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Video: What is progressive die-cutting?
By Richard Smylie Apr 06, 2021
Steering wheel badge for Nissan

Tooling a part to size remains integral to the metal fabrication process. While there are several tooling possibilities including steel-rule and rotary die-cutting, laser and water jet cutting, and compound tools, which method do you employ for efficiently performing multiple operations on a metal component? The answer lies in our video below. By offering a peek into the functioning of progressive dies, the video clearly illustrates the many advantages of utilizing progressive die-cutting to drive productivity.

Progressive stamping process

To cement our understanding of progressive die-cutting, let’s dive deeper into the Nissan automotive badge featured in the video. Made from aluminum, the badge requires a flat, coiled metal strip to undergo blanking, pre-forming, forming, lancing, debossing, and cutting. If we were to perform each of these operations individually with separate stand-alone tools, it would not only be tedious but also time-consuming and expensive. Progressive die-cutting, also referred to as progressive stamping, is an effective and efficient way of performing multiple operations under a single die set. A die set comprises of multiple individual dies (or stations) that sequentially perform the desired processes on the metal. The minimum and the maximum number of stations in a die set are dictated by the design and part geometry.

Progressive die-cutting fabrication process

The fabrication process begins with mounting the die set on the stamping press and feeding the metal in a coil or sheet form to the press. Registration marks or holes on the metal allow for its precise alignment with the die’s progression. Even the slightest misorientation of the substrate with the die set can negatively impact the entire output and hence, remains a crucial factor in the die-cutting fabrication process. As you can see in the video, the press progressively transfers the metal sheet in the web from one die station to the next through an automated feeder mechanism. The six individual dies in the die set perform the following functions:

  • Die #1 - Cuts the outer circular shape of the badge
  • Die #2 - Lances the part to relieve the metal, thereby preventing it from being deformed in the later stages
  • Die #3 - Pre-forms the middle portion of the badge
  • Die #4 - Pre-forms the edges of the badge
  • Die #5 - Cuts out holes from the center of the badge
  • Die #6 - Debosses, forms, and cuts out the badge, all at the same time

At the end of the progression, the web and finished parts are separated from one another by a lance operation, and the final parts slide down a conveyor belt. An operator at the end of the belt inspects and organizes the output. Once the progressive die-cutting process is completed, the Nissan badge undergoes anodizing and pad printing. Anodizing is an electro-chemical process that converts the aluminum surface into a durable, corrosion-resistant, and high-energy surface. Pad printing, an offset printing technique, transfers black ink into the recessed letters of the anodized badge. 

Advantages of progressive die-cutting

Suited for high production volumes, progressive stamping is particularly favored for its efficiency and reduced cycle times. The form, profile, and size of the part play a critical role in determining its fit for progressive stamping. This cutting method is ideal when project volumes are high and registration requirements are feasible.

To watch the progressive die-cutting press in action, watch our video here.

Mike Sorrels
Video: Understanding steel rule die-cutting
By Mike Sorrels Mar 30, 2021
Clamshell press at GMN's fabrication cell

In the manufacturing landscape, die-cutting is an indispensable fabrication process used to convert a wide range of materials into specific shapes and sizes. Whether you wish to utilize a custom-shaped silicone foam into a gasket, require a panel filler for a medical device, or simply need to cut out labels and adhesives, die-cutting allows you to efficiently cut materials in large volumes with increased consistency and accuracy.

While there are several die-cutting methods such as laser cutting, water-jet cutting, and rotary cutting, our video below offers a glimpse into steel rule die-cutting, one of the most common cutting methods utilized at GMN.

Steel rule dies and clamshell die-cutting press 

Made of steel, the die is formed by bending, curving, cutting, and shaping a straight steel rule in the required pattern. Once the rule is mounted and secured on a laser-cut wooden board, the die is ready to use. The lead time to make a steel rule die ranges between one to three days, depending on the complexity of the design.

