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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.  

By Kenny Pravitz | Jan 30, 2018
IMD allows different graphic overlays to be used in the same molded shape, giving  you customization.

Many industries require the decorative elements of plastic to be highly durable. For example, the aerospace, automotive, and medical industries have many high-wear applications that require strong, durable parts where printed icons won’t scratch off or fade away. Products that are decorated using first-surface decorating processes, where graphics are placed on the outermost layer (such as pad printing, screen printing, or hot stamping), wear out over time and aren’t suitable for these industries. Depending on the materials and processes used, the inks on plastic pieces can fade out over time, making it difficult or impossible to read indicators on those pieces.

In-mold decorating (IMD) is a plastic decorating method that ensures the durability of the graphic overlays and allows for multiple design options for the overlays. In brief, IMD is a process where a graphic overlay is physically fused to injection molded plastic to form one piece. Molten resin is injected either in front or behind the graphic overlay to form a bond between the two. Unlike pad printing, screen printing, or hot stamping – where inks and overlays are exposed to the user that can deteriorate over time – IMD parts have a layer of plastic that encapsulates the ink, protecting it from users and the outside environment.

GMN Plastics, GM Nameplate’s (GMN) plastics division in Beaverton, OR, recently created a video that demonstrates the IMD process. In the video, we see an end-of-arm tool pick up a graphic overlay and place it in the injection mold using a vacuum system, while simultaneously removing a part that was just molded. Both of these functions are completed in one cycle, allowing for faster and more efficient production. Locating pins in both the end-of-arm tool and injection mold itself allow for consistent placement of the overlay in the tool, which is critical for functional parts in regulated industries. If the overlays are not correctly and consistently placed in the mold, some portions of the overlay may not be fully encapsulated by plastic during the molding process.

IMD is ideal for higher volume projects that have stringent durability requirements, as there is more design engineering required up front than with a standard injection molded part. However, one advantage is that once the graphic overlay and molded part is designed, printed graphics on the overlay can be changed at any time to allow for customization and unlimited design options.

To learn more about what the IMD process is, read this blog.

To watch the IMD process, click play on the video below. 

By Brian Rowe | Oct 16, 2017
GMN’s customized LED solution and labels for eMW

eMotorWerks, Inc. (eMW), a California-based company, provides cloud-connected charging solutions for electric vehicles. While developing their first portable electric car charger called the JuiceBox, they approached GM Nameplate (GMN) for labels and a customized LED solution along with labels and overlay.

The initial and largest hurdle for eMW remained design development. They were entering a challenging territory of hardware design for the very first time and the nuances of product design can be extremely daunting. However, the engineers at GMN walked the extra mile to quickly fill that void with decades of experience and knowledge. They heard the needs and concerns of eMW and dug deeper into the applications of the final product to provide the best design considerations. eMW wanted the labels to be robust, water resistant and most importantly, UL-certified. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is a widely accepted certification mark verifying that the product has met UL’s safety standards and requirements. As a portable car charger, the JuiceBox would frequently shuttle between indoor and outdoor environments, which meant that the possibility of prolonged exposure to the sun had to be taken into consideration.

A handful of sketches and revisions later, GMN delivered a prototype within a compressed schedule. eMW’s idea was translated into a concrete creation - a customized non-tactile membrane with LED lights. This proposed solution was not only cost-effective, but also offered a range of performance and durability benefits. Currently, GMN manufactures four discrete parts for the JuiceBox – 1) printed circuit with surface-mounted LEDs, 2) UL-certified graphic overlay, 3) UL-certified warning label, and 4) UL-certified product label.

The flexible circuit that lies beneath the overlay is screen printed on a thin polyester sheet using silver conductive ink. It is then masked with an insulation layer to prevent any electrostatic discharge. This entire circuit construction occupies very little space and prevents moisture ingress. Instead of mounting the circuit on top of the bezel, it is mounted to the underside to keep the profile thin. Thanks to the design flexibility that printed circuits offer, it was possible to tailor the size and width of the circuit, length of the flex tail and exit point as necessary. LEDs are then mounted on the circuit layer. LEDs are a simple, long-lasting and economical solution for lighting up small indicators as required in this case. They are bright, energy efficient, light up quickly and emit very little heat. Three distinct colored LEDs - amber, blue and green - indicate the charging status, the Wi-Fi network, and the power status respectively.

The graphic overlay, acting as the face of the printed circuit, directly interacts with the final user. Hence, striking a synergy between aesthetics and functionality was crucial here. The overlay is printed on a highly-durable polycarbonate with a velvet-textured, anti-glare finish. The background is screen printed to provide opacity. The opaque layer reduces lighted halos of the LEDs by allowing light only through the designated indicators on the surface. The overlay is resistant to water, chemicals and abrasions. The chosen material also provides good UV (ultraviolet) resistance, making it ideal for outdoor settings.

