Ford Motor Company, a leader in the automotive industry, was remodeling its 2020 Ford Explorer SUV and one of the main decorative accents they were looking to refresh was their Class-A steering wheel badge. Since the Explorer is one of Ford’s flagship vehicles, Ford wanted the badge to be built to world-class standards, capturing both the visual craftsmanship and performance functionality of the design intent. Ford chose GMN Automotive (GMN) for its industry-leading craftsmanship, design execution, and functionality of the coatings.
Our latest video illustrates the many steps involved in the manufacturing of the steering wheel badge. The process begins with a coil of aluminum being cut into 24”x 20” sheets. The sheets are washed in an alkaline bath and dried to ensure that they are clean, thereby preventing any issues in the subsequent production steps. Next, the sheets are fed into a roll coater that deposits a primer coating. It not only promotes better ink adhesion but also helps protect the finished badge from any environmental challenges it will face on the steering wheel. The sheets are then baked in a flatbed oven to partially cure the basecoat. The aluminum sheets are sent from the oven to the screen printer, where the iconic Ford blue color is deposited onto them along with a corresponding small bullseye registration mark that is utilized during embossing and blanking at a later stage.
As seen in the video, the sheets are sent back to the roll coater where a topcoat is applied. This shields the primer coating and ink below, resulting in enhanced durability and depth of field for the logo. The fully decorated sheets are laminated with a protective film to minimize handling and tool-related issues. After lamination, the sheets are moved to fabrication where an optical registration system aligns with the printed bullseye mark to accurately emboss the Ford logo. The logo and the encircling racetrack are raised by .003”.
Next, the decorated and embossed sheets are blanked and formed to size and shape in a progressive tool. The machine utilizes the same registration mark employed in the embossing process to ensure extreme precision and uniformity. In the end, the badges undergo a rigorous visual inspection to guarantee that they are free of non-conformities before they are securely packaged and shipped out.
To see the entire production process of the Ford steering wheel badge from start to finish, watch our video below.
Qiantu Motors, a China-based automotive company, is at the forefront of the development and manufacturing of New Energy Vehicles (NEV) in China. Making waves in the global automotive market, the Qiantu K50 model is China’s first electric supercar.
When Qiantu Motors was bringing the K50 to life, they approached GMN to create a steering wheel badge. Looking for a distinguishing decorative solution, they wanted the badge to resonate with the clean and contemporary style of the sportscar. As the badge would sit on the steering wheel, merely a few inches away from the driver, it was extremely crucial to have an eye-catching design with crisp finishing. From aluminum to plastic badges, GMN proposed different solutions to match the project needs and requirements. Qiantu Motors was instantly drawn to one solution that brought together two of GMN’s visually striking capabilities - 3D electroform and in-mold decoration (IMD).
After a few rounds of fine-tuning the details, GMN established the final look of the badge that was comprised of two distinct parts: a dragonfly logo and a body. The dragonfly was achieved through 3D electroform, an electroplating process where nickel and chrome were plated onto a bronze mold to create the three-dimensional structure. Electroforming enabled GMN to construct a detailed, elegant, jewel-like logo that is unobtainable by any other manufacturing or decoration process. Merging aesthetics with functionality, the stainless steel logo offers superior resistance to corrosion and dents. The intricate, grooved patterns seen on the dragonfly fitted seamlessly with Qiantu’s needs.
The body of the badge was realized through the unique process of in-mold decoration. First, a flat sheet of polycarbonate was screen printed with a checkered pattern and a clean silver rim on the edges. Then, the decorated sheet was physically fused into injection molded plastic, forming a rigid, three-dimensional unibody. Suited for high-wear applications, in-mold decoration imparts unparalleled durability and strength to the badge. It not only makes the badge scratch resistant, but also protects the printed graphics from fading over time.
The carbon fiber unibody and the dragonfly logo were assembled together with a two-part assembly kit. Registration marks on both parts ensured the precise registration of the two distinct components. The combination of electroform and IMD enables the badge to withstand fluctuating temperatures and ultraviolet rays for elongated periods of time. GMN’s China Division rolled out an automotive badge that was not only visually appealing, but also resistant to chemicals, heavy impacts, and abrasion. Before making its way to the steering wheel of the K50, the badge needed to successfully pass a series of rigorous testing including collision, thermal shock, and environmental tests.
The entire manufacturing solution for the K50 badge was conceived and fabricated by GMN’s automotive engineering group. As NEV startups continue to mushroom in China, we look forward to partnering with several other companies to offer truly unique decorative capabilities to fit their needs. To learn more about GMN’s automotive trims, accents, and badging solutions, visit our GMN Automotive website here.
