Blog

Pam Hane
By Pam Hane Apr 26, 2021
A variety of different die-cut components

As technology becomes more interconnected, addressing how electromagnetic interference (EMI) affects the performance of electronic devices is becoming an important design decision. If left unchecked, excess EMI has the potential to disrupt electronics, causing everything from delays to completely preventing a device from working.

While we’ve spoken before about different EMI shielding techniques, today we’ll be focusing specifically on one of the most common ways we tackle interference challenges at GMN: with die-cut components.

Why is EMI shielding important?

In the simplest terms, EMI shielding is the process of preventing undesired electromagnetic signals from affecting sensitive electronics. This is typically done through the addition of a conductive material to help absorb, block, or dissipate the excess interference.

Electromagnetic interference has been a longstanding design concern for industries where multiple electronics must be connected in close proximity. More recently, EMI shielding has become a bigger concern than ever as technologies such as 5G networks continue to rise in popularity. The new infrastructure required for the higher-frequency networks involves more antennae and even stronger electronic signals. Couple this with the fact that so many electronics, appliances, and even wearables are now connected to the internet through Bluetooth, WIFI, and 5G, and ensuring your device is protected against electromagnetic interference has never been more important.

Fortunately, die-cuts provide an efficient solution for shielding problems. Shielding materials such as conductive tapes, foams, fabrics, and foils can be die-cut to exact size and easily implemented in electronic products at any stage of the design process.

How can die-cuts help with EMI shielding?

Die-cut materials are frequently used to solve shielding challenges as they are cost-effective, easily customizable for a wide array of applications, and very efficient at blocking EMI signals. Through the use of a die-cutter, digital plotter-cutter, or laser-cutter, a wide variety of different materials can be precisely cut into a nearly limitless number of shapes and sizes. This precision allows us to cut materials to size with very tight tolerances, even for components with complex part geometries. Once a program is successfully set up for cutting a part, it creates an easily replicable solution for high-volume production.

Another benefit to die-cut shielding solutions is that they’re easier to apply at later stages in production than other shielding methods, such as screen-printed conductive ink or vacuum metal deposition. While die-cut parts can also be a great option early on in the design process, EMI issues aren’t always immediately obvious and can show up farther along in production. Die-cuts provide an accessible and easy-to-apply solution for late-appearing shielding issues.

Die-cut materials are also highly customizable. As a preferred converter for Laird, Rogers, and 3M, GMN’s engineers have access to a wide array of different shielding materials and can design custom solutions for project needs. EMI materials can be combined with magnetic and thermal insulators before being laminated and cut together for a tailored shielding solution. GMN also has a rapid prototyping group that can quickly provide parts for qualification and testing, with prototypes often available within just a few days.

We have years of experience using die-cut fabrication methods to provide custom shielding solutions. To learn more about how GMN can help solve your EMI challenges, schedule a consultation with our experts.

Patrick Wu
By Patrick Wu Apr 15, 2021
Land Rover exterior grille badge

Land Rover is a luxury British automotive company of predominantly four-wheel drive, off-road capable vehicles, owned by multinational car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover (JLR). In a joint venture with Chery Automobile Co., their assembly plant in Changshu, China, has been manufacturing Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles since October 2014. GMN China has been part of this supply chain since 2015, supporting the airbag emblems on the steering wheels of Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles.

In the continuous push for localization, Land Rover China collaborated with GMN China on the front grille badge of its 2nd generation Land Rover Evoque (L551), a model built for rough terrain and extreme weather conditions. In addition to the cosmetic requirements, the front grille badge had to pass stringent exterior automotive specifications set up by Land Rover that demanded testing to the highest performance standards.

The grille badge was created with mirror-finish aluminum that was screen printed with Land Rover’s corporate color (British Racing Green). A subtle emboss was applied to the perimeter of the letters, followed by a thin doming on the badge. These processes, along with the mechanical spin finish on the aluminum badge, rendered an understated luxury finish.