The warning label is produced in the same manner as the graphic overlay, using the same materials, techniques and finishes. While the contrasting black-&-white color palette ensures good readability, the orange rim enhances the appearance of the label. 

The product label that sits on the anterior of the charger is digitally printed on polyester and then covered with a UV-resistant lamination. The protective layer makes the label resilient for its intended indoor & outdoor use by mitigating the fading of ink under the sun. The combination of material, inks, and construction will allow the UL-compliant labels and overlay to retain their appearance for years. 

From design consultation to final production, GMN walked hand-in-hand with eMW throughout the entire process. This fulfilling partnership allowed the timely delivery of a cost-effective, customized solution. To learn more about our custom-made membrane switch solutions, check out our capabilities page here

By Brian Rowe | Jul 17, 2017
BECO Dairy Automation overlay set

BECO Dairy Automation Inc. is a manufacturer of modern dairy equipment. BECO came to GM Nameplate (GMN) looking for several overlays for their Immix G2 machine, a dairy milking control module. The overlays had specific aesthetic requirements and also needed to be able to handle the harsh environment of milking farms.

There were six overlays made with each set: three labels, two control switches, and one large label with display windows to read measurements on the Immix machine.

The overlays were required to withstand one million actuations, frequent contact with chemicals, and being sprayed by powerful hoses on a daily basis. BECO also wanted the overlays to have a metallic look that was complimented by a red gradient.

GMN initially used its new digital THIEME printer for this project. The THIEME printer can run multiple colors and print the entire overlay in one run instead of having to switch colors with each run-through, which eliminates setup costs associated with other conventional printing processes. This printing process is best for low to medium volume products with multiple colors and gradients, such as the red gradient BECO wanted on their overlay.

Traditional digital inks aren’t very durable, but with this machine, GMN has the capability of digitally printing UV curable inks which can be used for overlays that will face a lot of actuations. With a suitable ink selection based on the substrate material, we are also able to perform additional post-printing processes, such as embossing, to enhance the product appearance and add additional value over an older digital press.

However, the biggest challenge was achieving the desired metallic look that could survive countless actuations. Most metallic inks aren’t durable enough to withstand the hundreds of thousands of actuations that the BECO overlays would endure. Therefore, GMN decided to use a silver ink that was slightly more opaque, but had a guaranteed long actuation life.

Once the overlay was designed and ready to print, BECO ordered a higher quantity of overlays than initially anticipated. In order to meet the timeline, GMN moved the printing process to an offset lithography printer, which is a more cost effective process for larger volumes while still maintaining the level of quality.

With years of experience in printing and manufacturing, GMN knows which production technique is most appropriate for each project. Through GMN’s diverse array of capabilities and equipment, we are able to use the most economical option that will get the job done to meet budget and time constraints.

By Sandy Dick | Jul 11, 2017
CONMED membrane switch assembly

CONMED, a global medical technology company, came to GM Nameplate (GMN) in need of a membrane switch for the control panel of their surgical generator. With diverse capabilities and decades of experience working with the medical industry, GMN was able to provide not only each component of the membrane switch, but the complete, value-added assembly of the part as well.

The graphic overlay was printed using a combination of screen and litho printing and included multiple display windows and LED indicators. The overlay’s background colors were screen printed to achieve a high opacity, which helped to prevent light bleed from the illuminated LEDs. Litho printing was used to apply fine details and halftone patterns to the part. A halftone dot pattern was printed on top of the background to create a gradient effect on the keys and along the top of the overlay. Creating a halftone pattern that achieved the customer’s desired aesthetic proved to be challenging, but the ideal look was reached after several trials of testing various pattern constructions (altering dot size and space between the dots). GMN also printed the membrane circuit that goes behind the overlay and connects to the LEDs and switches.

Another challenge faced during this project was choosing the correct snap domes for the different-sized keys to create a good tactile feel. The difficulty stemmed from the unusual shapes of the keys and various sizes of domes. As a consistent layer across the entire part, the spacer interacts simultaneously with every dome and affects each dome size differently. Therefore, GMN had to carefully review the stack-up to include a spacer layer with the optimal thickness to give every dome size enough room to provide a crisp tactile feel.

A variety of layers were required in the stack-up in order to ensure that the part would function properly. ESD shielding was placed under the circuit connector to protect from static discharge and an aluminum subpanel was added to support the otherwise flexible structure. A foam gasket surrounded the outside of the panel to seal the area from outside moisture and fluids. Finally, due to a concern of the closeness to the electrical components beneath the panel, an insulating layer was added to the backside of the subpanel to prevent the electrical components from shorting out against this metal layer.