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 newest video. By offering a peek into the functioning of progressive dies, this video clearly illustrates the many advantages of utilizing progressive die-cutting to drive productivity.
To cement our understanding of progressive die-cutting, let’s delve 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 maximum number of stations in a die set is dictated by the design and part geometry.
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 mis-orientation of the substrate with the die set can negatively impact the entire output and hence, remains a crucial factor in the 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. To learn more about pad printing, learn our blog Fundamentals of pad printing.
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 it’s 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.
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.
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 process. First, the artwork is etched onto the cliché (flat plate), and ink is deposited into the etched recess. Next, a silicone pad picks up the inked image and descends onto the part to transfer a clean, crisp, and lasting image. Then, 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, this video offers a glimpse into the different pad printing presses utilized at 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 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.
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.
Embossing, the process of raising logos or graphic images, is a great way to augment the visual impact of any component. The tactile feel realized 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 newest video 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 further deeper into the HySecurity nameplate seen 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.
However, this alignment challenge can be overcome 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 previous 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.
Versatile and durable, magni-lens doming is a clear two-part urethane development which when applied to a substrate, creates a self-healing dome that stands 0.06” (1.5mm) tall. The most unique feature of Magni-lens doming is that it functions as both a visual and performance enhancement. Visually, it adds richness and a depth of field to the graphics below, and from a performance standpoint, it can withstand the most extreme environments.
Filmed at our Monroe, NC Division, our latest video will bring you a step closer to the Magni-lens technology. The video not only provides a glimpse into the process of creating the urethane dome, but also illustrates the broad spectrum of industries and products that have embraced magni-lens doming.
To initiate the doming process, the parts are staged on sheets so that they register precisely with the doming machine’s dispensing nozzles. As seen in the video, the dome is created with a nozzle or a hose that meters out a clear urethane coating. As the nozzle glides over the part, it dispenses the urethane polymer across the entire surface. The parts are always placed at a well-maintained distance from each other to avoid ruining the neighboring part in case of an overspill. While the featured Excel dryer part in the video has seven nozzles operating at once, different projects require different settings. Multiple nozzles correspond to the number of parts that are getting domed at a given time and the machine at GMN’s Monroe, NC Division has the capacity to operate up to 24 nozzles simultaneously.
After the urethane is dispensed, the part is inspected to ensure that the coating has traveled all the way up to the edges of the part. The viscus resin gradually “wets out” the entire surface and the part is placed on leveling pads to air dry. Although the coating starts to harden with the “skinning of the urethane surface” in about four hours, it technically takes about a week for the part to be completely cured. Selective doming can also be achieved by using a dam to contain the resin to a specific area. The entire process of Magni-lens doming is performed in a semi-clean room to mitigate dust and foreign particles from entering the water-clear dome.
The size of the part determines the amount of resin dispensed. Since parts come in varying sizes, each of them requires differing amounts of coating. The machine is uniquely programmed for every project, where it measures the length of the part to determine the space necessary between the parts in the set-up stage. Other elements such as the pour speed and the length to which the nozzle travels vertically above the part are also customized.
The resulting magni-lens dome construction is extremely robust, chemical and moisture resistant, easy to clean and sanitize, and doesn’t deform with heat and fluctuating temperatures. Its versatility, functionality, and compatibility to adhere to a wide range of substrates including polycarbonate, polyester, vinyl, aluminum, and stainless steel, makes it a great choice for both indoor and outdoor applications. Seen widely in industries like automotive, appliances, electronics, and medical, the video will give you a glance into some of nameplates created by GMN over the past few decades.
To see the doming process in action, check out our video below.
A spin finish, also known as spotting or engine turning, is a mechanical metal decoration technique that creates visually-striking and repetitive circular patterns. The unique interplay of light as it reflects off the finished metal surface adds movement and enhances the aesthetic appeal of the part. Rising to popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, spin finish was frequently seen in the automotive industry, especially on dashboards and instrumentation panels. However, in recent times, this decorative finish has expanded its reach to include a broad range of industries such as aerospace, appliance, electronics, and more.
Our video below provides a look into the spin finish process accomplished at GM Nameplate’s (GMN) Monroe, NC Division. Primarily performed on aluminum or stainless steel, a mechanical spin finish is always applied on a flat sheet of raw metal. The metal sheet is first lubricated with oil to facilitate uniform spinning and prevent burning of the metal when the abrasive pad is applied. The abrasive pads are mounted on single or multiple spindles that descend on the flat surface to skin the metal in a circular, overlapping pattern. The extent to which the patterns overlap each other can be easily adjusted and altered. There are two types of spin finishes that can be applied:
- Drag spin - Once the spindle(s) descends on the metal, it literally drags across the surface while continuously blading the metal and creating overlapping swirls.