Land-Rover-badge-production 

Ultimately, GMN China’s proprietary topcoat ensured that the badge successfully passed the following performance tests and requirements -

  • Filiform corrosion test on the aluminum substrate (11 days)
  • Neutral salt spray test (42 days)
  • Cyclic corrosion test (42 days)
  • Accelerated weathering (50 days)

Matching up to Land Rover’s slogan, GMN China went “Above & Beyond” from prototyping through full-scale production to deliver a custom solution that met Land Rover’s needs. The partnership with GMN has put in place a domestic manufacturing solution for Land Rover that doesn’t require them to source components from overseas manufacturers. The exterior grille badge has been in production on the L551 assembly line in the Changshu factory. There are evolving plans to bring the badge onto other exterior usages and global Land Rover platforms. 

The automotive badge is a prime example of GMN’s total solution to successfully integrate various processes to create a unique look for our customers. To learn more about our automotive capabilities, visit our website or schedule a consultation with our experts.

By Richard Smylie Apr 12, 2021
A sheet of metal going through a roll coater

From enhancing the visual characteristics of a part to shielding it from environmental damage, protective coatings have become a vital part of metal fabrication and finishing. While there are several different ways to apply a coating to metal, one of the most efficient and commonly used methods is roll coating.

Roll coating is the process of applying a base, intermediate, and/or topcoat coating to a flat substrate with a series of rollers. But how exactly does roll coating work?

What is the process behind roll coating?

Roll coating is a process that uses three rollers to apply a coating to a flat substrate: a soft application roll, a highly polished steel roll, and a metering (or doctor) roll. Firstly, the substrate travels between the soft application roll and the steel roll. The application roll picks up the coating as it rotates, and subsequently transfers the coating to the flat sheet of metal as it passes through. The metal sheets are then transferred to an oven where the coatings are baked and cured.

Roll coating offers a few benefits over other metal coating technologies. When applying a coating to a flat metal substrate, ensuring that the coating is deposited uniformly with the exact required thickness is critical. With roll coating, the amount and viscosity of the liquid deposited on the substrate can be precisely controlled by the metering roll. The closer the metering roll is to the application roll, the thinner the coating, and vice versa. This makes roll coating one of the most precise coating methods currently available.

Another reason why roll coating is so frequently employed is that its deposition time tends to be faster than other coating technologies, such as spray application or screen printing. In addition, the coatings used can help protect metal from harsh environments while enhancing ink adhesion prior to any embossing or other finishing steps.

What makes roll coating at GMN unique?

To meet a variety of project needs, GMN has two roll coaters; one that does direct roll coating, and the other that can do both direct and reverse. Reverse roll coating works roughly the same way as direct, the only difference being that the application roll rotates in the opposite direction of the substrate’s travel. Due to the different travel direction, reverse roll coating can apply a thicker coating than direct. This additional coating thickness is useful when the design intent requires a greater depth of color and environmental durability.

GMN’s coating family includes acrylic, polyester, and urethane coatings, each offering a different level of thickness, malleability, and resilience against heat and UV radiation. Each coating employed at GMN is custom formulated by our chemists to meet a wide array of project needs.

At GMN, we have years of experience using roll coating for products in a variety of industries, such as automotive, appliance, and personal care. To learn more about GMN’s custom roll coatings and how they can help your next project, schedule a consultation with our experts.

Chris Beason
By Chris Beason Apr 08, 2021
A group of aerospace students learning

For the 7th year in a row, GMN Aerospace is proud to share that we have once again donated to the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance (PNAA) scholarship fund. As a long-standing aerospace supplier, we understand how important it is to support the next generation in this exciting field.

Each year, GMN Aerospace’s donation helps fund scholarships for students pursuing aerospace education at an accredited college or university in the Pacific Northwest. This year’s scholarship recipient is Daniel Beeson, a student in the Aeronautics and Astronautics program at the University of Washington. The scholarship was awarded during a virtual reception at the 2021 PNAA Aerospace conference.

