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Debbie-Anderson-GMN
Dead front printing
By Debbie Anderson Jul 07, 2020
Dead-front control panel

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

Projected capacitive touchscreens
By Jim Badders Jun 12, 2020
User interacting with a capacitive display touch screen

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.

Types of resistive touchscreens
By Jim Badders Jun 03, 2020
Example of a resistive touchscreen

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. 

Video: Ford steering wheel badge
By Richard Smylie Sep 12, 2019
Ford steering wheel badge

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. 

Pam Hane
What are thermal interface materials?
By Pam Hane Aug 20, 2019
Thermal conductive pads by Laird

As electronic devices are getting smaller, a major concern that largely looms over engineers and designers is the dissipation of heat. All electronic devices emit heat, which without a proper outlet, could lead to a spike in the internal temperature of the device, ultimately resulting in its failure. Trapped heat in a device can not only damage critical internal components but can also negatively impact the performance of the device. To lower the temperature of the device, it is essential to dissipate the heat from the heat source to a heat sink (air duct or vent). Thanks to thermal interface materials, engineers have one less reason to worry now. Often integrated into devices at varying stages of product development, thermal materials enhance the thermal conduction between two components to facilitate the transfer of heat away from the heat source.

Measured in watt per square meter of surface area for a temperature gradient of one Kelvin for every me­ter thickness (W/m-k), thermal conductivity is the rate at which heat passes through a material. When an integrated circuit (IC) in a device gets hot, a thermal material drives the heat in a vertical direction away from the heat source. W/m-k is the measurement of how fast the heat is transferred from the IC to the heat sink. However, if the thermal material doesn’t intimately marry with the IC, it creates air bubbles. These air bubbles can slow down or disrupt the transfer of heat, known as impedance. A thorough understanding of conductivity and impedance is vital towards selecting the optimal thermal material for any given application.

Thermal management solutions

Fortunately, companies such as 3M, Laird and Bergquist, have opened doors to several thermal management solutions in the form of thermal pads and conductive tapes. Designed in a variety of thermal conductiv­ities and softness grades, these materials flow into the nooks and cran­nies of the heat sink and IC to offer a high degree of “wet out” for more efficient heat transfer. Available in different thicknesses, they also provide excellent gap filling proper­ties in most cases.

Advantages of thermal interface materials

Some of the core advantages of thermal materials include:

  • Enhanced thermal coupling between the heat source and heat sink
  • High conformability to uneven and irregular substrates
  • Quick and easy application

Applications for thermal interface materials

Suited for diverse applications such as handheld electronics, notebook and desktop computers, memory mod­ules, telecommunications hardware, and flat panel displays, thermal materials can significantly enhance the durability and performance of the device.

Download your guide to die-cut components

To discover how die-cut components can improve the way we design products and overcome last-minute design hurdles, download our free guide here.     

Patrick Wu
Steering wheel badge for Qiantu K50
By Patrick Wu Jun 06, 2019
Qiantu K50 steering wheel badge

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.

Video: Diving deep into Magni-lens doming
By Richard Smylie Sep 28, 2018
Magni-lens doming

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.

Exploring the spin finish process
By Richard Smylie Aug 02, 2018
A drag spin finish nameplate manufactured by GMN

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. 

Video: A look into the brush finish process
By Richard Smylie Jun 28, 2018
Brush finished sill plate

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.

 

Picture of Chris Doyle
What is Lensclad?
By Chris Doyle Apr 17, 2018
Lensclad or thin-doming technology

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.