Steel rule die-cutting is typically performed on a clamshell press. Comprised of two platens – one stationary and one movable – the press in different tonnages can support varied sizes and materials. As seen in the video, the die is installed on the stationary platen and the material to be cut is placed on the movable platen.

The precise alignment of the material is ensured with one of the following ways:

  • 3-point registration system - This consists of two grips to hold the material in place and one guide mark to accurately align it with the die.
  • Pin-register system - Pre-punched registration marks on the substrate itself that can be aligned to the die position. 

The movable platen is pressed against the stationary one to complete the cutting process. Although most of the steel rule die-cutting is performed on a clamshell press, GMN also utilizes vertical, cylinder, horizontal, roll-to-roll, and hydraulic punch presses to cut a broad array of materials such as polycarbonate, paper, foam, Lexan, and aluminum. The hardness of the material directly influences the maximum material thickness that the presses can accommodate.

Advantages of steel rule die-cutting

With the versatility to accommodate varying shapes, sizes, materials, and designs, steel rule die-cutting is undoubtedly one of the most popular die-cut fabrication methods to meet your unique needs. Steel rule dies allow up to 10,000 hits approximately, and therefore, can be used for medium to high production volumes. In addition to achieving tolerances as low as 0.01”, steel rule die-cutting offers you the flexibility to accomplish kiss cuts, custom-shaped die-outs, clean cuts, scoring lines, and perforations.

Limitations with steel rule die-cutting

One of the limitations with steel rule die-cutting is that the steel rule has a minimum bending radius of 0.03” which means that any designs with square corners or the ones that require the steel rule to bend less than 0.03” are not suited for this technique. Nonetheless, it is a highly preferred solution due to its cost-effectiveness when compared with chemical etch dies and Class A tools. 

To see some of the clamshell presses at GMN in action, watch our video here.

Video: What is optical registration embossing?
By Richard Smylie Feb 25, 2021
Embossed metal nameplate

Embossing, the process of raising logos or graphic images, is a great way to augment the visual impact of any component. The tactile feel achieved as a result of the raised design reinforces the aesthetic appeal of a product. Embossing is one of the most versatile metal decoration techniques employed by a wide array of industries.

While there are different ways to emboss a component, how do you ensure the utmost precision while embossing decorated parts? How can the varying tolerances of the decoration process accurately align to a mechanical embossing operation? The answer to all these questions lies in our video below that clearly demonstrates the advantages of adding an optical registration system to the embossing process.

To illustrate the registration challenge imposed by any decoration process on embossing, let’s delve deeper into the HySecurity nameplate seen in the video. During the screen printing process, when a squeegee travels across the metal sheet, the deposition tolerance between the images can vary as much as 0.005” per inch. As such, an image from the leading to the trailing edge of a 24” sheet can vary around 0.12” (0.005” x 24”).  Conversely, the mechanical action of the embossing die does not exhibit this variation. So, when an operator feeds the metal sheet to the embossing machine, the tool cannot align accurately with the varying deposited images, sometimes creating an off-registered embossed part.

We can overcome this alignment challenge by adding an optical registration system to the embossing process and depositing a corresponding registration mark next to each design. In doing so, when the nameplate is being screen-printed, a registration mark is put down at the same time that correlates to the center of each artwork. At the embossing stage, the press uses an optical eye to locate the mark and make necessary adjustments to gain alignment between the printed graphic and the tool pitch, resulting in perfect embossing. Since the press automatically calibrates the location of every individual artwork and advances the sheet through the press, the process is ideal for parts that demand extremely tight registration. Resulting in extreme precision and accuracy, optical registration embossing provides a high degree of efficiency and consistency. The press overcomes tolerance variation that the actuator-fed emboss press falls short of.

