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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.

Dan Swanson, GMN
By Dan Swanson | May 9, 2017
Rapid prototype of a nameplate.

Substantial planning and thought go into manufacturing a custom nameplate – development, sourcing material, setting up the build plan, scheduling, and full-scale production. Therefore, companies typically find themselves in a tough position if they need last minute nameplates to show off at a meeting or tradeshow in the near future. In time sensitive situations, rapid prototyping services are extremely effective in providing quick-turn proof-of-concept solutions.

Through rapid prototyping, a physical representation of a product concept is brought to life. The prototype will essentially have the same form and fit of the desired product, but may not include complete intended functionality. Customers can explore innovative ideas and multiple design considerations with accelerated leads times and reduced costs compared to full production parts. Prototypes of functional products, including membrane switches and functional overlays, can be made as well. Prototyping services not only provide quick-turn solutions, but also offer design support to help customers develop a path towards production.

Kenworth, a heavy-duty truck manufacturer, came to GM Nameplate (GMN) in need of a prototype for an upcoming tradeshow. They wanted to be able to showcase an example of a new nameplate for their limited edition ICON 900 truck. GMN’s rapid prototyping team worked closely with Kenworth to leverage production processes to manufacture the part. The nameplate was selectively chrome plated, which gave the part a modern, high-end automotive look. Then a urethane dome and an aggressive adhesive were placed on the nameplate for added durability.

In addition, GMN’s rapid prototyping team also provides pre-production services as well. Pre-production is best suited for customers who need low volume, quick-turn parts that are more representative of complete functional production parts for purposes such as qualification and testing. This process utilizes all of the production equipment and processes that would be used during the full-scale production of a program, but still involves the development of new products.

To learn more about GMN’s rapid prototyping capabilities, visit our rapid prototyping page.

To request prototypes, fill out our request prototypes form.

Chris Passanante, GMN
By Chris Passanante | Apr 25, 2017
Plastic insert mold decorated part for the automotive industry.

In the sixth and final part of our blog series covering plastic decoration capabilities, insert mold decorating will be discussed.

Insert mold decorating, known as IMD, is a technology that imbeds a graphic overlay into an injection molded plastic piece. The IMD machine first picks up the graphic overlay with a robotic arm and then loads it into the mold. Molten resin is then injected into the mold which bonds the overlay to the part. From there, the robotic arm picks up the complete part and sets it onto the conveyer belt to be sent to the operator.

IMD is a high volume application using automated processes. In terms of functionality, this technology is utilized frequently for the aerospace and automotive industries because the process ensures strong durability and that the ink won’t wear off of the part. There are material considerations for bonding to ensure that different materials will adhere correctly. For example, if you are bonding two different materials such as nylon and polycarbonate that don’t want to stick together, it can be challenging to figure out how to bond them together. This can be done on first or second surfaces, meaning placing the graphic overlay either on top or below the plastic, and is a design driven decision.

In addition, IMD parts are bulletproof, which is an important feature for many ruggedized industries. Aesthetically, IMD can pull off multiple effects including wood grain, carbon fiber, and high gloss piano black, which are frequently used in the automotive industry. IMD can also incorporate backlighting technologies. Backlighting can be molded in and bonded into the part versus the use of adhesives.

The development phase for IMD can be long, but prototyping can be very helpful for the design as a production tool. IMD is an advanced process through which many GMN customers have found long lasting results. 

To learn more about the plastic decorative options offered at GMN, please visit the rest of our blog series by clicking here

Rich Smylie, GMN
By Richard Smylie | Mar 31, 2017

As the preferred material for parts used in extreme environments, stainless steel has applications in industries including automotive and home appliance. With extensive experience working with stainless steel, GM Nameplate (GMN) can help customers choose the correct stainless steel alloy for their application.

Each stainless steel alloy is unique in element composition and elongation, resulting in differing performance capabilities, visual characteristics, cost profiles and elongation ratios. Elongation is the amount of expansion a metal under stress can endure given its original length. The two most common alloys employed in automotive and major appliance parts are the 300 and 400 series.