Once Beeson obtains his degree, he plans to serve as a pilot for the United States Air Force before becoming a test pilot in the future. When asked about how the scholarship helps him, Beeson stated “In the uncertain times of COVID-19, many people and families have been experiencing financial difficulties. My family and I are not excluded from this crisis. This scholarship means more than just money. It means I don’t have to worry about my rent payment or my parent’s mortgage. It means I don’t have to calculate how much money I can afford to spend on food at the store.”

GMN makes the donation each year in the name of longtime employee Brent Sletmoe, who worked for many years as part of the GMN Aerospace team. We are proud to support local students like Daniel Beeson as they pursue their dream of working in the aerospace industry.

PNAA scholarship award

By Richard Smylie Apr 06, 2021
Steering wheel badge for Nissan

Tooling a part to size remains integral to the metal fabrication process. While there are several tooling possibilities including steel-rule and rotary die-cutting, laser and water jet cutting, and compound tools, which method do you employ for efficiently performing multiple operations on a metal component? The answer lies in our video below. By offering a peek into the functioning of progressive dies, the video clearly illustrates the many advantages of utilizing progressive die-cutting to drive productivity.

Progressive stamping process

To cement our understanding of progressive die-cutting, let’s dive deeper into the Nissan automotive badge featured in the video. Made from aluminum, the badge requires a flat, coiled metal strip to undergo blanking, pre-forming, forming, lancing, debossing, and cutting. If we were to perform each of these operations individually with separate stand-alone tools, it would not only be tedious but also time-consuming and expensive. Progressive die-cutting, also referred to as progressive stamping, is an effective and efficient way of performing multiple operations under a single die set. A die set comprises of multiple individual dies (or stations) that sequentially perform the desired processes on the metal. The minimum and the maximum number of stations in a die set are dictated by the design and part geometry.

Progressive die-cutting fabrication process

The fabrication process begins with mounting the die set on the stamping press and feeding the metal in a coil or sheet form to the press. Registration marks or holes on the metal allow for its precise alignment with the die’s progression. Even the slightest misorientation of the substrate with the die set can negatively impact the entire output and hence, remains a crucial factor in the die-cutting fabrication process. As you can see in the video, the press progressively transfers the metal sheet in the web from one die station to the next through an automated feeder mechanism. The six individual dies in the die set perform the following functions:

  • Die #1 - Cuts the outer circular shape of the badge
  • Die #2 - Lances the part to relieve the metal, thereby preventing it from being deformed in the later stages
  • Die #3 - Pre-forms the middle portion of the badge
  • Die #4 - Pre-forms the edges of the badge
  • Die #5 - Cuts out holes from the center of the badge
  • Die #6 - Debosses, forms, and cuts out the badge, all at the same time

At the end of the progression, the web and finished parts are separated from one another by a lance operation, and the final parts slide down a conveyor belt. An operator at the end of the belt inspects and organizes the output. Once the progressive die-cutting process is completed, the Nissan badge undergoes anodizing and pad printing. Anodizing is an electro-chemical process that converts the aluminum surface into a durable, corrosion-resistant, and high-energy surface. Pad printing, an offset printing technique, transfers black ink into the recessed letters of the anodized badge. 

Advantages of progressive die-cutting

Suited for high production volumes, progressive stamping is particularly favored for its efficiency and reduced cycle times. The form, profile, and size of the part play a critical role in determining its fit for progressive stamping. This cutting method is ideal when project volumes are high and registration requirements are feasible.

To watch the progressive die-cutting press in action, watch our video here.

Mike Sorrels
By Mike Sorrels Mar 30, 2021
Clamshell press at GMN's fabrication cell

In the manufacturing landscape, die-cutting is an indispensable fabrication process used to convert a wide range of materials into specific shapes and sizes. Whether you wish to utilize a custom-shaped silicone foam into a gasket, require a panel filler for a medical device, or simply need to cut out labels and adhesives, die-cutting allows you to efficiently cut materials in large volumes with increased consistency and accuracy.

