and other inexpensive touchscreen applications. Since the accuracy is based on the top panel interacting with the bottom panel, any damage to the top panel will cause the accuracy to degrade. This generally makes them less reliable after heavy usage or many actuations. 4-wire touchscreens also have to be calibrated frequently as they get used to ensure that they register the correct input.
8-wire resistive touchscreen
Very similar to 4-wire in durability and usage, the only difference with an 8-wire screen is additional wiring. This additional wiring keeps the screen more precisely calibrated and allows it to auto-calibrate, meaning that it requires less maintenance to maintain accuracy than its 4-wire counterpart.
5-wire resistive touchscreen
Despite the similar name, 5-wire touchscreens are significantly different from the 4-wire and 8-wire variations. 5-wire screens measure input from the bottom panel only, not in tandem with the top panel. This means that regardless of any damage to the top layer, the usage of the touchscreen and accuracy of input won’t degrade. This makes them more durable and they generally last through many more actuations than other resistive options.
Resistive multi-touch screen (RMTS)
Resistive multi-touch screens (RMTS) are the only type of resistive screens that allow for multiple-touch functionality, such as pinching, zooming, or rotating. Similar to 5-wire screens, the bottom layer is the only layer that measures input, meaning that they’re more durable and well-suited for a rugged environment. EMI mesh can also be applied to the front surface, protecting internal components from outside electrical activity. This, in combination with the durability, makes them favorable for military and industrial applications.
Resistive touchscreens are a great option for a wide variety of applications and industries. To learn which touchscreen option is right for your next product, take a look at our front panel integration and bonding capabilities or request a free consultation with our technical experts.
Continuing the annual tradition since 2016, GMN Aerospace has once again donated to the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance (PNAA) scholarship fund. As a custom manufacturer and an experienced aerospace supplier, we understand that strengthening and supporting the future of aerospace right here in the Pacific Northwest is crucial.
Each year, GMN Aerospace’s donation goes towards helping students studying aerospace design, maintenance, and engineering at accredited Pacific Northwest colleges and universities. The scholarship helps these students purchase books, tools, and other necessary supplies for their programs. In 2019, GMN’s donation was awarded in the form of a scholarship to Oleksiy Zagorulko, an aviation maintenance technician (AMT) student finishing up his third quarter of classes at Clover Park Technical College.
“To be honest, this is the first scholarship I have ever received, and I am very excited to use it correctly to impact the community around me and help others in need. This career will affect the world by allowing more and more people to improve their traveling experiences by bringing it to the next level and allowing them to travel safer. Thank you very much for giving me such an amazing opportunity to be awarded a scholarship this is a really big help for me.” writes Oleksiy in his letter to GMN Aerospace. He plans on graduating next summer, and we wish him the best for his future in the aerospace industry.
GMN is proud to support passionate students like Oleksiy Zagorulko as they complete their aerospace education and kickstart their careers in this exciting field.
Are you in need of a highly durable and high-end looking nameplate? Then look no further than Metalphoto®. This incredibly dependable and innovative material is gaining popularity in highly regulated industries such as defense, transportation, industrial and aerospace.
Metalphoto® | Photosensitive anodized aluminum
Metalphoto® is a specific type of anodized aluminum used to make nameplates, labels, control panels, serial plates, placards and asset tags. Originally developed for the US Navy in the 1950's and specified by most major OEMs, it is one of the most durable identification materials available today. Our latest video demonstrates the step-by-step process in which Metalphoto® components are fabricated.
To begin the Metalphoto® process, all that is needed is a digital art file. This art file is transferred via laser onto a pure 1100 alloy aluminum sheet, which can range in thickness between 0.003” to 0.125”. The sheet is then put through a processor that develops the artwork on the photosensitive aluminum. Although Metalphoto® images and text are primarily black, additional colors can be screen-printed at this time.
The graphics are exposed and developed like a photograph inside of the anodized aluminum, which causes it to become a part of the nameplate. This unique production method provides the unparalleled durability that Metalphoto® is known for. Finally, the parts are placed in a nickel sulfite tank to seal the sliver-based graphics underneath the sapphire-hard anodic layer. All graphics and text on a Metalphoto® component are sealed inside of the anodic layer, making it ideal for any identification material where maintaining legibility is crucial. Metalphoto® comes in four different finishes: matte, satin, gloss and a #4 brushed finish that resembles stainless steel.
Benefits of Metalphoto® or anodized aluminum
Metalphoto® has several advantages over alternatives such as engraved or printed steel. It can sustain an outdoor life of 20+ years, can withstand temperatures in excess of 750°F and is specifically designed to be salt spray and chemical resistant. It is also is resistant to over 7,000 cycles of abrasion.
In addition, the graphics on Metalphoto® are significantly higher in resolution than those on etched steel. The method of using a projected image makes any letters, numbers, symbols and pictures extremely legible and appear as crisp and clean as a photograph. Metalphoto® is also less expensive than stainless steel in lower quantities, especially for variable data runs. Unlike steel nameplates, it does not require individual engraving, punching or laser marking for variability in images or information. Using the computerized imaging process also makes Metalphoto® perfect for serialization, as it does not affect the process or price to customize each Metalphoto® plate.
