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Rich Smylie, GMN
By Richard Smylie | Dec 18, 2018
Pad printing at GMN

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.

By Steve Baker | Nov 30, 2018
Flexible substrates for smart wearables

The multi-billion-dollar industry of smart wearables is becoming ubiquitous and witnessing revolutionary developments each day. From smart tattoos that track sunlight exposure to smart insoles that monitor your footsteps, smart technological advancements are clearly pushing the boundaries of innovation. As the wearable technology industry is still at a nascent stage of its development curve, the consortium of functional printing professionals including the technical printers, designers, engineers, and system integrators, are working together to investigate new processes, materials, technologies, and testing methods.

Aside from the dominant world of smart watches, there has been a significant growth and interest in smart clothing, electronics, and sensor solutions. Some of the common considerations that need to be addressed before developing a wearable solution include:

  • Biocompatibility - Since most wearables come in direct or close contact with skin, biocompatibility is of paramount importance to ensure user safety. Depending on the intended use of the device, compounds in wearable substrates and construction layers can potentially be exposed to sweat, rain, humidity, sunscreens, and insect repellants. A comprehensive understanding of the interaction of various external factors is crucial towards eliminating unwanted risks such as skin sensitization, allergic reactions, and irritation. While there are no industry standards governing biocompatibility across all wearable devices, ISO 10993 provides a framework for wearable medical devices.
  • Power management - Effective power management still remains a significant hurdle in developing wearable solutions. Thin and compact batteries often translate to shorter battery life and companies are continuously struggling to extend the battery life for devices to last at least one cycle of usage. While space is a huge constraint when working with small and lightweight devices, companies are harvesting energy by employing solar cells or powering batteries using the body movement and body heat of the wearer. Companies are actively trading Wi-Fi connectivity with Bluetooth communication modules for efficient power consumption and pivoting towards wireless power supplies through inductors. For most wearable garments intended for long-term use, the batteries must be easily replaceable or rechargeable.
  • Flexibility and stretchability - Smart wearables, especially garments, are susceptible to a great deal of stretching. Flexibility, the basic form factor of wearables, has made flexible printed electronics be actively pursued as an alternative to costly silver threads and yarns sewn into apparels. Depending on the final application, wearable substrates need to strike the right balance between flexibility, stretchability, and stability. In addition to experimenting with new substrates, the industry is currently leveraging medical-grade materials including polyether-based thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), polyester-based TPU, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and fabrics such as spandex, nylon, elastane, and cotton. Functional inks are often printed on flexible substrates and as the user wears or moves with the garment, there is a certain amount of stretch that occurs. Therefore, inks need to exhibit acceptable change in resistance with repeatable stretch and recovery cycles.
  • Sealing - Conductive epoxies, typically used to apply components on to circuits, are often not a feasible solution when dealing with wearable applications, as they tend to break under stress. Hence, applying additional components such as surface-mount LEDs and active PCBs can be very challenging. The ability to incorporate electronic components smoothly into apparels whilst ensuring strong adhesion during bending, creasing, and flexing is key to the success of smart wearables.

 In addition, wearables intended for long-term use must be safe to submerge under water without damaging the circuitry, and physically endure multiple wash cycles. Achieving a water-tight seal and protecting the power source from environmental factors is vital for ensuring optimal performance and durability of the device. For electronic equipment, Ingress Protection (IP) rating specifies the degree of protection from solids and liquids including dust and water. Whether it is fusing stretchable materials with thermoplastic-adhesives backing or applying hot-melt adhesives to polyester circuits, thermal bonding is one of the most common sealing approaches in wearable solutions. Pressure sensitive adhesive (PSA) lamination is another approach that requires a medical-grade adhesive to apply a patch directly to the skin of the user. TPU overlaminates, printable insulators, and PET overlaminates are often used for sealing and potting.

The wearable technology industry is migrating towards a “smart system”, a world where all devices from head to toe communicate with each other to create a single ecosystem. As existing technologies and processes evolve, new norms, standards, and specifications for the industry will gradually develop. With a promising future in sight, the widespread adoption and integration of smart wearables in our daily lives is almost inevitable.