While there are several die-cutting methods such as laser cutting, water-jet cutting, and rotary cutting, our video below offers a glimpse into steel rule die-cutting, one of the most common cutting methods utilized at GMN.

Steel rule dies and clamshell die-cutting press 

Made of steel, the die is formed by bending, curving, cutting, and shaping a straight steel rule in the required pattern. Once the rule is mounted and secured on a laser-cut wooden board, the die is ready to use. The lead time to make a steel rule die ranges between one to three days, depending on the complexity of the design.

Steel rule die-cutting is typically performed on a clamshell press. Comprised of two platens – one stationary and one movable – the press in different tonnages can support varied sizes and materials. As seen in the video, the die is installed on the stationary platen and the material to be cut is placed on the movable platen.

The precise alignment of the material is ensured with one of the following ways:

  • 3-point registration system - This consists of two grips to hold the material in place and one guide mark to accurately align it with the die.
  • Pin-register system - Pre-punched registration marks on the substrate itself that can be aligned to the die position. 

The movable platen is pressed against the stationary one to complete the cutting process. Although most of the steel rule die-cutting is performed on a clamshell press, GMN also utilizes vertical, cylinder, horizontal, roll-to-roll, and hydraulic punch presses to cut a broad array of materials such as polycarbonate, paper, foam, Lexan, and aluminum. The hardness of the material directly influences the maximum material thickness that the presses can accommodate.

Advantages of steel rule die-cutting

With the versatility to accommodate varying shapes, sizes, materials, and designs, steel rule die-cutting is undoubtedly one of the most popular die-cut fabrication methods to meet your unique needs. Steel rule dies allow up to 10,000 hits approximately, and therefore, can be used for medium to high production volumes. In addition to achieving tolerances as low as 0.01”, steel rule die-cutting offers you the flexibility to accomplish kiss cuts, custom-shaped die-outs, clean cuts, scoring lines, and perforations.

Limitations with steel rule die-cutting

One of the limitations with steel rule die-cutting is that the steel rule has a minimum bending radius of 0.03” which means that any designs with square corners or the ones that require the steel rule to bend less than 0.03” are not suited for this technique. Nonetheless, it is a highly preferred solution due to its cost-effectiveness when compared with chemical etch dies and Class A tools. 

To see some of the clamshell presses at GMN in action, watch our video here.

Bob Christensen, GMN
By Bob Christensen Mar 25, 2021
A display being tested for function

In our previous blog on optical characterization testing, we discussed the various tools and testing methods that ensure a display meets its optical performance requirements. Today, we’ll be focusing on the next step in display testing: functional tests.

What is functional display testing? 

While optical display testing focuses on visual requirements, functional display testing focuses on the performance requirements of a display once it is in use. Most of these tests are performed to calibrate and verify the functionality of touchscreen technology used in the assembly. 

Types of functional display testing

The types of functional display testing fall into two broad categories: automated and manual testing. 

1) Automated display testing

GMN has several automated functional testers that can provide computerized inspection services. These testing devices are capable of vision inspection to subpixel resolution, and are also equipped with electrical testing for thermistor resistance, touchscreen resistance, and touchscreen capacitance. 

Custom testing programs are employed for different displays depending on the touchscreen technology used. For resistive touchscreens, a 9-point touch test is implemented to assess input registration across all areas of the display. For projected capacitive touchscreens, shapes may be drawn across different parts of the screen to identify any breaks or areas where inputs are not registered correctly.

Automated testing is typically used for large production runs as it requires a more involved custom testing program, fixturing, and cable set-up. However, automated testing is more consistent than manual testing as it removes variability and the potential for human error. It also allows for more specific tests and measurements to collect data, whereas manual testing is generally performed on a 'pass or fail’ basis.

