When an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) was redesigning the metal trim for one of its premium refrigerator brands, they knew it would require a combination of aesthetics and durability. The trim would be featured on the interior shelves, so it had to meet strict visual standards and pass several performance tests to ensure it maintained its integrity under heavy use.
The original refrigerator trim utilized a chrome-plated, die-cast metal construction. While the trim met the visual specifications, the manufacturing process was expensive, and the chrome finish was prone to damage from handling or contact with food products. This drove the OEM to evaluate alternative constructions that not only looked high-end, but were also more robust while cutting down on production costs.
After consulting with GMN’s engineers, it was decided that the best approach would be to use GMN’s pre-decorated aluminum with a proprietary protective topcoat and custom adhesive backing. Using pre-decorated, bright-finish aluminum would ensure that the trim achieved the desired levels of brilliance and reflectivity while resulting in significant cost savings when compared to the original die-cast metal. The protective topcoat would protect the metal trim from everyday handling and food stains, and the custom adhesive would permanently secure the trim to the shelves.
When beginning to develop the custom protective coating, GMN’s engineers had to keep a few crucial requirements in mind. First, the metal trim had to withstand frequent contact with dishes, cutlery, and other kitchen items without scuffing or marring. The coating also had to protect the trim from staining caused by acidic foods or abrasive cleaning agents. Given that the trim would be located inside of the refrigerator, it would additionally need to pass hot and cold cycle testing. Relying on their vast knowledge and experience in the appliance industry, it wasn’t long before GMN’s chemists designed a custom roll-coat topcoat and adhesive that perfectly met the needs of the project.
To ensure the part profile remained consistent throughout production runs, an automated fabrication cell was developed. The aluminum initially arrived in the form of a coil, which was cut into sheets before receiving a basecoat and the protective topcoat. After baking and curing the coatings, a protective film was laminated to the face of each aluminum sheet, and the proprietary adhesive was added to the underside. Next, the stacked sheets were placed onto a rack and fed through the progressive die where they were cut to size. A robotic arm picked up the die-cut parts and transferred them to the forming station where each piece received two precise 90° bends. Finally, the finished trim was transferred to an inspection station where every part was carefully examined for potential non-conformities.
Capped with the roll-coat, the custom metal trim successfully passed all necessary environmental tests while maintaining its premium look. This is another example of GMN leveraging its metal decoration and fabrication capabilities to solve tough design challenges and optimize manufacturing processes.
To learn more about our appliance manufacturing capabilities, visit our website here or set up a consultation with our experts.
Embossing, the process of raising logos or graphic images, is a great way to augment the visual impact of any component. The tactile feel achieved as a result of the raised design reinforces the aesthetic appeal of a product. Embossing is one of the most versatile metal decoration techniques employed by a wide array of industries.
While there are different ways to emboss a component, how do you ensure the utmost precision while embossing decorated parts? How can the varying tolerances of the decoration process accurately align to a mechanical embossing operation? The answer to all these questions lies in our video below that clearly demonstrates the advantages of adding an optical registration system to the embossing process.
To illustrate the registration challenge imposed by any decoration process on embossing, let’s delve deeper into the HySecurity nameplate seen in the video. During the screen printing process, when a squeegee travels across the metal sheet, the deposition tolerance between the images can vary as much as 0.005” per inch. As such, an image from the leading to the trailing edge of a 24” sheet can vary around 0.12” (0.005” x 24”). Conversely, the mechanical action of the embossing die does not exhibit this variation. So, when an operator feeds the metal sheet to the embossing machine, the tool cannot align accurately with the varying deposited images, sometimes creating an off-registered embossed part.
We can overcome this alignment challenge by adding an optical registration system to the embossing process and depositing a corresponding registration mark next to each design. In doing so, when the nameplate is being screen-printed, a registration mark is put down at the same time that correlates to the center of each artwork. At the embossing stage, the press uses an optical eye to locate the mark and make necessary adjustments to gain alignment between the printed graphic and the tool pitch, resulting in perfect embossing. Since the press automatically calibrates the location of every individual artwork and advances the sheet through the press, the process is ideal for parts that demand extremely tight registration. Resulting in extreme precision and accuracy, optical registration embossing provides a high degree of efficiency and consistency. The press overcomes tolerance variation that the actuator-fed emboss press falls short of.
The press can emboss a range of metals and alloys including stainless steel and aluminum. While the thickness of the material processed is directly related to the press tonnage of the machine, the embossing height depends on various factors such as the thickness, temper, and alloy of the metal. Since certain alloys have greater elongation characteristics, they can be embossed to a greater height as compared to the others. The press can emboss, deboss (recessed images), or perform both the processes simultaneously. It is well suited to emboss parts that are either screen, pad, or litho printed. Depending on the design intent, embossed parts can undergo secondary processes like forming, blanking, and die-cutting at a later stage. To see how the Vforce nameplate, featured in the video, went through diamond carving after it was embossed, watch our video here.
Over the last few decades, GMN has worked with several leading companies including Ford, Dell, Estée Lauder, and DW drums, to create clean and crisp embossed parts. To watch the embossing process, click on the video below.
When a leading auto supplier was designing the backlighting module for a new gear shift indicator (otherwise known as a PRNDL), they came to GMN to develop a custom light diffuser. The PRNDL would be featured in a line of premium vehicles, so the diffuser needed to ensure that the backlighting met strict standards for consistent brightness and uniform color in all lighting conditions.
GMN’s experts took to our state-of-the-art light lab to engineer a backlighting diffusion solution that met all of the project requirements. Leveraging GMN’s automotive experience, backlighting expertise, and printing capabilities, the diffuser successfully made its way onto PRNDLs in two separate vehicle models that can be found all across the world.
To learn how GMN successfully tackled a tough backlighting diffusion challenge, read our latest case study here.
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.