By Gerry Gallagher | Nov 15, 2018
GMN sells SuperGraphics to employees

Over the years, GMN has celebrated many triumphs with SuperGraphics, our large format graphics and signage company, including the invention of the bus wrap and claiming the Guinness World Record for largest mural ever made. The SuperGraphics business has long served as a vital part of the GMN business and we have deeply enjoyed the work we produced and the customers we collaborated with in the process. While focusing on and expanding our core business, GMN has decided to sell SuperGraphics to an experienced group of current employees who will foster a bright future for the company.

To learn more about this transaction, read our press release here.

By Steve Baker | Nov 6, 2018
High-volume technical printing equipment

In this second blog of our series on high-volume technical printing, we will be discussing the various screen printing equipment options GM Nameplate (GMN) has available for technical printing. We will examine the different attributes of each type of printing press and assess how they can influence your projects. If you missed our first blog in this series, we encourage you to take a moment to read it here to gain a preliminary understanding of GMN’s technical printing methods and their implications for high-volume programs.

As previously mentioned, there are two main screen printing processes used by GMN for technical printing – sheet-fed and roll-to-roll – and as we’ve already established, roll-to-roll printing is better suited for high-volume technical printing projects. The reasons for why this is will become clearer as we go through the characteristics of GMN’s printing equipment.

Before getting into the specifics, an important concept to understand in general about all the presses is that the run rate is set by the dryer capacity. The attributes of the dryer as well as the project influence the run rate that can be realized. For example, functional inks often require longer to cure, therefore if a technical printing program utilizing functional inks is run on a press with limited drying capacity, it will need to go through the dryer at a slower speed to properly cure. However, if the same project was run on a press with a large drying capacity, it would be able to run at faster speeds since it would be in the dryer for longer. For every new project, the drying parameters must be developed according to that project’s specifications, which ultimately determines speed.

Sheet-fed presses

As with all screen printing equipment, the distinct capabilities and constraints offered by each of GMN’s sheet-fed printing presses determine the viability of the equipment for a potential project. Sheet-fed presses yield varying print area dimensions, for example, from 22” x 30” to 48” x 98”. Another critical feature to be aware of is the run rate for these presses, which on average can range from 160 – 225 impressions per hour. Finally, the dryers that accompany the sheet-fed printing presses at GMN include thermal UV dryers.

Roll-to-roll presses

For roll-to-roll printing, GMN employs four presses with varied capabilities that enable them to fulfill an assortment of technical printing project requirements.

  1. Via printing

    The most noteworthy feature about two of the screen printing presses utilized by GMN for roll-to-roll technical printing is the presses ability to print vias (also known as through-hole printing). When printing vias, after the vias are lasered into the material, ink is then printed on both sides of the roll, forcing the ink through the vias to create a circuit. But the pushing of the ink through the holes leaves excess ink behind on the print bed. If using the sheet-fed method, the operator would have to clean the print bed after every pass, adding additional steps and time to the process. However, GMN’s presses eliminate the need for this added step because they have blotter paper positioned on top of the print bed to absorb all the leftover ink. This blotter paper advances along with the roll of material to ensure that the ink doesn’t smear as the sheet moves forward. In general, these presses print one color at a time, maintain a print area of 20” x 20”, and can accomplish tolerances around .007”. Using UV and thermal dryers approximately four meters in length, the run rate for these presses is about 500-800 impressions per hour.

  2. Tight tolerance printing

    Another roll-to-roll printing press at GMN also only prints a single color at a time, yet it has a print area of 19” x 31”. But the major advantage of this press is printing parts with extremely tight tolerances. This press can reach tolerances within .001” – .002” of the original specifications. To produce these tolerance levels, the press utilizes optical registration cameras to repeatedly establish precise registration for each part and attain the most accurate stacking of ink layers. The machine first pulls the printing image in and then adjusts the screen to achieve a careful stack-up tolerance. In addition, this press uses a 20-foot tower dryer. Tower dryers are beneficial because they make efficient use of their space by having the material serpentine up and down across the body of the equipment, allowing for the parts to stay in the dryer for longer and run at faster speeds. With these elements working together, our tight tolerance printing press offers a run rate of around 200 – 300 impressions per hour.