2) Manual display testing

Instead of using automated testing equipment, manual testing uses human inspectors to look for any display irregularities. A manual tester may visually examine a display for pixel defects or lint and bubbles trapped within the stack-up. Alternatively, they may test for touchscreen calibration by drawing simple shapes or pressing specific parts of the display to verify that inputs are received accurately.

Manual testing is more common than automatic testing since it requires simpler fixtures and a less involved testing set-up. It’s ideal for lower-volume programs or programs where specific electrical testing may not be necessary. 

Ultimately, the tests used depend on the required functionality of a display. GMN’s technical experts can help develop custom testing programs to ensure that your user interface display meets your project needs. To learn more about GMN’s in-house testing capabilities, schedule a consultation with our experts.

Bob Christensen, GMN
By Bob Christensen Mar 22, 2021
A display being optically tested on machinery

One could argue that the display is the most critical component of a device as consumers interact with it the most. To support custom user-interface programs, GMN offers a host of in-house display testing services to guide design decisions and maintain quality throughout production. 

Display testing can be divided into two categories: optical characterization and functional display testing. In the first blog of this two-part series, we’ll be going over meeting the visual requirements of a display with optical characterization testing.

What is optical characterization testing?

Optical characterization testing is the process of conducting tests to ensure a display meets all optical performance requirements within its intended condition. These tests are performed during the design phase to help support product development and during production as a quality control tool. Optical characterization tests take place in GMN’s state-of-the-art Light Lab, where specialized testing equipment allows our experts to gather data on the optical characteristics of a display.

Designing a new display typically begins with the LCD. While the LCD chosen for use in a display may meet all the visual requirements, everything from the bonding method to display enhancements (such as films, meshes, and coatings) can alter its visual characteristics. Optical characterization tests can be performed during production to ensure that the display maintains its visual integrity as different layers are bonded together. This data can also be used as a target point when making alterations to the stack-up or as a reference for future display interface programs.

Optical characterization testing can also verify that the display meets other visual criteria that may be crucial for specific applications. Some of the other factors that can be tested for throughout production are yellowing caused by UV exposure, surface reflectivity, contrast, readability, luminance, and color uniformity. 

Another critical factor to consider is the environment in which a display may be used. While the display may meet all visual requirements when powered on in a lab, it may also need to meet these specifications while in use in other conditions. GMN’s Light Lab has advanced equipment that can simulate different light sources and locations. Measurements such as color, luminance, and response time of the display can be taken from almost any viewing angle and while in different states of power. 

By involving GMN early on in your project, our experts can assist in component selection and provide design considerations for optimal manufacturability. To learn more about GMN’s testing services and discuss the display needs for your next project, take a look at our website or schedule a consultation with our experts.

Read more about GMN’s display testing capabilities in the second part of our blog series on functional display testing.

By Jim Badders Mar 10, 2021
A finger touching a capacitive touchscreen

As touchscreens continue to grow in popularity as a part of user interface systems, choosing the right touchscreen technology is becoming a critical design decision. Each type of touchscreen, resistive or projected capacitive (PCAP), offers a host of different advantages. Given the wide variety of touchscreen options out there, how do you select the one that provides the optimal user experience? 

Six things to consider when choosing a touchscreen technology

In this blog, we’ll be going over six key questions you should be asking at the onset of your product development phase that will help you select the ideal touchscreen technology for your next project.

1) What is the intended use of the device?

The first step is to specifically define what the device will be used for, as this can dictate which touchscreens are feasible. For instance, will your display be used for a military application where it may be subject to harsh conditions, or is the screen intended for an inexpensive toy where durability may not be a huge concern? Both situations would require screen technologies with different functionality, durability, input registration, and pricing. Once you’ve narrowed down the intended use for the display, the next step is to figure out which functionalities are necessary.

2) Which touch features are required?

On your device, will users only need to select single inputs with one finger? If so, a standard 4-wire resistive touchscreen may be a perfect option, as its simple construction handles this without adding much cost. However, if users need to zoom, scroll, or activate features with multiple touchpoints, that will narrow the selection down to screens with multi-touch functionality, such as a projected capacitive (PCAP) or a resistive multi-touch screen (RMTS).