With superior elongation, the stainless steel 300 series is non-magnetic and employed where severe metal forming is required.  Prevalent in the automotive industry, the 300 series is also known for extreme corrosion resistance, crack resistance, and non-yellowing when subjected to high temperatures and brilliance. The automotive industry favors the 300 series for sill plates, liftgate trim and other vehicle accents that are exposed to extreme environments. For its durability under high temperatures, the 300 series is used in ranges for the home appliance industry as well.

The stainless steel 400 series is magnetic and has a smooth surface finish that is ideal for home appliance products. A disadvantage to the 400 series is that it is more susceptible to corrosion than the 300 series as it has less chromium and nickel. As a result the 400 series is more cost effective than the 300 series. The 400 series is the alloy of choice for cost-sensitive appliance applications such as dish washers and refrigerators.

After choosing the right stainless steel alloy, GMN can provide customers with industry-leading, metal decoration capabilities including selective mechanical finishing on stainless steel. GMN’s mechanical metal finishing capabilities include but are not limited to brushing, spinning, and tooled patterns.

In addition to mechanical finishing, GMN offers graphic finishing including premium coatings and inks. For more information on custom-engineered coatings and inks visit our previous blog post.

Chris Passanante, GMN
By Chris Passanante | Mar 27, 2017

In part five of our plastic decorating series, we will discuss painting and laser etching. Painting is another standard plastic decorating option and is widely utilized across different industries. Painting employs multiple process methods including robotic painting and hand spray painting. The differentiator between these two options is the program volume. High volume production shifts towards automatic processes while lower volumes lean towards manual painting.

There are many benefits of painting. First, painting can achieve highly specific colors that are crucial for customers’ branding. Next, painting allows for multiple colors to be applied to a part. This process also has the ability to hide mold flow lines, knit lines and other molding imperfections that are sometimes inevitable in production. Additionally, painting can offer a textured effect with soft touch paint that provides a rubber feel, clear coat, or protective coating depending on program requirements.

As a decorative option, painting can be costly and masking can be labor intensive depending on the part. Painting requires a clean environment and sometimes the curing time is longer than for other decorative technologies.

Oftentimes, painting processes are used in collaboration with laser etching. Laser etching is a technology that uses a laser to burn away the paint in specified areas on a part. Laser etching can achieve very fine detail and can be utilized on multiple materials including silicone, hard thermoplastics, as well as metal. Along with removing paint, laser etching can permanently engrave and etch plastic. One aspect of production is to optimize cycle time by fixturing multiple parts at once during laser etching.

It is important to consider that with laser etching, the initial programming can be timely and the masking needed is labor intensive throughout the process.

Rubber keypads are a good example of the collaboration between painting and laser etching that has been utilized for years. This combination of technologies is also very popular in the automotive industry, especially in gear shift indicators, and it’s likely that these processes were utilized on a plastic piece within your vehicle.

In our final plastic decorating article, we will discuss insert mold decorating.

To learn more about the plastic decorative options offered at GMN, please visit the rest of our blog series by clicking here

By Jim Badders | Mar 7, 2017
A display with a printed glass solution.

GM Nameplate (GMN) produces custom printed glass solutions for a wide variety of industries. Whether you need a border to hide mounting hardware or want to include a logo or other backlit icon, GMN can support any printed glass solution from development through value-added assembly. With a growing amount of printed glass options available, there are many considerations to keep in mind that will help to ensure program success.

A variety of graphic features can be printed on the backside of the cover glass, including decorative borders, company names or logos, and symbols. Most printed glass solutions are predominantly done in black, but can incorporate multiple custom colors as well.

Indicator windows are also commonly requested for ambient light sensors, power indicators, or IR sensing. Dead-front indicator windows can be used to help disguise the port windows, making the windows less obvious to the user and hiding the component behind the window.

It is essential to understand how different ink colors are printed to be able to create a clean and polished look. Inks need to be printed thick enough to reach a sufficient level of opacity in order to prevent light from showing through the background and along the edges of the screen. As a result, light colored inks require an additional ink layer for opacity. The buildup of extra layers increases the ink’s thickness, but can also lead to processing difficulties later on if the ink becomes too thick.