  3. Efficient run rates & multi-color printing

    The last press at GMN’s disposal offers a print area of 18” x 19.5” and meets tolerances within .007” – .010”. This press’ most significant benefits include its two print stations and substantial drying capacity, which allows it to produce parts at a much higher speed. With both a 40-foot and a 60-foot tower dryer, this press employs dryers that are much larger than our other presses. Again, the tower dryers allow for each part to stay in the dryer for longer, therefore permitting the part to run through the process at a faster rate. The other advantage of this press is that it’s a two-color press. The printing process begins by laying down the first color, followed by the punching of a fiducial next to the image for registration, and then the sheet runs through the first tower dryer. Next, utilizing the registration punch to align with the first ink layer, a second color can be laid down, ending with the sheet going through the second tower dryer. These two capabilities are what make our final roll-to-roll technical printing press the fastest print line at GMN with a run rate of 800 – 1,000 impressions per hour.

When comparing the characteristics of the sheet-fed presses to the roll-to-roll presses, it is apparent why roll-to-roll printing is more suited for high-volume technical printing projects. Not only can these presses achieve much higher run rates, but they can also produce parts at much tighter tolerances and accomplish efficient through-hole printing. With our selection of technical printing equipment, GMN aims to provide our customers with the printing technology that best fits their project’s specific needs. GMN is equipped to accommodate technical printing projects with a vast array of requirements and volumes ranging from low to high. To learn more about our technical printing capabilities, click here.

Lauren Rowles, GMN
By Lauren Rowles | Nov 1, 2018
GMN Halloween

At GM Nameplate, we believe that companies that have fun together, thrive together. Every year, GMN employees have a great time getting into spirit when Halloween rolls around. Once again, GMN celebrated Halloween with style and enthusiasm by showcasing some amazing team and individual costumes, as well as inventive decorations. We hope you enjoy this peek into a couple of the costumes that were featured.

Halloween celebration 2018Halloween 2018

Rich Smylie, GMN
By Richard Smylie | Oct 31, 2018
Embossed nameplate manufactured at GMN

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. By offering a glimpse into the functioning of a Spartanics press, this video will clearly demonstrate 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, a Spartanics 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 Spartanics press overcomes tolerance variation that the actuator-fed emboss press falls short of.

A Spartanics 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 Spartanics 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 Spartanics press in action, click on the video below.

By Steve Baker | Oct 16, 2018
 High-volume-technical-printing

GMN has extensive experience in technical and functional printing for applications across numerous industries. As we have acquired and developed these expertise over the years, we have also amassed a range of processes, technologies, and know-how through which we can produce these products. As a result, GMN is capable of handling virtually any screen-printed technical printing project with volumes and complexities ranging from low to high.

If you are unfamiliar, technical printing is an overarching term that is used to describe functional printing projects that ask for requirements above and beyond the industry standard. Often seen in highly regulated industries, technically printed parts call for exceptionally tight tolerances and acute product specifications. To gain a deeper understanding of technical printing, learn more here.

When it comes to high-volume technical printing jobs in particular, there are a few aspects that you should be aware of before beginning development. The first major decision to be made is which printing process to utilize. Technically printed parts can be achieved using a variety of printing technologies on the market, including gravure, lithographic, cylinder screen, screen printing, and more. However, at GMN, we have specifically chosen to work with standard screen printing processes such as sheet-fed and roll-to-roll (web) printing as our primary processes.

Therefore, we decided to release a blog series that reviews some of the key facts and considerations for gearing up for high-volume technical printing at GMN. In this first blog, we will be examining the distinct screen printing processes available at GMN for technical printing projects, and how they fit into high-volume production.

Comparison of GMN’s screen printing processes for technical printing

With any new technical printing program, the decision of which printing process to utilize is based on the quantity, size, complexity, and functional requirements of the part. At GMN, there are two screen printing methods that can be applied: sheet-fed or roll-to-roll. These methods differ in their ability to handle the core elements listed above, but overall, the central difference is in how the materials are handled. For high-volume technical printing in general, roll-to-roll is the undisputed best screen printing method for production for several reasons, including run speed, material usage, registration, inline inspection, and printing multiple colors per pass. Although, sheet-fed printing plays an important role in this process at GMN as well.

Sheet-fed

Sheet-fed printing is usually employed on low- to medium-volume technical printing jobs. The sheet-fed process requires an operator to load individual sheets into a press and then remove them after each pass, which adds additional time to the overall job. This, combined with its size and run rate limitations (which we will discuss further in the next blog), is why sheet-fed printing has proven to be an inefficient and more costly method for high-volume technical printing.

However, regardless of which printing method is used for production, the sheet-fed process is always used during the development phase for technical printing projects. This is because the development phase calls for speed and agility when creating several revisions of parts at extremely low volumes and in short intervals.

