What needs to be considered for the processing of foils for front panels?

Material - application - processing

Front panels serve as carrier for operating and display elements for various products and devices. On the one hand they are the interface to the operator and should thus enable ergonomic use, on the other hand they characterise the appearance of the product. Front panels are also known as decor panels or front plates.

Front panels made of plastic
Front panels made of plastic

Usage and materials of front panels:

Front panels are often used for products in the field of “white goods”, bus are also used for other electrical devices. Typical examples are household devices like washing machines, fridges, dryers and all types of kitchen appliances. High-quality foil is required for these electrical devices, to integrate the operating elements (e.g. switches and buttons) as well as display elements. The foil is generally printed and back-injected with plastic for reinforcement. The demands placed on foils are very high. They should be permanently durable and easy to clean. Furthermore, good impact resistance as well as scratch resistance are a prerequisite. This also results in complex requirements for the processing of these foils. Typically, front panels consist of aluminium, brass, composites, polycarbonate, polyester, ABS or PETG.

Filigree cuts, matching the printing
Filigree cuts, matching the printing

 

Processing of front panels:

Particular attention during cutting should be paid to the small openings for switches, operating elements and LEDs. In order to ensure the desired quality standard, these small openings must be cut out precisely. In practice, milling cutters, die cutters and lasers are used amongst others for the cut. Blade plotters are also an alternative for thin foil.

Precise, radius free cutting is only possible with laser
Precise, radius free cutting is only possible with laser

 

The advantage of the milling cutter is the relatively favourable purchase costs for a CNC milling system and the simple handling. However, due to the tool diameter, radii in the inside corners cannot be avoided. This is different for laser cutting. Furthermore, chip formation during milling is unavoidable. Therefore, cleaning around the machine is part of the normal machining process.

Radius free laser cutting also for small details
Radius free laser cutting also for small details

 

This is different for laser cutting. The advantage of laser machining compared to a die cutter or milling cutter is the high quality of the separation cut, as well as no wear of the “laser” tool. Compared to the milling cutter, even small details can be cut practically radius-free with the laser. Contactless machining has the advantage that material surfaces are not affected. In addition, the material does not have to be fixed with great effort, which results in the shortening of production times.

Camera detection for the precise cutting of printed foil
Camera detection for the precise cutting of printed foil

 

For the cutting of printed foil, the cutting system should be equipped with a camera detection system. Identification marks are printed between the individual images, which are picked up by a CCD camera. The connected software determines the exact position on the foil sheet and compensates automatically for printing deviations if necessary. This means that the cuts are always extremely precise along the printed contour.

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