- Spot spin - Once the spindle(s) descends, it blades the metal from a targeted spot, ascends, and then descends again on a spot next to it, creating overlapping or isolated patterns.
The computer numerical control (CNC) spin finish machines at GMN can hold up to seven spindles at a time, and the diameter of each spindle can vary from a minimum of 0.5” to a maximum of 20”. The distance between each spindle and the speed at which they travel across the metal surface can be tailored to achieve different looks. Depending on the design intent, the swirling pattern can range from fine, to heavy, to coarse. Spin finishes can also be applied overall or selectively. For selective finishes, a resin is screen-printed on the metal, which protects the desired areas from the abrasive pad, thus creating contrasting looks within the design. Offering a range of sizes, depths, and pattern intensities, the cosmetic variations that spin finish can produce is truly vast.
Once the spin finish is applied, the metal sheet is run through a washing line to remove the oil from its surface. The sheet is cleaned, dried, and a clear or tinted coating is applied to the surface of the metal. As a subtractive process, spin finish takes away the inherent protective layer from the surface of the metal and hence adding a top coat is extremely crucial to seal the exposed metal for performance considerations. The sheets are visually inspected and then are ready to be formed into the desired shape. Decorative accents such as lithographic, screen, digital, and/or pad printing, along with embossed or debossed graphics, are often added to spin finished parts to further accentuate their beauty and allure.
With decades of custom manufacturing experience and printing capabilities under its belt, GMN has worked with several leading companies including Dell, Ford, Callaway, General Motors, Keurig, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), and Vaio to create stunning spin-finished nameplates and components. Watch the video below to see the spin finish process in action.
Looking to add a subtle, yet eye-catching decorative element to your metal component? Look no further than brush finish! GM Nameplate (GMN) specializes in metal decoration, and one attribute we commonly add to metal is a mechanical brush finish. Performed at the front-end of the manufacturing process, a brush finish consists of many unidirectional lines creating a clean, consistent blanket over the surface of the metal. Applied to either stainless steel or aluminum, brush finishes are often combined with other decoration enhancements such as ElectraGraphics, embossing, and Lensclad, to name a few. Used in a wide range of products, brush finish is particularly prevalent in the electronics, home appliances, and automotive industries.
GMN recently created a video to demonstrate the brush finish process and give you a glimpse into the various looks that can be achieved. The video features our brushing line that’s operated at our Monroe, NC Division.
As you can see in the video, sheets of raw metal are fed into a machine having a large abrasive brushing wheel over it. The brush creates many fine linear abrasions on the sheet, reflecting light in a unique way. There are many design options to consider as well, including selecting a brush texture ranging from fine to heavy, or applying the finish to the metal overall or selectively. For selective finishes, a resist ink is screen-printed onto the metal sheets before the metal is brushed. The resist protects the desired area from being brushed, thus creating an interesting contrast within the design. The contrasting look results solely from the difference in the textures and the way light reflects off of the surface.
After brushing, the metal sheet is washed and dried to remove any residue or oil, and then an operator quickly inspects the sheet for any apparent defects as it continues down the line. A roll-coater can also be set up to apply a tinted or clear coating in-line onto the metal to enhance its durability or appearance. In the video, a tinted coating is applied to the aluminum to make it look slightly grayer. Since stainless steel can be more costly at times, this is a cost-effective way to make aluminum mimic the appearance of stainless steel.
Finally, the sheets go through an oven, and are again visually examined for any imperfections. This final inspection marks the completion of applying the brush finish, and the metal is now ready to move onto the next process.
To see the brush finishing process, click on the video below.
Lensclad, also known as thin doming, is a proprietary solution by GMN that creates visually-striking and durable nameplates. Compatible with aluminum substrates, the process of Lensclad involves the application of a clear urethane topcoat that encapsulates the entire nameplate. The coating not only shields the nameplate from challenging conditions such as dust, gravel, temperature fluctuations, and humidity, but also adds significant scuff and mar resistance. It also acts as a lens, thus magnifying the underlying colors and features of the design.
Meeting at the crossroads of functionality and aesthetics, Lensclad is a self-healing technology. While all nameplates experience scratches, dents, or chip damage over time, this self-healing technology allows nameplates to absorb damages and restore itself back to its original form. The protective coating is formulated using UV inhibitors which helps it to stay clear and prevents it from yellowing. By enduring most of the “real world” harsh environments, Lensclad averts everyday wear and tear from deteriorating the overall quality of the nameplate.
