Blog

 Andy L. CS Mgr.
By Andy Lampkin Aug 05, 2020
Optical disk encoders

Although optical encoders are found in a vast number of products across multiple industries, few people know what optical encoders do or what products use optical encoders. Even in the manufacturing industry, many are either unfamiliar with optical encoders or do not know how often they are used in everyday machines and equipment.

An optical encoder is an electro-mechanical component with a precisely printed line pattern that is usually paired with an optical sensor to measure motion, such as position, velocity, and acceleration. Mounted between a light source and a photodiode sensor, the photodiode reads and counts the lines on the optical encoder which tells the device where it is or when, how, and where to move. There are two types of optical encoders as follows:

  1. Disk or ring encoder – Used to measure rotation
  2. Strip or linear encoder – Used to measure linear motion or speed

Materials for optical encoders 

According to the temperature resistance and accuracy requirements of different equipment, optical encoders can be manufactured using metal, glass, polycarbonate, or polyester film, with each material having different advantages, drawbacks, and varying degrees of cost competitiveness. For instance, metal encoders are highly durable and can withstand high temperature, humidity, and shock, but come with certain limitations when it comes to corrosion. 

Applications for optical encoders

Optical encoders are not only used in inkjet printers and laser printers, but also seen in a variety of applications including medical pumps, scanners, sunroofs, memory seats, car speedometers, and encoder modules. 

The world of robotics also heavily relies on optical encoders to automate movement. In recent times, several automated operations such as robotic transportation of raw materials, material handling, and assembly have emerged in the manufacturing industry. Optical encoders are a significant contributor to the robot’s ability to flawlessly perform the coded operations. All automation devices need to measure position, acceleration, or velocity and require optical encoders to measure this motion. As automation grows, we will continue to see optical encoders employed in more equipment. 

Need a custom optical encoder? 

As one of the leading manufacturers of disk and strip encoders, GMN ships millions of encoders every month to leading companies such as Epson, HP, and Avago Technologies. Visit our capabilities page to learn more about optical encoders or connect with one of our technical experts for a free consultation here

Grant Bacon
By Grant Bacon Jul 30, 2020
Inserting metal inserts into a plastic housing

When a California-based medical company was assembling its new infusion pump, they knew it was critical for every part to work perfectly and be free of defects. One of the most important parts was a custom rear housing that encases all of the internal components of the device. Having worked extensively with GMN in the past, they knew they could trust our team with the production of this vital component.

The housing was complex, featuring an injection-molded plastic casing, 15 separate brass inserts, electromagnetic shielding, and a latch closure. While each component was inspected at various stages of the production process, given the complexity and the assortment of components involved, it was still possible for an issue to be overlooked. While it was rare, this occasionally resulted in a defective part making it through to the next phase of production, where it would be flagged and removed from the production line. Upon further analysis, it was discovered that these occasional defects stemmed from the improper positioning of the brass inserts. Even a single missing or misaligned insert could cause issues during assembly.

To resolve this issue, the experts at GMN decided to implement a custom vision inspection system. This vision system would automate part of the inspection process, lowering the total possibility for error as well as making the production process more efficient. After some experimentation, the team ultimately decided to integrate the inspection system directly into the heat stake where the brass inserts were positioned and inserted.

The vision system consisted of two cameras located directly above the platform where heat staking took place. This allowed the system to verify the presence and proper alignment of all the brass inserts before being injected into the assembly. As a secondary measure, the vision system checked the alignment of the inserts after they were heat staked into the housing.  

After adopting the vision system, the defect rate dropped to nearly zero. It significantly reduced the production time, allowing more defect-free parts to be fabricated in the same time frame. The vision system has earned a permanent place at GMN’s Beaverton, OR plant to uphold the quality of the infusion pump housing.  

This is just another example of GMN leveraging custom technologies to enhance the quality of its products and improve manufacturing processes. To find out how GMN can help with your next product, request a consultation with our experts.

Debbie-Anderson-GMN
By Debbie Anderson Jul 07, 2020
An image of a car dashboard

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 overlays 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? Schedule a consultation with our experts.

By Jim Badders Jun 12, 2020
Finger touching capacitive display

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 touchscreens:

Originally thought of as expensive and unreliable, the technology for these 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.