3) How will the touchscreen be activated?

Given the different ways that touchscreens register inputs, the way that the screen will be activated is an important consideration. Will the user be wearing gloves or using another object (such as a pencil or stylus) to touch the screen? If so, specific types of touchscreens might be necessary for those inputs to be registered. While the sensitivity of a projected capacitive touchscreen can be adjusted to register certain styluses and gloves, the object used must be able to disrupt the capacitive field. For applications where other input devices can be used, a resistive touchscreen is a more optimal choice as it can register inputs from nearly any object.

4) What is the environment in which the touchscreen will be used?

Another crucial factor to consider is where the touchscreen will be activated. Will it be subject to harsh cleaning agents in a medical setting? Will it be used in an industrial environment, where it may be subject to repeated impacts? If durability or cleanability is a critical concern, PCAP technology is ideal given that damage to the cover glass doesn’t alter its ability to register inputs correctly. For gentler environments, resistive screens may meet performance requirements without adding additional cost.

5) What is the price point?

While the cost of PCAP touchscreens continues to go down as the technology becomes more popular, resistive touchscreens still tend to be the cheaper option. If you are looking for a touchscreen for a simple toy, game, or other inexpensive application, anything more than a simple 4-wire resistive touchscreen may add unnecessary cost to the device. However, in the case of a computer, smartphone, or other expensive application that requires a high-end look and feel, a projected capacitive screen may be worth the additional cost.

6) How many actuations does the touchscreen need to handle?

Different touchscreen constructions are rated for different numbers of actuations. A 4-wire or 8-wire resistive touchscreen may be optimal for a device that only needs to remain accurate for a few thousand actuations, whereas a 5-wire touchscreen is a better choice if the device will require significantly more usage. However, if a display needs to handle millions of actuations, a projected capacitive screen would be ideal as it can maintain its accuracy over nearly infinite inputs.

While these questions are a great start, this is far from an exhaustive list of variables to consider when deciding on the optimal touchscreen technology. To discuss your project needs and to talk about custom solutions, schedule a consultation with our experts.

Chris Beason
By Chris Beason Mar 04, 2021
April O' Donahue speaking at 2019 PNAA conference

GMN is proud to share that our very own April O’Donahue, Senior New Program Manager - GMN Aerospace, was recently recognized by the Leading Ladies of Aerospace organization as part of their weekly “Wonder Women” series. Each week, the series features an influential woman in aerospace who has broken barriers and serves as an inspiration to others.

April began her career in the aerospace industry in 1993, but her ties to the industry date back further. April’s grandmother worked for Boeing in the 1950s, and she still has family members that continue to work in the field today. Having been so closely associated with the industry, pursuing a career in aerospace was a natural fit.

Since first joining GMN in 1996, April has held a multitude of different roles within the organization. Beginning her career as a quality inspector, she is now the Senior New Program Manager. Over the years, April has supported projects for hundreds of companies, ranging from simple products for small aeronautics start-ups to large, complex projects for global companies like Boeing.

When April began her career, she was one of only a few women on the team. Since then, she has seen an increase in the presence of female leadership not only at GMN, but across the entire industry. Current estimates suggest that around 24% of aerospace employees are women, which is a staunch increase from when April started her career. The Leading Ladies of Aerospace “Wonder Woman” series highlights women like April who are improving female representation in the aerospace industry by acting as role models for future generations.

As part of her “Wonder Woman” feature, April recalled that her favorite career moment was when she was asked to speak at the 2019 Women in Aerospace Conference. She added, “I never thought someone like me would have the opportunity to speak at such an amazing and important event. I hope being featured inspires other women to get out of their comfort zone and go for their goals, regardless of what they think is holding them back.”

GMN is thrilled to have employees like April leading the charge to make aerospace a more inclusive and diverse industry.