Graphic overlays, also known as industrial overlays, control panels, and human-machine interface panels are thin electronic sheets applied to the face of a machine or an electronic component thus helping an operator control the machine. However, they are not only used for guidance and informational marking but also serve as protection to the machine itself.
This is because these fascias are coated with protective coating made of strong polymers (like polyurethane; more on that below) which are durable and can withstand abrasion, heavy-duty use and certain weather conditions.
How Resistant Are Graphic Overlays?
Depending on the specific use case, these control panels are also often coated with an additional protective layer consisting of other chemicals that can make the final product resistant to even heavier conditions. For example, such protective coatings can ensure:
- Heat resistance which prevents the materials from melting or becoming distorted under high temperatures.
- Water resistance which, as the name suggests, ensure the products are able to operate when submerged in water.
- Chemical resistance which protects the product from strong cleaning agents or exposure to harsh chemicals.
- UV resistance which stops harmful UV rays from distorting the color on the surface.
- Additional abrasion resistance which ensures the products remain usable for longer
- Or an anti-reflective layer which blocks sunlight on the surface making the products usable even in bright sunlight.
What Types Of Coatings Can Be Used For Industrial Overlays?
With that in place, let’s briefly look at what chemicals can be used to create this protective layer.
- PVC coating – probably the most widely used chemical compound because of its efficiency and durability. These overlays are very pliable, have a great temperature difference resistance, and are resistant to water.
- Polycarbonate coating – very widespread in more light-duty use cases. This is due to the fact that the product is not as durable as other materials and therefore cannot withstand as many actuations. However, compared to other chemicals, polycarbonate is a clear, see-through material regardless of the application thickness. Additionally, it is cheaper than other chemicals.
Polyurethane coating – this is a very resistant material often used to isolate electronic components. Polyurethane can be easily adhered to, has a high impact (hit) strength and abrasion resistance, and maintains high flexibility at low temperatures. Additionally, the material has great electronic properties such as conductivity.
Like everything else, polyurethane comes with certain disadvantages – and the primary one is the lower upper-temperature limit the chemical has – in other words, the material is strongly affected by high-temperature environments and can easily be distorted or damaged.
- The polyester coating – is a good alternative to polycarbonate coating. The obvious downside here is the cost – but that comes with more benefits as the material is many times stronger than its polycarbonate counterpart. This type of coating is mostly used in outdoor environments – in heavy-duty setups where durability and resistance are highly important.
While there are many other materials that can be used to coat industrial panels and overlays, these coatings are the most commonly used ones.
Where Are Graphic Panels Primarily Used?
While you can likely find graphic overlays used for consumer products in everyday lives (e.g. RC toy cars or drones), these products are primarily used in industrial applications.
Listing every industry is virtually impossible, as there are hundreds of applications possible as these panels are used on all machines which require an operator – but to give you an idea of some of the popular ones, take a look at the sample list below:
- Health/hospital equipment
- Safety and safety equipment
How Are Industrial Overlays Produced & Applied?
There are two ways to produce and apply graphic overlays and it depends on the use case and the materials used for the panels on which they are applied.
One of the application types is when the overlay is printed under the surface of the panel – which is also commonly known as subsurface printing or reverse printing. This type of application is the most common one as it provides the printing with protection against natural forces by being installed behind the panel itself.
On the other hand, the commonly known “standard or regular” type of printing on the surface usually results in a faster damage by either daily use or environmental conditions.
Now, in terms of the types of printing used for such industrial panels, the two common ones are screen printing and digital printing.
For screen printing, the graphic overlays are placed in special frames (also called “screens” and thus the name) which have a fine net with the mould of final graphic. The next step in the process is to insert the ink and spread it so that it covers the cutout. This process ensures the ink passes only through the graphic form or shape. This type of printing is ideal for outdoors and industrial settings where high durability is needed.
In digital print, however, is a very cost effective way of printing large quantities of panels. Since everything is handled digitally, the only requirement is the correct mixture of inks and a quality control process (of course, assuming the usage of the correct printing equipment). This is a very quick method and usually the turnaround time for printing is a lot shorter than in screen printing.
Another more novel type of printing technique is combination printing – which, as the name suggests, is a combination of the screen- and digital printing. However, this technique is often more expensive, primarily used for high-quality graphic materials (e.g. posters, labels, stickers, etc.) and therefore not widely used in industrial applications where both clarity (i.e. the operator understands the instructions) and durability (i.e. the material is required to withstand certain conditions) are of higher importance.