By Jim Badders Jun 03, 2020
Finger on 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 more about which touchscreen option is right for your next product, take a look at our website

Pam Hane
By Pam Hane May 26, 2020
A roll of 3M VHB LSE

Bonding together two substrates is a crucial part of designing a new product. However, some difficulties can arise with traditional bonding methods. For years, mechanical fasteners, liquid adhesives, and ultrasonic welding methods were frequently used to adhere substrates together. While all of these approaches have their merits, each of them can pose significant drawbacks as well.

Mechanical fasteners can damage brittle parts, add time to production, and make the final assembly bulky. Liquid adhesives remove bulk but require long drying times and generate unsightly bond lines. Ultrasonic welding requires specifically compatible substrates and a significant amount of expertise to do correctly.

As an alternative, 3M VHB (very high bond) has worked well for decades in many industries that require a permanent and flexible seal that is easy to apply. Because of its closed-cell construction, it keeps out contaminants, moisture, and light. However, depending on the substrates, some bonding processes weren’t ideal for use with standard VHB. Many low surface energy substrates, such as plastics and composites, required the labor-intensive use of a primer to prepare the surfaces before applying the VHB tape. This added cost, time, and potential safety hazards to the production process.

The 3M LSE (low surface energy) series gives GMN’s experts another option for bonding together these traditionally difficult surfaces. While VHB has been solving bonding challenges since the 1980s, VHB LSE offers a slew of new benefits. Like its standard VHB predecessor, it retains the durability, mouldability, and effectively defends against contaminant and moisture ingress. However, this new variation has a modified acrylic construction that eliminates the need to use any primer before application.

Eliminating the need for a primer on these traditionally difficult-to-bond substrates removes a laborious step from the production process. This markedly improves productivity and produces a higher yield of usable parts. In addition, removing primers from the manufacturing process eliminates potentially hazardous fumes and chemicals, helping to keep everyone in the supply chain safe.

As a Preferred Converter for 3M, GMN’s experts have access to a multitude of different adhesives and die-cut materials. To find out which die-cut solution is perfect for your next product, reach out to our experts.

Jeff Lee
By Jeff Lee May 19, 2020
Paul Michaels with the PNAA certificate

Continuing the annual tradition since 2016, GMN Aerospace has once again donated to the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance (PNAA) scholarship fund. As a custom manufacturer and an experienced aerospace supplier, we understand that strengthening and supporting the future of aerospace right here in the Pacific Northwest is crucial.

Each year, GMN Aerospace’s donation goes towards helping students studying aerospace design, maintenance, and engineering at accredited Pacific Northwest colleges and universities. The scholarship helps these students purchase books, tools, and other necessary supplies for their programs. In 2019, GMN’s donation was awarded in the form of a scholarship to Oleksiy Zagorulko, an aviation maintenance technician (AMT) student finishing up his third quarter of classes at Clover Park Technical College.

“To be honest, this is the first scholarship I have ever received, and I am very excited to use it correctly to impact the community around me and help others in need. This career will affect the world by allowing more and more people to improve their traveling experiences by bringing it to the next level and allowing them to travel safer. Thank you very much for giving me such an amazing opportunity to be awarded a scholarship this is a really big help for me.” writes Oleksiy in his letter to GMN Aerospace. He plans on graduating next summer, and we wish him the best for his future in the aerospace industry.

GMN is proud to support passionate students like Oleksiy Zagorulko as they complete their aerospace education and kickstart their careers in this exciting field.

Oleksiy Zagorulko in a plane

By Brad Root Apr 09, 2020
Man wearing a protective face shield

Throughout March of 2020, more and more cases of COVID-19 were tested and confirmed in the United States. As more patients were stricken, doctors, nurses, and other front-line responders struggled to find adequate PPE (personal protective equipment). Many responders were beginning to create their own makeshift masks, face shields, visors, and more. Knowing that GMN could pivot some resources and equipment to help produce PPE and alleviate the shortage, we began working on the new challenge.

Thinking about how we could best leverage our production capabilities to provide the most aid, we began to focus on creating high-quality, protective face shields. Having access to face shields would not only provide health care workers with an extra layer of protection, but also allow them to reuse their face masks, which were already in short supply.

On March 18th, 2020, GMN’s team created a rough drawing of a face shield design. A mere two days later, the design had gone from a rough sketch to a ready-to-use face shield prototype. Knowing that time was of the essence, the prototype was hand delivered that morning to Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, WA for feedback. Later that same day, GMN’s team returned to Swedish with multiple new designs based on the feedback they had received.

The most important attribute to get right was the form factor, making sure they were comfortable to wear over the course of the front-line responder’s grueling shifts. Various prototypes featuring different lengths of elastic, foam, and polyester were provided to nurses at the Swedish Medical Center to wear and test over that same weekend. After they had been extensively tested, a final design was decided on that immediately went into production.