The press can emboss a range of metals and alloys including stainless steel and aluminum. While the thickness of the material processed is directly related to the press tonnage of the machine, the embossing height depends on various factors such as the thickness, temper, and alloy of the metal. Since certain alloys have greater elongation characteristics, they can be embossed to a greater height as compared to the others. The press can emboss, deboss (recessed images), or perform both the processes simultaneously. It is well suited to emboss parts that are either screen, pad, or litho printed. Depending on the design intent, embossed parts can undergo secondary processes like forming, blanking, and die-cutting at a later stage. To see how the Vforce nameplate, featured in the video, went through diamond carving after it was embossed, watch our video here.

Over the last few decades, GMN has worked with several leading companies including Ford, Dell, Estée Lauder, and DW drums, to create clean and crisp embossed parts. To watch the embossing process, click on the video below.

Debbie-Anderson-GMN
Case study: Automotive backlighting diffuser
By Debbie Anderson Feb 23, 2021
PRNDL with magnified view of diffuser

When a leading auto supplier was designing the backlighting module for a new gear shift indicator (otherwise known as a PRNDL), they came to GMN to develop a custom light diffuser. The PRNDL would be featured in a line of premium vehicles, so the diffuser needed to ensure that the backlighting met strict standards for consistent brightness and uniform color in all lighting conditions.

GMN’s experts took to our state-of-the-art light lab to engineer a backlighting diffusion solution that met all of the project requirements. Leveraging GMN’s automotive experience, backlighting expertise, and printing capabilities, the diffuser successfully made its way onto PRNDLs in two separate vehicle models that can be found all across the world.

To learn how GMN successfully tackled a tough backlighting diffusion challenge, read our latest case study here.

Johhny Lu
Video: A look into laser cutting
By Johnny Lu Feb 09, 2021
Laser cutting technology at GMN

Whether it’s etching, engraving, or cutting materials, laser technology plays an integral role in the fabrication and decoration of various components. But how do lasers exactly work? Which materials can a laser cut? What are the key advantages of utilizing lasers in the manufacturing industry? By demonstrating the working of a few laser cutters at GM Nameplate (GMN), our video will answer all the above questions. 

How does laser technology work? 

As seen in the video, a laser is mounted on an X-Y motion stage of the cutting machine. Installed perpendicular to the substrate, the laser moves across the surface to heat, melt, and vaporize the material. As opposed to a standard flashlight, the light released here is coherent, monochromatic, and directional. The core cutting characteristics, such as depth, speed, and power, are dictated by the wavelength and the frequency of the laser light.

Laser cutting machines at GMN

The laser cutters at GMN can be categorized into the following three types -

  1. Fiber laser – Creating light by banks of diodes, fiber laser channels and amplifies light through a fiber optic cable. The wavelength created by a fiber laser is ideal for marking and etching intricate patterns.  
  2. CO2 laser – Utilizing CO2 as the amplifying medium, CO2 laser uses an electrical charge to excite the gas in a discharge tube to emit light. The frequency of this laser is ideal for cutting a broad range of substrates.
  3. Nitrogen laser – Similar to a CO2 laser, it uses nitrogen as the lasing medium to produce the cutting beam. At GMN, a nitrogen laser is employed for cutting aluminum and stainless steel.

To control the quality of the output, the laser cutters can also be accompanied by an assist gas such as nitrogen or air. The assist gas curtains the laser beam to swiftly vaporize the material after cutting, ensuring smooth and unblemished edges. Nitrogen gas assist is particularly suited for projects where upholding the aesthetics of the material is critical. By creating an inert field around the laser, nitrogen gas protects the substrate from unwanted flaming or burning. For any given application, it is the interplay of several factors such as design specifications, anticipated volumes, tolerance requirements, and cost restrictions, that determines the most appropriate laser type to utilize.

With machines ranging from 30W to 400W, GMN employs low-powered fiber lasers for etching and engraving. High-powered CO2 and nitrogen lasers are typically reserved for cutting thicker materials and metals. The wide array of laser machines allows GMN to cut numerous substrates including 3000 and 5000 series aluminum, magnetic (430) and non-magnetic (304 stainless steel) alloys, Lexan, acrylic, foam, polyester, polycarbonate, and vinyl. During laser cutting, calibrating the focus point of the laser beam is extremely crucial to achieve the utmost precision. Most machines at GMN are equipped with a computerized calibration system, where a focal arm travels closer to the material, gauges its thickness, and automatically adjusts the focal length of the laser.