Lensclad can be applied on flat or curved profiles, and embossed or debossed graphics, making it ideal for a diverse range of products and industries. The strength and durability of Lensclad doming enables the nameplate to withstand heavy impacts and corrosive environments. The technology also meets the rigorous requirements of automotive performance standards, making it a great choice for outdoor applications including cars, boats, and industrial equipment. Cosmetically speaking, Lensclad enhances the look of the nameplate, making it an equally great choice for indoor applications such as consumer goods, home appliances, cosmetic packaging, and car interiors.
Lensclad adds a thickness of 0.008” to the nameplate. This technology gives us the flexibility to vary the hardness of the urethane coating to fit the application. A thicker version of Lensclad, known as magni-lens, is also available, which adds a thickness of 0.060” to the nameplate. While the manufacturing process of magni-lens nameplates varies from that of Lensclad, it eventually offers the same functionality. For applying the thick doming, a nozzle filled with urethane coating applies the resin while moving across the surface of the nameplate. The resin gradually “wets out” the entire surface and dries over a period of 24 hours. The thickness of the nozzle head, the amount of resin it meters out, the direction in which the nozzle moves, and the time it takes to travel across the surface of the nameplate is customized and programmed for every unique application.
GMN has manufactured Lensclad nameplates for several well-known companies including Ford, MAC cosmetics, Honda, Excel dryers, and Estee Lauder to name a few. This performance-driven and cost-effective solution from GMN is truly a game-changer in elevating and preserving the look of your nameplates over time.
To ensure the success of any glass-printing application, there are numerous factors that go under consideration such as the glass type, inherent tint of the glass, ink type, ink color, curing process, and environmental conditions. However, one crucial factor that needs to be determined is the print method. Glass can be printed on using one of the three techniques - screen printing, digital printing, or frit printing. While all these methods support different shapes, sizes, thicknesses, types of glasses, and allow the use of multiple colors, there are unique pros and cons that distinguish them.
1) Screen printing: Well-suited for a wide range of applications, screen printing is the most cost-effective and most dominantly used glass printing technique. It primarily utilizes two types of inks: enamel inks and UV-cured inks, both offering good opacity. UV-cured inks offer a larger color selection than enamel inks. Since every color requires a separate screen, the process can be time-consuming if the design has several colors involved. In most cases, the graphic features are printed on the rear side of the glass, which eventually gets sealed or bonded with a touchscreen or display. Except for the edges of the glass, the ink is almost never directly exposed to ambient conditions and corrosion. However, if the ink is not specially formulated for printing on glass, it can lose adhesion and begin to chip off very quickly.
2) Digital printing: Digital printing on glass works like a regular inkjet printer, where all you need is a digital art file to print. It offers greater flexibility in terms of changing designs at the last minute. Unlike screen printing, where even the smallest design variation requires the construction of a new screen, modifying an art file for digital printing is extremely quick and easy. This makes it a great choice for prototyping and achieving faster time-to-market products. But it is important to note that the inks utilized for glass digital printing are thinner as compared to the inks employed in screen printing. Hence, while working with light or pastel shades, multiple layers may be required to achieve a sufficient level of opacity. This can lead to increased thickness, posing challenges in the optical bonding process. In contrast to screen printing, where one color is printed at a time, digital printing also allows printing of all the different colors at once. Digital printing on glass is currently undergoing continuous developments to accommodate more types of inks.
3) Frit printing: Frit printing is very similar to screen printing with the exception of the ink utilized and the curing process. A unique powdered-glass ink is screen printed on the glass and then cured during the heat tempering process. It causes the ink to fuse to the glass, thus offering strong adhesion and making it extremely difficult to remove or scratch the ink off. Since frit printing offers the highest durability out of all the techniques, it is chosen for demanding applications where the glass is regularly exposed to challenging environmental conditions such as in the defense, heavy industrial and automotive sector. However, it is also the most expensive printing method and therefore, not as frequently employed. One of the limitations of this method is that while frit printing can be done on heat-tempered glass, it cannot be utilized for chemically-strengthened glass and the glass thickness is limited to greater than 2mm. Frit colors are also limited to black, white, and some grays.
Bringing together the right mix of functionality and durability for your custom application, the experts at GM Nameplate (GMN) can not only help you select the most suitable printing technique for your glass application, but also support your glass printing and bonding needs from prototyping through production. To learn more about GMN’s bonding solutions, visit our capabilities page here.