As of today, tens of thousands of additional face shields are being manufactured throughout the Seattle, WA division, the Monroe, NC division, and at the China division for use by countless front-line responders.

As a custom manufacturer, GMN prides itself on being able to pivot to new projects and engineer new solutions. GMN is honored to be able to help support our community and help alleviate the current shortages of protective equipment.

By Gerry Gallagher Mar 16, 2020
GMN China employee resumes work after Coronavirus freeze

The COVID-19 outbreak prompted GMN China to extend the Lunar New Year holiday by more than ten days. Fortunately, the region is showing early signs of recovery as the number of cases is gradually slowing. In alignment with the guidelines from local health authorities and medical professionals, GMN China has resumed its operations and is on track towards meeting production commitments and deliveries.

However, we are sparing no efforts to safeguard the health and well-being of our employees. The entire building, including conference rooms, waiting areas, office cubicles, and canteen, are disinfected regularly. 

Preventive measures by GMN China to contain the spread of Coronavirus

 

GMN China is following the “trilogy” of safety before employees enter the factory that includes – 

  • Disinfecting hands in the guard room 
  • Employees receiving a disposable mask daily
  • Employees allowed entry into the building only if the body temperature is below 37.3º C
Safety precautions during times of Coronavirus

 

The following lunch room safety rules are implemented - 

  • The distance between employees waiting in line for a meal must not be less than 1 meter
  • One-way seating for employees during meals, with an interval of more than 1 meter from front to back and left to right
  • The use of reusable lunch boxes has been temporarily halted and disposable lunch boxes are distributed daily
  • Each dining table is wrapped with a piece of transparent plastic wrap that is frequently changed
  • After eating, employees must place their leftovers in a designated area for a unified treatment
  • No verbal communication is allowed during meals 
Lunch room safety protocols at GMN China

 

In addition to the above preventive measures, hand sanitizing stations are installed across the building. Our janitorial crew is placing extra effort on disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces such as doorknobs, handrails, elevators, etc. Meetings and training are conducted online, avoiding crowds and close contact.

The COVID-19 situation is extremely fluid, and we are adapting our safety protocols as the situation demands. We are committed to being responsive and hope to better protect our employees and community by controlling the spread of Coronavirus.

By Steve Baker Mar 13, 2020
An elastomer keypad with an active-web design

In a recent blog, we discussed how elastomer keypads offer unparalleled design flexibility to fit your product’s unique feel and specifications. Once you have decided on using an elastomer keypad, it is important to create an optimal customer experience by tailoring the exact feel of each button. Depending on the application, there are several design considerations to take into account.

Should it be difficult to press down to avoid accidental activation, or easy to press for a consumer application such as a television remote? Should the button make an audible snap sound when pressed? Regardless of which is desired, elastomer keypads can be customized to feel and behave a multitude of different ways by employing either an active web or a dead web design.

An elastomer button with an active web design has a small web at the base of the button that flexes when the button is pressed. The resistance of this flex gives a tactile response as the button is pushed down, informing the user of the switch actuation. A carbon or metallic puck is molded into the underside of the button, which completes the circuit when the button is pressed.

In contrast, a dead web design on an elastomer keypad is a button without any web at the base. Instead of the web providing the tactile feedback, a metal dome is inserted under the button itself. The metal dome provides the tactile response and an audible click sound when pressed.

One of the differences between the two designs is the cost of manufacturing. For an active web design, the tooling can be slightly more expensive since the resistance is governed by the web itself. This typically requires more trial and error to determine the thickness of the web, since the entire keypad is molded as one piece. It can be tricky to figure out exactly how much actuation force is needed to press the button to get it to the exact desired resistance. For a dead web button, the inserted metal dome dictates the resistance, and the metal domes typically have a very specific amount of actuating force needed to be pressed. Simply, the specific dome is selected based on how much force is desired.

Another important difference is the cleanability of both types. While both are sealed and work well in harsh environments, it can be easier to clean dead web keypads since the buttons usually do not protrude as much as with active web designs. In addition, they typically don’t come through a bezel, providing less space for unwanted material to get trapped. Due to the lack of bezel and the low profile of dead web designs, they generally are much easier to clean.

While there are differences between them, the decision on whether to use an active web or dead web design ultimately comes down to the desired user experience for the specific product. To learn more about all of the possibilities with elastomer, visit our elastomer page.