In the final blog of our three-part series on technical printing, we will discuss the qualification procedures that technical printing projects endure.
In the last blog, we described the five phases of development for technical printing projects. Once that process is complete and stable, the project goes through qualification procedures as it moves on to production. GM Nameplate (GMN) carefully applies these procedures with technical printing projects, especially those belonging to highly regulated industries such as aerospace and medical.
There are three qualifications that projects must pass during production to be validated as parts ready to sell:
Installation qualification (IQ)
Correct installation of machinery is vital because if the equipment isn’t properly installed, the parts it produces won’t be viable. IQ is typically conducted for new pieces of equipment purchased for a particular job. This involves testing the equipment and understanding the ins and outs of how it works. One of the most important factors when conducting IQ is learning the equipment’s variability when being used so we know the accuracy of the machine. With technical printing projects, only so much variability is allowed, and the variance of the equipment used must be carefully considered during production. If the piece of equipment has been used before, past qualification tests can be referenced.
Operation qualification (OQ)
This process is to ensure that variables and critical operational parameters are held constant throughout production. In the previous blog, we described the initial development process that technical printing projects go through when moving from concept to production. OQ is all about understanding variability in our operation processes and how to maintain consistency during large-scale production. This is essentially development on the production level, requiring testing of many variables to gain a better understanding.
Since technically printed parts belong to pieces of equipment like medical devices, many variables must be controlled strictly, such as drying temperature, ink dispensing, ink thickness, and substrate materials. During OQ, the parameter windows are set with a minimum and maximum level of variances allowed, and it is critical to stay within these throughout production. For example, once we know the optimal temperature at which the ink will cure, the optimal thickness of the ink, and which substrate material is best for the ink to adhere to, we can move forward with production knowing the variables will be held constant at the appropriate level.
Production qualification (PQ)
Production qualification is testing our production processes and the materials used when we manufacture parts (our suppliers’ control parameters). Since technically printed parts belong to highly regulated industries, we must make sure the substrates, dielectrics, carbons, silvers, and other materials are without defect and that our production processes are keeping the many variables in the middle of their parameter window. This process is done by doing three different runs/setups with different lots of materials during initial production. Once the parts are produced, each lot is examined to make sure it falls within the tight parameter windows. If it doesn’t, a root-cause analysis is conducted to determine whether the failure was due to poor materials, an issue with production setup, or another factor. This process is a final review that ensures that by the time the part is completed, it will be ready for the customer.
Since technically printed parts belong to highly regulated industries, they often go through this process when initially setting up for production. GMN employs an expert team of quality control inspectors and quality engineers and utilizes IQ, OQ, PQ processes to ensure quality and repeatability throughout production.
To learn more about technical printing, check out the other blogs from this series:
This blog is the second in our series on technical printing. In our first blog, we gave an in-depth description of what technical printing is. In this blog, we will talk about how technical printing projects go from development to production.
How are technical printing projects started? At GM Nameplate (GMN), technical printing projects start in our development department where the design is scrutinized, reviewed, and tested. The goal is to produce development part designs and find out quickly whether the part is manufacturable or not. This department will provide design considerations and test reports until a conclusion is drawn. Once a batch of parts has a high yield per volume and a high success rate, the project can move onto full production.
Phases of technical printing projects
There are five phases that technical printing projects go through during development before they can move on to full-scale production, each one with specific operations. These phases are particular to technical printing projects only because of the high level of scrutiny required in development.
Phase 1: Ideation
Ideation is an ongoing conversation between the customer and GMN to identify the areas of the highest design risk. This allows both parties to define steps to test design assumptions and evaluate potential design and material solutions to help build confidence about the known challenges.
Phase 2: Risk mitigation
This phase is used to validate material stability and printability, explore material handling and registration options, review curing processes, and establish a planned production approach. Defining the risks and challenges that are likely to occur allows for a plan to be made accordingly. All challenges must be addressed with extreme scrutiny because technical printed parts require much tighter tolerances.
Phase 3: Low volume functional prototyping
Low-volume prototyping is used to create functional printed parts using the materials and preliminary product design planned for use during full volume production. This could take several rounds of prototype layouts and testing, and repeating this process until a high yield success rate is achieved. With technical printing, projects in this phase become more device-specific and are outside of typical production, development, and industry standards.
Phase 4: Production development prototyping
With a suitable design identified, GMN will work on transitioning into production manufacturing development. Larger quantities of parts will be printed and evaluated, with the goal of meeting customer specifications. The parameter window for meeting the customer’s specifications is very small in technical printing and is why technically printed parts are evaluated so thoroughly.
