graphic overlays

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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 | 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.