Certified Converter of Metalphoto®
GMN has been a certified converter of Metalphoto® for over 40 years and has been provided anodized aluminum solutions to several companies including Boeing, Starbucks, Inovus Solar, Lockheed Martin Corporation and more.
To see the Metalphoto® production process in action, watch our video below.
From luggage bin markers to seat row coupons, the interior of any aircraft comprises of several molded plastic parts. Primarily, there are three ways of printing graphics and texts on molded components namely screen printing, pad printing, and dye sublimation. However, each technique presents its own set of challenges and restrictions. For instance, screen and pad printing are not only time-consuming but also require a high set up cost. As you need different screens (or cliché plates) for even the smallest variation in artwork and color, the market for customization is highly prohibitive. On the other hand, dye sublimation makes it difficult to control color in the artwork and requires special equipment to process plastic. In addition to increased development costs, it doesn’t leave much room for customization either.
To overcome all the above limitations, GMN Aerospace has developed a proprietary technology that allows us to print on slightly contoured or curved surfaces. It also enables us to efficiently customize graphics without increasing tooling costs or processing time. The printed graphics in any aircraft are routinely subjected to harsh cleaning agents. The in-house technology utilizes Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) approved inks, thereby preventing the graphics from fading or scratching over time. Supporting the OEM qualification approval process, it also meets the flammability testing and requirements that ensure protection for compartment interiors.
In a nutshell, the proprietary printing process provides our customers with the following benefits –
- Ability to print on slightly contoured surfaces
- Flexibility to customize graphics in a cost-effective manner
- Accommodate low to high volume projects
- Improve durability with abrasion and chemical resistant graphics
GMN Aerospace has always been in the vanguard of embracing new technologies and employing efficient processes. After years of research and development, GMN Aerospace has given flight to this proprietary technology to meet the sophisticated needs of the aerospace industry. By reducing lead time and controlling development costs, the in-house technology is a step ahead in providing more value to our customers.
While the process is currently reserved for decorating plastic molded components within the cabin, GMN Aerospace looks forward to taking this technology to the exterior of the aircraft in the days to come. Envisioning the process to print raised and embossed graphics in the future, the technical experts at GMN see it gaining popularity over the existing techniques such as screen printing and in-mold decoration.
To learn about GMN Aerospace’s custom injection molding capabilities, visit our website here.
On October 12th, nearly 100 GMN employees and family members joined the Puget Sound Heart Walk community in support of fighting heart disease. The GMN team walked in honor of someone affected by heart disease or stroke, and to celebrate a healthy lifestyle.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and responsible for several disabilities. Envisioning a world free of cardiovascular diseases, the Heart and Stroke Walk is the American Heart Association’s (AHA) annual event for raising funds to save lives from heart disease and stroke.
The 2019 Puget Sound Heart and Stroke Walk featured a 5k untimed walk, 1k survivor walk, interactive health booths, and more! GMN has been actively participating and contributing to AHA’s mission since 2012. Like every year, the generous donations from the employees were matched by the Root family foundation, thereby doubling our impact. Funds raised for the AHA are used for research and education to help overcome cardiovascular disease, which claims more lives than cancer and car accidents combined. Funded research in the past has led to the development of pacemakers, artificial heart valves, bypass surgery, and blood pressure medication. Thanks to technological discoveries and education initiatives spearheaded by the AHA, phenomenal progress has been made in reducing a range of heart ailments.
Here’s a big shout out to the entire GMN team for heart-walking and fundraising for such a great cause. GMN is extremely proud to support AHA’s mission in raising awareness, inspiring action, and making a lasting impact on our lives.
This morning, GMN had the pleasure of hosting Brian Canfield, CEO of the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance (PNAA), at our Seattle, WA Division. During the meeting, Brian Canfield recognized GMN’s continued support and contribution to the PNAA’s scholarship program.
PNAA is a non-profit organization aimed towards promoting and strengthening the Pacific Northwest aerospace community. Committed to workforce development, PNAA’s scholarship program gives wings to eligible students in pursuing their careers in the aerospace industry. Sharing the same vision with PNAA, GMN has been a donor to the scholarship fund since 2016. Every year, GMN donates in memory of our long-time employee, Brent Sletmoe, who worked on the GMN Aerospace team for several years.
In a closely-knit industry such as the aerospace, GMN realizes the importance of supporting the next generation and helping build the future workforce. GMN’s donation in 2019 has helped qualified students from accredited universities in paying for books, supplies, tuition, and other college expenses. The students are currently pursuing varied careers within the aerospace industry including supply chain management, air traffic control, engineering, and design.
GMN is truly honored to support PNAA’s vision of a brighter future and looks forward to a fruitful partnership in the years to come.