Phase 5: Production validation
Once the parts have passed the previous phase, the project is handed to a production team and design engineer to apply to production volume quantities.
GMN’s expertise and strict quality systems allow us to work in these highly regulated spaces and gives our clients confidence in the parts we produce for them. To learn more about technical printing, check out the other blogs from this series:
This blog is the first in our new series on technical printing. Throughout this series, we will describe the procedures involved in creating technical printing solutions, from start to finish. To begin, this blog will focus on defining technical printing and what it’s used for.
Introduction to technical printing
Technical printing is a generic term used for functional printing projects that fall outside industry standards, materials, processes, and specifications. These projects require extremely tight tolerances and critical product specifications, typically belonging to highly regulated industries, such as the medical industry. The processes follow current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), which are regulations enforced by the FDA to ensure products consistently meet the required quality standards. Technical printing and functional printing are both used for similar applications, such as for membrane switches. But while functional printing has more forgiving specifications, technical printing has much tighter specifications.
Examples of technical printing projects
A common example of technically printed parts is printed electrodes, which are strips manufactured for electrochemical analysis. This involves technical printing because they are typically used in the highly regulated medical field, in applications such as diabetic test strips. When manufacturing printed electrodes, conductive lines are intricately printed on polyester, typically using conductive inks including carbons, silvers, and silver-silver chlorides.
With technical printing, applying a conductive ink to a surface is similar to the process of applying frosting to a cake. When you squeeze a bag of frosting, a controlled amount comes out of an opening at the end. This same process is how conductive inks are applied as circuit lines on polyester substrates during technical printing.
Technical printing for the medical industry
GMN frequently manufactures electrodes for electrochemical test strips and devices, such as diabetic test strips or quick diagnostic labs. GMN prints electrodes with silver, carbon, or various conductive inks to measure a current or other signal. Our customers will then apply a reagent on top of the electrodes. When those reagents are exposed to bodily fluids such as blood, a chemical reaction takes place, and the electrodes will detect that reaction and send the signal to the device it is powered to. This is done on a very small scale, and the readings of signals must be completely accurate, which is why this part requires technical printing with a high degree of scrutiny. Because it has such a small trace, you can’t afford to have large variances in the circuit itself, which is why the tighter tolerances are so necessary.
Many variables go into technical printing projects, such as the curing times and quality of inks, as well as the substrates and thicknesses used. These variables are closely controlled, especially when making electrodes for medical equipment. These parts go on critical equipment and could mean life or death in certain situations, such as buttons for a medicine administration device used in hospitals or printed electrodes used in diagnostic labs for diseases. With years of experience in the medical industry and other highly regulated industries, GMN is a trusted manufacturer for technical printing projects.
To learn more about the development and qualification process for technical printing projects, check out the other blogs from this series:
Whether it’s etching, engraving, or cutting materials, laser technology plays an integral role in the fabrication and decoration of various components. But how do lasers exactly work? Which materials can a laser cut? What are the key advantages of utilizing lasers in the manufacturing industry? By demonstrating the working of a few laser cutters at GM Nameplate (GMN), our video will answer all the above questions.
How does laser technology work?
As seen in the video, a laser is mounted on an X-Y motion stage of the cutting machine. Installed perpendicular to the substrate, the laser moves across the surface to heat, melt, and vaporize the material. As opposed to a standard flashlight, the light released here is coherent, monochromatic, and directional. The core cutting characteristics, such as depth, speed, and power, are dictated by the wavelength and the frequency of the laser light.
Laser cutting machines at GMN
The laser cutters at GMN can be categorized into the following three types -
- Fiber laser – Creating light by banks of diodes, fiber laser channels and amplifies light through a fiber optic cable. The wavelength created by a fiber laser is ideal for marking and etching intricate patterns.
- CO2 laser – Utilizing CO2 as the amplifying medium, CO2 laser uses an electrical charge to excite the gas in a discharge tube to emit light. The frequency of this laser is ideal for cutting a broad range of substrates.
- Nitrogen laser – Similar to a CO2 laser, it uses nitrogen as the lasing medium to produce the cutting beam. At GMN, a nitrogen laser is employed for cutting aluminum and stainless steel.
