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Labels: that essential finishing touch

01 June 2012

Possibly not as well known to the consumer market as it is to its big commercial customer base, Foster Refrigerator is a byword for technologically and market leading refrigeration for the demanding foodservice, bakery and retail industries.

The EcoPro G2’s control system interface is believed to be one of the most technologically-advanced that Foster has so far developed for any of its product ranges
The EcoPro G2’s control system interface is believed to be one of the most technologically-advanced that Foster has so far developed for any of its product ranges

During the final stages of the cabinet design for its flagship EcoPro G2 professional refrigerator range, it turned to bespoke badge and label manufacturer, Diametric for those essential finishing touches - the branded membrane switch overlays and logo labels that set each product apart from its competitors.

Every stage of the EcoPro G2 development, from design, manufacture through to recycling, is focused on saving cost for the customer and reducing his carbon emissions – without compromising performance and food safety. Armed with this brief, Diametric was tasked with creating new membrane switch assemblies for the control units, along with revamped logo labels for each of the six models in the EcoPro G2 range.

Foster Refrigerator provided Diametric with the ‘look’ that it required for the products and it was then down to Diametric’s manufacturing team to achieve the appearance, along with the necessary functionality and essential durability, in the most cost-effective way.
The G2’s control system interface is believed to be one of the most technologically-advanced that Foster has so far developed for any of its product ranges. Featuring a ‘smartphone style’ touch sensitive, ‘hidden-until-lit’ control panel, it keeps the screen flat and free of visual clutter, combining sophistication and functionality. The switch layers on the circuit had to follow the outline of the shape, allowing people to view the icons behind the membrane.

In addition, Foster Refrigerator wanted to make the temperature display easy to read even from a distance using high contrast, wide viewing angle PMVA (Passive Matrix Vertical Alignment) displays. Diametric needed to take this into account with its membrane design, and, in all, six different combinations of materials and finishes were prototyped, including polyester and polycarbonate membranes of various thickness and surface texture.

Following a period of testing and consultation with its client, Diametric created an injection moulded ‘carrier tray’ to support and strengthen the membrane, complete with adhesive to the rear. This approach ensured that the end product delivered the look and feel that Foster was seeking, while retaining the full functionality of the switches and the highly viewable properties of the display window.

The injection moulded carrier was created by injecting pressurised ABS thermoplastic into a female form tool, creating the badge’s 3D shape and texture. A recess was required in order for the overlay to drop precisely into place on assembly. In addition, location spigots were incorporated into the design, making the carrier more durable and easier to apply to the refrigerator units.

Foster’s refrigerators have to take the knocks and bangs of the busy commercial environments in which they are put to work, so a key aspect of the carrier design was to achieve maximum durability. A selective lacquer was applied to ensure this durability and to make the membrane surface mark resistant. In addition, an injection moulded plinth added protection to the overlay and the edged border ensured the overlay beneath would remain safe and dry, even if liquids were to be sprayed over the front of the unit.

Diametric has worked with Foster for many years but managing director, Pete Knight believes the EcoPro G2 project was, without doubt, one of the most exciting his company has so far undertaken for the company. “The control panels on the G2 range are phenomenal in terms of technology and while it made our job more challenging, that’s what we liked about it,” he recalls. “Knowing that the panels will proudly bear the G2 branding for many years to come - thanks to the highly durable solution we have provided - makes us very proud.”

Diametric offers a wide range of processes, from 3D doming to injection moulding, and prides itself on its ability to advise clients based on its long experience of the high-quality label and badge market. In addition to Foster Refrigerator, it counts among its clients the likes of Jaguar Cars, Sunseeker, Naim Audio and Hasselblad.

Sterilisation and label security
From refrigerators to surgical equipment; this time, Victrex Polymer Solutions has provided a solution to a longstanding problem in the medical sector – how to secure critical labelling on medical equipment that is subject to frequent sterilisation cycles.

Using Victrex Aptiv PEEK (polyaryletherketone) polymer films, the German company S+P Samson GmbH has been able to produce extremely durable labels for medical equipment that are able to withstand a range of hospital cleaning and sterilisation processes, including chemical, autoclave and radiation-based methods.

The permanent identification of medical instruments, such as endoscopes and forceps, is normally a difficult undertaking. Sterilisation or upstream washing processes, challenge conventional labels, such as those produced by laser engraving, and they degrade over time. While the equipment itself is still usable, without a means of identification, tracking and monitoring of the equipment is difficult or impossible.

S+P Samson’s Victrex PEEK Aptiv film-based labels are long lasting and enable the tracking and control of medical instruments and equipment throughout their lifetime. Not only are they are able to withstand hundreds of cleaning and sterilisation processes, the labels also provide a basis for various data tracking and data capture techniques, like QR codes that provide links to web pages or computer based equipment tracking and archiving applications.

The thickness of Aptiv PEEK films range from 6 microns to 750 microns. They are FDA compliant and, thanks to their thermoplastic structure, they are relatively simple and inexpensive to process, offering considerable flexibility in terms of component design. The polymer offers mechanical strength and rigidity, and excellent resistance to wear and abrasion. Moreover, it tolerates a continuous operating temperature of 260oC, absorbs only minimal moisture, is electrically non-conductive and is resistant to aggressive chemicals such as those used in ethylene oxide sterilisation.

S+P Samson has made something of a name for itself creating identification technologies that are able to withstand adverse environmental conditions. Among its products are the incredibly robust Graphiplast labels – virtually indestructible, weather-resistant label media that can tolerate temperatures of up to 580°C, yet be printed using conventional IT printing systems.

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