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A brushed stainless steel surface without its disadvantages

13 September 2011

MacDermid Autotype has developed film technology that combines the benefits of hardcoated PET films with the cosmetic advantages of brushed stainless steel, effectively turning plastic into steel. Brushed stainless steel, though cosmetically pleasing and durable has a number of disadvantages, particularly when used as a tactile interface. Retaining the surface’s pristine condition requires continuous cleaning.

Furthermore, although steel is inherently robust, it is also delicate when it comes to surface damage, so even a modest amount of abrasion, such as that from a cleaning action, can permanently alter its surface.  Once abraded, it is then difficult to return the surface to its original condition, especially if the product has already been put into use.  Despite its perceived strength, stainless steel will also indent easily.

Plastic materials, and in this instance PET films, can overcome many of these disadvantages, being eminently formable, lighter, durable and versatile. But creating the pleasing cosmetic effects of brushed stainless steel on a plastic surface was something that had until recently, eluded most manufacturers. However, the development of a new hardcoated PET film, for use as a graphics overlay material in keyboards, fascias and instrument panels looks set to change this situation.

Called Autotex Steel, this new material has an ink receptive layer on the reverse surface and a specially developed hardcoated outer layer, which is chemically bonded and UV cured.  The hardcoat layer has a textured finish which, when the film is printed on the reverse with standard metallic or newly developed mirror inks, creates the appearance of a brushed stainless steel panel.

The film  is easy to handle and print, combining high levels of colour reproduction and definition with a tough outer surface that offers excellent resistance to abrasion, surface impact and a wide range of chemicals and solvents.

Unlike stainless steel, Autotex Steel does not show fingerprints, and can easily be printed to create clear display windows or contain secret-until-lit graphics, with the film offering excellent colour rendition and light transmission in clear areas.  Graphics are normally reverse printed, so are protected from wear and abrasion by the body of the film substrate and the textured hardcoat top surface.  This surface has also been formulated to resist a wide variety of common industrial solvents and cleaning fluids, including alcohols, ketones, weak acids and hydrocarbons.

And by manufacturing a part with Autotex Steel, overall weight can be greatly reduced, bringing considerable savings not only during manufacturing, but also when shipping parts.

Autotex Steel comes in a number of gauges to make it suitable for a wide range of applications across virtually all markets.

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