To control the quality of the output, the laser cutters can also be accompanied by an assist gas such as nitrogen or air. The assist gas curtains the laser beam to swiftly vaporize the material after cutting, ensuring smooth and unblemished edges. Nitrogen gas assist is particularly suited for projects where upholding the aesthetics of the material is critical. By creating an inert field around the laser, nitrogen gas protects the substrate from unwanted flaming or burning. For any given application, it is the interplay of several factors such as design specifications, anticipated volumes, tolerance requirements, and cost restrictions, that determines the most appropriate laser type to utilize.
With machines ranging from 30W to 400W, GMN employs low-powered fiber lasers for etching and engraving. High-powered CO2 and nitrogen lasers are typically reserved for cutting thicker materials and metals. The wide array of laser machines allows GMN to cut numerous substrates including 3000 and 5000 series aluminum, magnetic (430) and non-magnetic (304 stainless steel) alloys, Lexan, acrylic, foam, polyester, polycarbonate, and vinyl. During laser cutting, calibrating the focus point of the laser beam is extremely crucial to achieve the utmost precision. Most machines at GMN are equipped with a computerized calibration system, where a focal arm travels closer to the material, gauges its thickness, and automatically adjusts the focal length of the laser.
Advantages of laser cutting
Versatile and easy to use, laser technology is extensively utilized at GMN for fabricating materials with extreme accuracy. When compared to other die-cutting techniques, the lead time for laser cutting is extremely short and last-minute changes to artwork can be quickly accomplished. Ideal for rapid prototyping and low-volume programs, laser technology is well suited for cutting complex shapes, creating registration holes, engraving intricate patterns, and etching serial numbers.
To see some of the laser cutters at GMN in action, watch our video below.
Autocar, one of America’s oldest large truck manufacturers, approached GM Nameplate (GMN) to design and produce a high-quality grille badge for their new line of DC-64 conventional trucks. The intent of the new grille badge was to feature Autocar’s historic bowtie logo, made to commemorate the 100th anniversary of its launch.
Given that the new line of trucks would be competing in the premium segment of utility vehicles, Autocar wanted an elegant, high-end badge with a three-dimensional look that would truly stand out. Since the DC-64 was a heavy-duty utility vehicle used at construction sites and for other outdoor applications, the badge also had to endure heavy impacts and abrasion.
Autocar’s previous badges were made of injection molded plastic with plated aluminum. While this met their visual requirements, the badge was prone to cracking, denting, or chipping when exposed to extreme weather or tough job conditions. Autocar wanted the new grille badge to be rugged and robust enough to maintain its premium look even in the most demanding environments.
After creating and testing several prototypes, GMN’s experts determined that the best approach would be to use a formed aluminum construction with an exterior capable roll coat. To achieve the desired look, the team began with a flat sheet of bright-finished aluminum. The Autocar letters and border were reversed out before the sheet was screen printed with jet-black ink. The decorated metal sheet was then formed and embossed, allowing the bright-finished aluminum to shine through and highlight the letters. In the end, a glossy, exterior-grade automotive topcoat was applied via roll-coating to protect the printed graphics from fading over time. It also imparted strength to the badge and helped realize the multi-dimensional look that Autocar was aiming for.
For additional durability and structural integrity, a molded plastic backplate with hand-applied foam adhesive was inserted behind the formed aluminum. This combination of unique processes resulted in a badge that was not only elegant, but also incredibly durable and resistant to environmental damage.
The commemorative grille badge has since been put into use on the entire line of DC-64 trucks and is even scheduled for use on other vehicles in Autocar’s fleet. This is just another example of GMN leveraging its diverse capabilities to meet the needs of our customers. To find out more about our automotive badging solutions, visit our website.
We are happy to share that GMN has been honored by Laird Performance Materials as a Preferred Converter for Performance Excellence. Only a select group of organizations throughout North America rise to the level of Preferred Partner.
Laird Performance Materials is a market leader for advanced protection solutions for electronic components and systems. The Preferred Converter status gives GMN direct access to Laird’s performance-critical solutions including, thermal interface materials, EMI suppression, and absorption materials. It also allows GMN to offer custom engineered solutions to our customers at competitive prices and faster time-to-market.
To learn more about this strategic partnership with Laird Performance Materials, read our press release here.
Have you ever noticed the label on a computer, pressurized tank, or any other electrical appliance? The likelihood of that label bearing one of the safety marks namely UL, CSA, or the likes of it, is extremely high. But, what do these marks and symbols signify, and why are they so important? When it comes to electrical devices, some of the most important attributes from an end user’s point of view remain product quality and safety. Keeping this in consideration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has identified and accredited a few independent labs, referred to as Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTL), to perform product safety testing and certification. Some of the widely recognized NRTLs include the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Intertek Testing Services NA Inc. (formerly known as ETL), MET Laboratories, and NSF International.