When printing light colors – especially with precise color matches – the manufacturer must also consider the inherent tint or hue of the glass being utilized. Some types of glass, such as soda-lime, have a slight green tint that will alter the finished color of the ink when looking through the glass. To counteract this issue, colors have to be adjusted to account for the tint. If there are persisting color-matching difficulties, the customer may need to switch to a low iron soda-lime or borosilicate glass, which has a more water-clear/blue tint.

During the bonding or lamination of flexible sensor films or touchscreens to printed glass, micro air bubbles can form along the window border if the ink is too thick. To prevent the formation of these micro bubbles, the edges of the ink can be gradually pulled back. This creates a stair step effect so that the ink gradually increases and decreases in thickness, which helps the adhesive to flow.

To learn more about GMN’s printed glass and front panel integration capabilities, visit our front panel integration page. 

Chris Passanante, GMN
By Chris Passanante | Feb 16, 2017
Vacuum metallized plastic part.

In this fourth part of our plastic decorating series, we will take a look at vacuum metallization. Vacuum metallization is a unique decorating technology that bonds a metallic layer to the plastic substrate through a vacuum vapor deposition process. This capability has both functional and decorative uses, such as EMI/RFI shielding or providing a chrome metallic finish.

Vacuum metallization is applied to the back side of a clear plastic part, but it appears to be chrome on the front side (looking through the clear material). This approach has allowed GMN to provide customers with some unique looking parts due to the 3-dimensional floating effect it that can be achieved with the right design inputs.  In some instances, we combine printing techniques and debossed lettering or images on the backside of the part and then vacuum metallize it for an additional effect.

At GMN, our team of plastic experts can include translucent backlighting on vacuum metallized parts to achieve a dead-front effect. This means that graphics or an LCD display will show through the chrome when the part is backlit, but will disappear behind the chrome when the lighting is turned off. 

Some considerations for this capability are that vacuum metallized parts can pick up fingerprints easily and depending on the detail of the part, the process of masking can be labor intensive. Overall, vacuum metallization is a bit more costly than other decorative options, but it achieves a very distinct and unique look that will allow your product to stand out from the competition.

Next, we’ll discuss the dual technologies of painting and laser etching plastic components.

Check out other blogs from this series to learn about more plastic decorative options:

By Maeghan Callegari | Feb 7, 2017

LEVL, a health and wellness company, asked GM Nameplate (GMN) to manufacture a backlit user interface for their medical device. LEVL wanted a cost-effective solution and small, backlit indicators that could light up independently. During prototyping, GMN found that using white, discrete LEDs and a printed graphic overlay with transparent colors would be the best solution for their device.

Learn more about how GMN supported LEVL by reading our case study.

By Maeghan Callegari | Feb 1, 2017

Next week, GM Nameplate will be exhibiting at Medical Design and Manufacturing West (MD&M) show in Anaheim, California. GMN technical experts will be on site in booth #2077 to discuss upcoming projects and GMN’s custom manufacturing capabilities. Samples will be available to demonstrate GMN’s latest technologies including capacitive switch technology demonstration units, front panel integration, plastic injection molded components, nameplates, printed electrodes, overlays and more. We are happy to set up formal meetings to discuss your next project so please reach out to us today because spaces are limited. We can be reached directly at info@gmnameplate.com

Learn more here.

By Alison Alvarez | Jan 30, 2017
Domed magni-lens metallic label for InterMetro

InterMetro, a global manufacturer of storage and transport products, contacted GM Nameplate (GMN) regarding a label for their medical storage units. Their primary concern for the label was its ability to withstand environmental conditions. In the medical setting, the label would be in constant contact with harsh chemicals, so GMN suggested a magni-lens domed part for protection and longevity. Because of their durability, magni-lens domed labels are very popular among medical device companies.

In addition to endurance, InterMetro wanted their part to stand out. InterMetro decided on a bright Mylar substrate that included a silver metallic background with purple transparent ink which allowed the bright material to show through and highlight the product name. The part was also embossed to create a dimensional effect. In the end, the metallic magni-lens label proved to be a more cost effective option than metal, while maintaining a similar appearance and sheen.   

Thorough production and inspection processes are required to ensure the creation of a reliable, uniform label. At GMN, we maintain high-quality standards of production and carefully inspect each product for consistency and excellence.

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