Advantages of laser cutting

Versatile and easy to use, laser technology is extensively utilized at GMN for fabricating materials with extreme accuracy. When compared to other die-cutting techniques, the lead time for laser cutting is extremely short and last-minute changes to artwork can be quickly accomplished. Ideal for rapid prototyping and low-volume programs, laser technology is well suited for cutting complex shapes, creating registration holes, engraving intricate patterns, and etching serial numbers.

To see some of the laser cutters at GMN in action, watch our video below.

Autocar DC-64 grille badge
By Richard Smylie Feb 04, 2021
Autocar grille badge

Autocar, one of America’s oldest large truck manufacturers, approached GM Nameplate (GMN) to design and produce a high-quality grille badge for their new line of DC-64 conventional trucks. The intent of the new grille badge was to feature Autocar’s historic bowtie logo, made to commemorate the 100th anniversary of its launch.

Given that the new line of trucks would be competing in the premium segment of utility vehicles, Autocar wanted an elegant, high-end badge with a three-dimensional look that would truly stand out.  Since the DC-64 was a heavy-duty utility vehicle used at construction sites and for other outdoor applications, the badge also had to endure heavy impacts and abrasion.

Autocar’s previous badges were made of injection molded plastic with plated aluminum. While this met their visual requirements, the badge was prone to cracking, denting, or chipping when exposed to extreme weather or tough job conditions. Autocar wanted the new grille badge to be rugged and robust enough to maintain its premium look even in the most demanding environments.

After creating and testing several prototypes, GMN’s experts determined that the best approach would be to use a formed aluminum construction with an exterior capable roll coat. To achieve the desired look, the team began with a flat sheet of bright-finished aluminum. The Autocar letters and border were reversed out before the sheet was screen printed with jet-black ink. The decorated metal sheet was then formed and embossed, allowing the bright-finished aluminum to shine through and highlight the letters. In the end, a glossy, exterior-grade automotive topcoat was applied via roll-coating to protect the printed graphics from fading over time. It also imparted strength to the badge and helped realize the multi-dimensional look that Autocar was aiming for.

For additional durability and structural integrity, a molded plastic backplate with hand-applied foam adhesive was inserted behind the formed aluminum. This combination of unique processes resulted in a badge that was not only elegant, but also incredibly durable and resistant to environmental damage.

The commemorative grille badge has since been put into use on the entire line of DC-64 trucks and is even scheduled for use on other vehicles in Autocar’s fleet. This is just another example of GMN leveraging its diverse capabilities to meet the needs of our customers. To find out more about our automotive badging solutions, visit our website.

Pam Hane
GMN named Preferred Converter by Laird
By Pam Hane Jan 28, 2021
Laird Preferred Converter

We are happy to share that GMN has been honored by Laird Performance Materials as a Preferred Converter for Performance Excellence. Only a select group of organizations throughout North America rise to the level of Preferred Partner.

Laird Performance Materials is a market leader for advanced protection solutions for electronic components and systems. The Preferred Converter status gives GMN direct access to Laird’s performance-critical solutions including, thermal interface materials, EMI suppression, and absorption materials. It also allows GMN to offer custom engineered solutions to our customers at competitive prices and faster time-to-market.

To learn more about this strategic partnership with Laird Performance Materials, read our press release here.

Video: Fundamentals of pad printing
By Richard Smylie Jan 21, 2021
Off-set pad printing process

Pad printing is an offset printing process where ink is transferred from a cliché to the required component via a pad. Bringing together a blend of consistency, repeatability, and durability, pad printing can help you achieve intricate patterns and designs. While most decorative techniques such as screen and lithographic printing require a flat surface, pad printing is one of the very few processes that is well suited for decorating gently curved, irregular, textured, and/or cylindrical surfaces. Predominantly seen in the automotive, electronics, appliance, personal care, and medical industries, pad printing is often chosen for applications that will endure significant handling and need to withstand the test of time.

Custom pad printing process 

Our latest video was created to not only equip you with the essentials of pad printing, but also to walk you through the step-by-step pad printing process.

  1. The artwork is etched onto the cliché (flat plate), and ink is deposited into the etched recess.
  2. A silicone pad picks up the inked image and descends onto the part to transfer a clean, crisp, and lasting image.
  3. The pad is pressed on a polyester film to remove any excess ink. Comprising of a low-tack pressure-sensitive adhesive, the polyester film removes any residual ink from the pad prior to the next printing cycle.

From standard to programmable multi-axis printers, the video below offers a glimpse into the different pad printing presses utilized at GM Nameplate (GMN). Armed with a rotating fixture, the programmable multi-axis printer is capable of numerous hits in multiple color combinations on different axes, all in a single set-up. This capability eliminates the need to transfer the part manually from one station to the other, resulting in significant time and cost savings.

Pad printing on different substrates

Pad printing is compatible with a broad range of substrates including stainless steel, polycarbonate, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), glass, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), acrylic, and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Very few plastic materials such as low (LDPE) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and polypropylene aren’t cohesive with pad printing inks and require a pre-treatment to ensure good adhesion.

Pad printing considerations

For every project, custom fixtures are designed and built to register the component to the pad printing head. The alignment of the ink pad with respect to the size and geometry of the part is specifically engineered to ensure exact registration. As seen with the Nissan badge in the video, the pliability of the silicone pad allows for printing with extreme precision, preventing the ink from coming in contact on the inside walls of the recessed letters. Maintaining the viscosity of the ink is extremely crucial to ensure the ink deposition accuracy and consistency. While the ink needs to be fluid enough to deposit on the substrate, it should not bleed out of the impression area. Thinners and adhesion promoters can be added to inks to achieve the desired viscosity level. Most of the inks used for pad printing at GMN are air-dried and are usually cured in conveyor ovens. Several other factors including the shape, material and durometer of the pad, location and color of the etched artwork, and tilt of the ink pad, are critical to the success of any project.

To see the pad printing process in action, watch our video here.

Understanding the diamond carving process
By Richard Smylie Jan 07, 2021
Diamond carved nameplate manufactured at GMN

Diamond carving, also known as diamond drag engraving, is a common metal decoration technique that enhances metal components by adding a unique texture. Performed at the back-end of the manufacturing process, this technique creates extremely fine, sharp, and crisp lines on an embossed aluminum surface, which cannot be achieved through any other decoration process. These deeply carved lines on the metal surface also provide a tactile feel, further augmenting the appearance of the component.

Decorative enhancements if any, such as screen printing or brush finishing, are always applied to the metal before the carving process. Once the aluminum sheet is decorated, the area to be diamond carved is embossed or raised to a height ranging between 0.015” to 0.018”. The embossed sheet is then cut into strips and held in-position on a flatbed table by vacuum. The strips are lubricated with oil to enable smooth and uniform engraving of the metal without galling. The strips are fed into a machine that consists of a large 12” rotating wheel, also referred to as the platinum. A small industrial-grade diamond chip, approximately 0.125” in diameter, is mounted to the platinum. As the wheel spins, the diamond chip abrades the aluminum surface with every rotation, thereby creating parallel lines at a depth of 0.003”. Diamond, being the hardest mineral, works flawlessly to create the desired pattern. In addition, the height of the wheel from the flatbed table can be adjusted vertically to compensate for metals with varying thicknesses and/or embossing heights.    

The spacing between the lines is determined by the speed of the wheel. The slower the speed, the broader the gap between each line, and the faster the speed, the lesser the gap. The number of lines per inch and the angularity of the lines is often customized according to the design intent. The texture or pattern can vary from extremely fine textures that create a subtle shimmer to coarse lines that add a more jagged look.