UL approved labels
While there are almost 20 NRTLs globally, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is one the most popular and leading certification companies in North America. Any product bearing the “UL” mark signifies that it has been tested and certified to a specific UL standard. Similarly, all labels bearing the “UL” mark have been tested and certified under the UL 969 label and marking standard. Although UL certification is not required by federal law in the United States, it assures consumers that the electrical product is compliant with the stringent safety guidelines and specifications outlined by UL.
Types of UL labels
UL labels can be classified into the following types -
a) UL Listed – indicates that the product has been tested towards a safety standard recognized by OSHA.
b) UL Classified - implies that product is certified to strict standards created by UL, but not recognized by OSHA.
c) UL Certified - also known as Enhanced mark, is gradually bridging the gap between UL Listed and UL Classified labels. Often accompanied with a smart mark or a 2D bar code, a UL Certified label can be scanned by consumers to look up the safety standards that the given product has been tested and certified against.
UL works directly with the customer to designate the appropriate label classification for their products. However, all of the above label types require a UL-approved construction. A “construction” lists out in detail all the key elements of the label including the substrate, inks, printing processes, application of the product that the label is designed for, decorative finishes, and manufacturing location.
With three UL-approved facilities in Asia and America, GMN offers over 40 types of UL-approved constructions. GMN routinely utilizes screen, flexographic, and digital printing to print UL labels on different substrates including white or clear silver polyester, polypropylene, polycarbonate, and more. UL conducts multiple random facility audits and sample testing throughout the year to ensure compliance of the label construction and manufacturing processes with the set guidelines.
In addition to the above label types and classifications, there are some labels that bear the “Recognized Components” mark. These labels go on individual components that are part of a larger product or system and hence, they are barely seen by end consumers. Although labels with the “Recognized Components” mark are not required to be made by a UL-certified construction, it is highly recommended and often fabricated under the UL standards.
In our extensive label-manufacturing experience, GMN has worked with a wide array of industries and companies, including Hewlett Packard, Eaton, Megadyne, and Flextronics, to create custom UL label solutions. From material selection to artwork approval, to proper documentation, GMN can help you navigate the complexities of creating a UL label that fits your exact needs. To learn more about our other decorative and functional label solutions, visit our capabilities page here.
Pad printing is an offset printing process where ink is transferred from a cliché to the required component via a pad. Bringing together a blend of consistency, repeatability, and durability, pad printing can help you achieve intricate patterns and designs. While most decorative techniques such as screen and lithographic printing require a flat surface, pad printing is one of the very few processes that is well suited for decorating gently curved, irregular, textured, and/or cylindrical surfaces. Predominantly seen in the automotive, electronics, appliance, personal care, and medical industries, pad printing is often chosen for applications that will endure significant handling and need to withstand the test of time.
Custom pad printing process
Our latest video was created to not only equip you with the essentials of pad printing, but also to walk you through the step-by-step pad printing process.
- The artwork is etched onto the cliché (flat plate), and ink is deposited into the etched recess.
- A silicone pad picks up the inked image and descends onto the part to transfer a clean, crisp, and lasting image.
- The pad is pressed on a polyester film to remove any excess ink. Comprising of a low-tack pressure-sensitive adhesive, the polyester film removes any residual ink from the pad prior to the next printing cycle.
From standard to programmable multi-axis printers, the video below offers a glimpse into the different pad printing presses utilized at GM Nameplate (GMN). Armed with a rotating fixture, the programmable multi-axis printer is capable of numerous hits in multiple color combinations on different axes, all in a single set-up. This capability eliminates the need to transfer the part manually from one station to the other, resulting in significant time and cost savings.
Pad printing on different substrates
Pad printing is compatible with a broad range of substrates including stainless steel, polycarbonate, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), glass, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), acrylic, and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Very few plastic materials such as low (LDPE) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and polypropylene aren’t cohesive with pad printing inks and require a pre-treatment to ensure good adhesion.