From early development through full-scale production, GMN worked closely with the customer to develop this product and provide design considerations for part manufacturability. As a product used in the operating room, GMN held multiple pilot runs to ensure the part functioned as intended and met the customer’s standards. 

CONMED surgical generator with GMN's membrane switch assembly.

By Rachel Wienckoski | May 18, 2017
Polyester and polycarbonate are both popular overlay materials.

Have you ever walked up to an ATM machine or gas pump and noticed the cracking, fading numbers on the keypad? This is a prime example of why material selection is vital for graphic overlays. At GMN, the two most common materials used for graphic overlays are polyester and polycarbonate. Depending on the application, there are advantages and disadvantages for both materials.

When evaluating overlay materials, one of the most important factors to consider is durability. Polyester and polycarbonate are both extremely durable materials, but polyester is generally known as the more durable option. Polyester has a longer actuation life (over 1 million actuations vs. 200,000 actuations), meaning that it can endure more switch actuations before the overlay will start to crack or deform. As a result, polyester is a great choice for membrane switches and overlay designs that include embossed buttons. Polycarbonate has a wider thickness range, and increasing the thickness of an overlay can help make it more durable. However, polycarbonate is best suited for applications with minimal flex requirements because continual flexing can cause stress fractures over time. Therefore, in the scenario above, polycarbonate was likely chosen for those overlays, when polyester would’ve been a better choice.

In addition, polyester is resistant to abrasion and significantly more resistant to acids and chemicals, making it an ideal substrate for the medical, industrial, and appliance industries. Polycarbonate is flame retardant while polyester is flammable, making polycarbonate perfect for industries in which safety is of high importance, such as the aerospace industry. Alternatively, hard-coating can be used to significantly improve the durability of either material.

While polyester has an edge in terms of durability, polycarbonate has some cosmetic advantages over polyester. Polycarbonate offers a wider range of textures and finishes, which can be attractive when design is the most important factor. It also has very high clarity and color brilliance. If an overlay is being used purely for appearances and won’t be exposed to frequent use, polycarbonate may be the most appropriate substrate choice.

In terms of production, polycarbonate tends to process easier than polyester. It’s very easy to cleanly print on polycarbonate of all thicknesses. Polycarbonate is also easier to die-cut and emboss, which can help to reduce cost.

The cost difference between the two types of materials is minimal, so the application and use considerations are typically the main factors to consider. However overall, polyester is slightly more expensive than polycarbonate.

Polyester and polycarbonate are both excellent material choices for overlays. Ultimately, the choice between the two will depend on the overlay’s design requirements and environmental conditions. For more information on how polyester and polycarbonate compare, visit GMN’s graphic overlays page.

Anna Minzel, GMN
By Anna Minzel | Jul 7, 2016
Fluke graphic overlay

The Fluke Corporation, a manufacturer of electronic test tools, was in need of a graphic overlay for their latest communication tool. The overlay contained a unique combination of characteristics that made Fluke’s originally desired printing method costly. Due to GMN’s rapid prototyping services, an alternative printing solution was quickly uncovered that met Fluke’s distinct color, time, and cost requirements. Learn more about this program by reading our case study here.

By Steve Baker | Jan 20, 2015
Acel Rx membrane switch assembly

As a printed electronics manufacturer, GM Nameplate manufactures membrane switches and other electronic components for various industries including medical. GM Nameplate has been working with specialty pharmaceutical company AcelRx since 2009, printing a membrane switch and overlay for their Zalviso device. The device is used for post-operative pain management.

The overlay features a selectively textured front surface and tactile buttons to make it more use friendly. It also features a window for the device’s display screen. This window added a challenge to the part, as it required rigidity and durability without increasing the size of the membrane switch or thickness of the overlay material. GMN created a unique solution for AcelRx by combining the dome spacer with a window stiffener layer and optically bonding  this component to back of the overlay.

In the electronics industry where components are constantly getting smaller, it is imperative to have adequate technical printing resources to yield robust and reliable circuits to avoid any malfunction when in use – and when the component is used on a medical device the stakes are higher. Stringent printing and inspection procedures are in place to ensure that every element of the membrane and overlay meets customer specifications.

This membrane switch is a great example of GMN’s expert electronic printing capabilities in highly regulated industries, and the type of products we will be showcasing at MD&M West in a few weeks. The final parts meet all the technical customer’s requirements while provide the necessary durability and wear resistance needed.

To learn more about GMN’s recent electronics projects visit some of our other blogs.