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Debbie-Anderson-GMN
By Debbie Anderson | Mar 20, 2018
Functional non-conductive inks at GMN

This blog is the second in our series on functional inks. In our previous blog (read here), we touched upon the various conductive inks used at GM Nameplate (GMN). In this blog, we will explore the different types and applications of non-conductive inks. Non-conductive inks, as the name indicates, do not conduct electricity, but are employed in vital functional products and decorative applications including sensors, membrane switches, graphic overlays, and labels. The non-conductive inks used at GMN include:

Dielectric inks: Dielectric inks are electrically insulating inks that work in tandem with conductive inks by protecting them. In a multi-layer construction of circuitry, dielectric inks prevent the various layers of conductive ink from interacting with each other. By creating insulating barriers, they avert electrical shorting and silver migration. Since most dielectric inks are ultra violet (UV) curable, they can be used on a broad spectrum of rigid and flexible substrates including bare or print-treated polyester, polycarbonate, and glass. They offer strong adhesion properties, superior flexibility, resistance to moisture and abrasion and are minimally affected by folds and bends. Dielectric inks are commonly used in membrane switches, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, antennas, and electrodes.

Graphic inks: As a custom manufacturer, GMN utilizes graphic inks in a wide range of its components and brand identity products such as nameplates, labels, decorative signs, decals, placards, elastomer keypads, and graphic overlays. The various types of graphic inks that GMN offers include solvent-based inks, water-based inks, UV curable inks, epoxy inks, and air-dry inks. The selection of the appropriate ink for any given application is dictated by a multitude of factors like surface energy and surface tension of the substrate, environmental conditions, and cost. GMN regularly employs screen printing, digital printing, lithographic printing, UV inkjet printing, and UV flexographic printing for the printing of graphic inks. With decades of experience, GMN can create an exact color match or provide a color that matches the Pantone matching system.

Specialty inks: While dielectric and graphic inks significantly dominate the realm of non-conductive inks at GMN, the use of specialty inks are gradually crawling up in the product development phase. The unique characteristics of specialty inks is finding new functional and decorative applications. The most common types of specialty inks seen today are:

a) Thermochromic inks: These are temperature-sensitive inks that change color when the ambient temperature increases beyond a pre-designated value. They come in many colors like shades of neon, blue, purple, etc. Common applications include labels, print advertising, fabrics, biomarkers and sensors.

b) Photochromic inks: These inks temporarily change color when exposed to UV light. Similar to thermochromic inks, these photochromic inks also come in several colors. They can be seen in light-sensitive eyewear solutions, body patches to detect exposure to sunlight, and clothing.

c) Hydrochromic inks: These inks change color when they interact with or get immersed in water. Typical applications include packaging solutions, decorative umbrellas, and clothing.

GMN relies on industry-leading ink compounders to formulate custom inks for its varied customers. Our long-standing relationships with the ink compounders enables GMN to mitigate price volatility and improve efficiency by reducing production lead times. It also allows GMN to meet diverse manufacturing needs and remain agile during the product development process. While each application calls for a specific ink and printing process, GMN works with each customer from beginning to end to determine the needs of the project and provide effective solutions.

Debbie-Anderson-GMN
By Debbie Anderson | Mar 15, 2018
Functional printed electronics inks at GMN

Functional inks are a cost-effective method to manufacture printed and flexible circuits. While the traditional technologies of etched copper flex circuits and printed circuit boards (PCBs) are still prevalent, functional inks have the advantage of being an economical alternative when it comes to printing on flexible substrates and mass-scale production of circuits. In this two-part blog series, we will broadly touch upon the essentials of functional inks employed by GMN in its wide-ranging manufacturing services.

Depending on the ink type and final product application, functional inks can be applied on a wide gamut of both rigid and flexible substrates using various printing techniques including screen printing (sheet-fed and roll-fed), aerosol jet printing, and gravure printing. Functional inks are undeniably more environment-friendly than the traditional technologies. While the subtractive process of etching copper on PCBs requires acid baths, the additive process of using functional inks does not produce any waste streams or involve any hazardous chemicals. Functional inks can be classified into two categories: conductive inks and non-conductive inks. In this blog, we will broadly explore the various conductive inks used in GMN, their properties and applications.

Conductive inks, as the name suggests, are inks that conduct electricity. They are commonly seen in capacitive and membrane switches, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, touch screens, biomedical and electrochemical sensors, Positive Temperature Coefficient (PTC) heaters, electromagnetic interference/radio frequency interference (EMI/RFI) shielding, and more. Recent developments in stretchable conductive inks are also leading the evolution of wearable electronics.

For any given application, the two C’s that primarily govern the conductive ink selection process are cost and conductivity. Some other key factors that govern decisions include substrate compatibility, the ink’s molecular structure, final product application, and power efficiency requirements. Some of the conductive inks employed by GMN include: 

a) Silver and silver chloride inks: Silver inks offer superior conductivity and low resistance. They are compatible with a broad range of substrates including polyester, polycarbonate, glass, and vinyl, and are resistant to abrasion, folds, and creases. Their high adhesion, high flexibility and ease of printability have made them the ideal choice in medical electrodes and membrane circuits.

b) Carbon-based inks: Carbon inks offer higher resistance, lower conductivity, and superior durability as compared to silver inks. They protect silver inks from silver migration, shield circuits from shorting and are cheaper than silver inks. They also offer similar benefits as silver inks in terms of adhesion properties, ease of printability, and substrate compatibility. Carbon inks are often blended with silver inks to achieve the desired balance between resistivity, conductivity, and cost. Typical applications at GMN include cost-effective capacitive touch switches.

c) Gold and platinum inks: Given the huge cost hurdles associated with noble metals like gold and platinum, these inks are usually produced and utilized in very small quantities. GMN occasionally employs them in the product development stage or in applications where performance benefits outweigh the cost barrier. For example, gold is used in applications where high resistance to oxidation is crucial and platinum is seen in applications that demand high conductivity.

d) Other metal-based inks: Copper inks can be used as a cheaper alternative to silver inks, given its high conductivity, but its low stability often poses limitations on its use. While nickel offers high durability, it is more expensive than carbon inks.

To learn about non-conductive functional inks, stay tuned for our next blog.