Roll-to-roll

Roll-to-roll printing is the printing method used for high-volume jobs that often contain a high level of complexity as well, which is archetypical for technical printing projects. During roll-to-roll printing, the material is administered in rolls (or webs) and is secured and continually fed through the press by a system of rollers.

High-volume roll-to-roll technical printing has a large presence in the medical industry with applications such as disposables and electrodes as well as in the appliance industry for capacitive touch applications.

While the sheet-fed process can print essentially the same parts, roll-to-roll printing is better equipped for high-volume technical printing because it can print at much higher speeds, tighter tolerances, and heightened quality levels, which can lead to less material waste and cost savings at these larger volumes. This process is significantly faster than the sheet-fed process because parts are being printed continuously since the material never requires handling. Roll-to-roll can also achieve much tighter tolerances and stack-ups, especially since optical registration can be used. 

Other factors that add to roll-to-roll’s superior efficiency include the ability to perform roll-to-roll fabrication and in-process testing in addition to printing. Roll-to-roll is also preferable for through-hole (or via) printing and offers the possibility of printing multiple colors at once. Again, these are elements that we will dive deeper into during our next blog.

GMN’s advantage with high-volume technical printing

On top of the variety of equipment we possess for each printing process, GMN provides a particular advantage during the development and full-scale production stages of high-volume technical printing projects.

Typically, most high-volume technical printing projects are brought to GMN at the front-end of the customer’s development process. The customer may have their first round of artwork, be generally satisfied with the design, or have started looking into inks, but they need support to prepare and finalize the part design and manufacturing process for high-volume production. That’s where GMN comes in.

GMN’s quick-turn prototyping services help to develop high-volume technical printing projects with unparalleled efficiency and performance. Since we offer both sheet-fed and roll-to-roll printing, our experienced and knowledgeable R&D team can approach customer’s projects with a quicker learning curve. We work with our customers to create multiple iterations of their design with quick turnarounds, allowing the customer to fine-tune their artwork to their specifications while we make sure it’s primed for manufacturing and will produce high yields. What makes GMN distinct is that during this development phase, we build these parts at low volumes with the mindset that they will eventually be used for high-volume printing. This notion drives us to ensure that we not only simulate the exact inks, squeegee types, print directions, and screen meshes, but also replicate the specific drying and curing parameters. Therefore, by the end of development, the artwork is already optimized, which allows for a more streamlined transition to high-volume production.

In general, both printing processes can be used to make technically printed parts, but the project requirements, such as volume, tolerance, and circuit complexity, can determine which method is better for your specific application. However, the performance or availability of many of the characteristics (e.g. run rate, tolerance level, etc.) and capabilities mentioned throughout this blog for each printing process is also dependent on the type of equipment used. This is the topic we will explore in our next blog in this series, so stay tuned.

Clark Mehan
By Clark Mehan | Oct 4, 2018
A guide to die-cut components

The world of design engineering and manufacturing is gradually changing. Cumbersome liquid adhesives are being substituted with pressure-sensitive adhesives. Bulky metal housings are being traded for flexible EMI shielding foils and fabrics. Very high bond (VHB) tapes are taking the place of classic O-rings. By replacing and improving these traditional practices, die-cut components are prompting us to address design challenges in a more effective and efficient manner.

If die-cut components spark your curiosity, we have the perfect thing for you. We have created a free guide that sheds light on some of the most widely employed die-cuts solutions. It walks you through the various areas where die-cuts components can enhance the functionality and longevity of your product including thermal management, EMI/RFI shielding, and vibration dampening. It also dives deeper into the unique advantages, characteristics, and properties of die-cut components, and equips you with few design considerations for your next product.

To download the free guide, click here.

Rich Smylie, GMN
By Richard Smylie | Sep 28, 2018
Exploring the process of magni-lens doming at GMN

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.

By Sandy Dick | Sep 21, 2018
GMN's membrane switch solution for MESA Labs

MESA Laboratories, Inc. was developing a new digital dialysate meter with another vendor. They quickly ran into difficulties that led unwanted moisture ingress into their membrane switch.

GMN’s engineering experts always love a new challenge! GMN’s technical know-how and rapid concept prototyping services enabled MESA Labs to conceptualize a new design. The proposed solution not only eliminated the device’s sealing issues, but also provided enhanced design and functional features.

To learn how GMN fulfilled the project needs and requirements, read our case study here.  

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