While diamond carving has been a popular technique for several decades, GM Nameplate (GMN) brings a creative twist to the process. GMN’s expertise and capabilities allow you to apply a layer of transparent ink of any color to the diamond-carved surface. It not only adds a unique look but also retains the beauty and texture of diamond carving. The ink is always transparent to enable one to see the scribed lines below. Once the ink is screen printed, the ink is cured by baking the component in strip form.

Seen largely on electronics and handheld appliances, GMN has developed diamond-carved nameplates for numerous companies including Mitsubishi, Philips, Bose, and Lincoln. To see the diamond carving process in detail along with the various textures, patterns, and looks you can achieve with his metal decoration technique, watch our video below. 

Quick-turn prototyping capabilities at GMN
By Jason Herndon Jan 05, 2021
Prototyping solutions by GMN

When it comes to custom manufacturing, prototyping remains an integral part of the design process. Whether you are testing the fit, form, and functionality of a new product, evaluating the feasibility of a unique material, or merely experimenting with novel ideas and concepts, prototyping services enable us to venture into new territories. The prototyping services at GM Nameplate (GMN) not only provide quick-turn solutions but also offer design support to help customers navigate a path towards production.

The prototyping solutions offered by GMN can be briefly divided into the following three types -

1) Quick-turn prototypes

Quick-turn prototypes, also known as rapid concept prototypes, put the focus on speed. This program aims to deliver a product into the customer’s hands as quickly as possible, which in turn takes them a step closer to production. Customers can assess multiple design considerations with accelerated lead times and reduced costs compared to full production parts. While rapid concept prototypes are not intended for qualification testing, they facilitate customers to experiment, refine, evaluate, and validate designs while making swift iterations. So, if you are looking to assess different material options for a gasket or compare a satin finish versus a gloss finish, then rapid concept prototyping is the way to go!  

GMN has a dedicated product development team and manufacturing equipment that operates outside of regular production schedules, which helps us stay agile and accommodate varied needs. While developing prototypes, GMN utilizes digital printing for parts that will often use alternate printing processes in final production to remain cost and time-efficient. Similarly, for die-cut prototypes, GMN often uses materials specified for the final product but utilizes laser cutting and other “soft tooling” methods before transitioning to hard tooling for production. This allows customers to compare multiple design options without investing in the appropriate production tooling.

2) Conceptual development prototypes

Conceptual development prototypes focus on translating concepts into concrete solutions. This development process optimizes ideas to achieve a viable product by evolving designs towards production-friendly solutions. By letting us perform quick risk mitigation testing on new materials or designs on the front-end, it reduces unexpected challenges later in the design process. While this prototyping solution often comes into play while working with unique materials, it can also be helpful if a design is ahead of the technology curve. When a customer approaches GMN with unique material, we can address the unknowns associated with processing the material. This includes testing ink adhesion, verifying substrate compatibility with the manufacturing processes, optimizing processing parameters, and testing new design applications before engaging in larger production runs.

GMN’s customers bring a variety of cutting-edge products to market and the complex nature of these projects requires a focused and methodical approach to development. Conceptual development prototypes are often accompanied by a formal development proposal including a statement of work with discrete milestones that allow GMN to periodically regroup with its customers to determine the design or processing solution that best meets their needs.

3) Pre-production development prototypes

Pre-production development prototypes bring a design concept to a repeatable and robust production solution. Pre-production prototyping ensures that regulatory requirements, including Design Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (DFMEA), Process Failure Mode Effects Analysis (PFMEA), or Production Part Approval Process (PPAP), are met. Pre-production development prototypes emphasize on establishing process capabilities, improving yields, and optimizing designs for high-volume manufacturing. Since this approach utilizes all of the standard full-scale production equipment and process controls, it is best suited for products that are ready to transition into volume production and can be used for purposes such as final qualification and testing.

To learn more about our lead times and pricing, visit our rapid prototyping capabilities page or request a free design consultation to get started on your next product.