Pad printing considerations
For every project, custom fixtures are designed and built to register the component to the pad printing head. The alignment of the ink pad with respect to the size and geometry of the part is specifically engineered to ensure exact registration. As seen with the Nissan badge in the video, the pliability of the silicone pad allows for printing with extreme precision, preventing the ink from coming in contact on the inside walls of the recessed letters. Maintaining the viscosity of the ink is extremely crucial to ensure the ink deposition accuracy and consistency. While the ink needs to be fluid enough to deposit on the substrate, it should not bleed out of the impression area. Thinners and adhesion promoters can be added to inks to achieve the desired viscosity level. Most of the inks used for pad printing at GMN are air-dried and are usually cured in conveyor ovens. Several other factors including the shape, material and durometer of the pad, location and color of the etched artwork, and tilt of the ink pad, are critical to the success of any project.
To see the pad printing process in action, watch our video here.
In our previous blogs in the bonding technology series, we discussed air gap and liquid optically clear adhesive bonding. Today, we will be presenting the final article in the three-part series focused on GMN’s bonding capabilities: optically clear adhesive (OCA) bonding. The most recent of all of our bonding processes, OCA bonding is quickly gaining popularity in several industries.
What is optically clear adhesive (OCA) bonding?
Rigid-to-rigid vacuum OCA bonding is a cutting-edge technology that allows GMN to provide thinner bond lines and as a result, thinner overall stack-ups. OCA bonding employs the use of a dry film pressure-sensitive adhesive to adhere layers together. For adhering two rigid components, a vacuum chamber removes all air from the part and applies the components together with optimum optical clarity, without forming any bubbles. OCA can also be used to adhere a non-rigid component (such as an overlay) to a rigid component, in which case a roller carefully pushes out all of the air between the two layers.
Why choose optically clear adhesive (OCA) bonding?
The main advantage of this bonding technology is the thinner bond line. Whereas liquid optically clear adhesive (LOCA) bonding can achieve a bond line between .015” to .030”, OCA bonding can get even smaller, achieving a .005” to a .008” bond line. This bonding capability is well suited for thin components including cover glass, touchscreens, and frameless LCDs.
Another advantage of optically clear adhesive bonding is that no curing is needed. Whereas LOCA bonding requires curing the liquid adhesive, this isn’t necessary for OCA bonding because a sheet adhesive is used instead. Using a sheet adhesive also allows the OCA bonding to provide a tighter tolerance and as a result, a consistent and flat bond line.
While there are several benefits to using OCA bonding, it may not be suitable for all applications. Unlike with LOCA bonding, optically clear adhesive bonding results in a bonded adhesive that cannot be reworked, which can result in lower total manufacturing yields and less room for error.
GMN is very excited to offer a wide variety of bonding options to meet every project need. Learn more about the process behind OCA bonding by watching our video below.
Read our other blogs in the bonding series:
In our previous blog, we discussed the benefits and drawbacks of air gap bonding. In the second blog of our three-part bonding technologies series, we will focus on the most widely used bonding capability at GMN: liquid optically clear adhesive (LOCA) bonding.
What is liquid optically clear adhesive (LOCA) bonding?
As the name suggests, this process involves bonding parts of the stack-up together with a liquid adhesive. Instead of leaving a gap between components as with air gap bonding, the clear adhesive fills in the entirety of the space between the two layers. Primarily used when bonding two rigid materials, LOCA bonding is typically chosen for its increased impact resistance, sunlight readability, and optical clarity.
For each display, GMN’s engineers develop custom fixturing to fit the precise dimensions of the components. A program is then designed to find the proper amount of adhesive and optimal dispensing pattern which is unique to each assembly. Highly precise metering equipment then dispenses a consistent amount of the liquid adhesive specific to the fixturing and program.
LOCA bonding takes place in a class 10,000 clean room and the adhesive is UV-cured. Lastly, GMN employs a series of sophisticated test and inspection methods to ensure quality control.
Why choose liquid optically clear adhesive (LOCA) bonding?
LOCA bonding technology is highly regarded due to its strong overall performance and high level of impact resistance. To see the strength of a liquid optically bonded display in action, watch our ball drop test comparing LOCA bonding to air gap bonding.
Another major benefit of LOCA bonding is the optical clarity, which is achieved due to the liquid adhesive not allowing any air gaps to form in the stack-up. LOCA bonding is also a popular solution because it is a re-workable process. If needed, components can be salvaged and re-used, increasing overall manufacturing yields.
LOCA bonding is a robust technology that GMN has been providing for more than a decade. GMN leverages proprietary processes and adhesives to provide the best bonding solutions to our customers. To learn more about this unique bonding process, watch our video below.
Read our other blogs in the bonding series: