Pictured is a Whirlpool dishwasher interface with decoratives provided by Serigraph.
Serigraph helps appliance companies to stay ahead of the game for ink systems,
printing, and forming processes with the use of its Decorating Technologies
Institute (DTI). Led by a team of product development experts, the DTI combines
research and its experience in decorating parts and products to offer a wide
variety of techniques.
The DTI has developed 3D capabilities, exterior heat-resistant materials,
and special coating formulations in response to specific customer requests.
helps appliance companies add features that do not cost a lot, like backlighting
and electronic switches, and it provides perceived value to the consumer.
For example, when Whirlpool Corporation in Benton Harbor, MI, U.S. recently
was looking for a new concept for its Gold line of dishwashers, it approached
Serigraph, a long-time supplier, to fulfill its decorating needs. According
to Michael Carey, lead industrial designer at Whirlpool, the OEM was looking
for an innovative way to integrate its new "three dimensional" badge
into a decorative overlay that would both support the company's efforts toward
building stronger brand recognition as well as align with consumer needs,
like being durable and easy to clean. "We're continuing to drive consistency
across our brands, and high-quality decorative parts is one method to accomplish
that," he says.
The decorative overlay that Serigraph created is a decorating solution that
uses a polycarbonate fascia in combination with membrane switches. According
to Ken Crass, appliance business manager for Serigraph, creation of the new
overlay involved a high-gloss chrome, with a large 3D area that is embossed,
a type of work that is a bit out of the ordinary for Serigraph. "Typically,
we only emboss functional portions of the overlay," he says. "So
we had to come up with a way to emboss the badge area and also handle high-gloss
and low-gloss chrome to match the metal parts used on the rest of Whirlpool's
line." Since polycarbonate has memory, Serigraph used a special tool
with a unique geometry that allows for embossing of the polycarbonate while
maintaining the profile of the embossed pad.
"Another challenge was that Whirlpool wanted the decorative overlay to
a very smooth transition from the flat surface to the formed part," he adds. "And,
we needed to come up with a high-gloss chrome look that would not fracture during
the embossing process." The final process involved two operations: printing
of the graphic overlay and embossing the area to simulate a metal badge.
another challenge with the project was the use of dome buttons on the decorative
overlay of the dishwasher. Mr. Carey says, "Traditionally, because our
decorative overlays were made of rigid, polycarbonate material, the buttons
had been flat and embossed rather than contoured or dome shaped. However, these
buttons did not provide us with a look and feel that we felt would carry us
into the future and appeal to our consumers.
"So we worked with Serigraph to figure out a way to form contoured, domed
buttons that not only met our aesthetic needs but were also easy to use, and
because of their shape, a breeze to clean," he continues.
Additionally, the buttons had to be optimized so that they would be easy to
press in various sizes and diameters. This was necessary due to the fact
that the interface design utilizes size and shape coding to make it easier
to understand; for instance, heavier, longer cycles have larger buttons while
lighter, shorter cycles have smaller buttons.
"We want our consumers to have a positive experience with our products," Mr.
Carey adds. "The decorative overlay not only had to look great, but it had
to be functional, or people won't use it. So it was critical that our decorative,
usability, and manufacturing requirements were integrated into the design of
our new overlays. Serigraph helped us to meet our goals."
While the Whirlpool project may have been a bit out of the ordinary for Serigraph,
for years, Serigraph's R&D department has been working on alternative
techniques of achieving a chrome appearance at a significantly reduced price
versus traditional methods. Mr. Crass adds that curves and contours also
continue to be very popular with appliances, providing smooth lines and clean
Product testing was the final step in the project. Mr. Carey says that Serigraph
anticipated Whirlpool's needs in testing. For example, Serigraph pre-tested
all of the dome buttons before Whirlpool's engineering and manufacturing
groups became involved, saving development and manufacturing time. Mr. Carey
says that the new decorative overlay design satisfies customer demand and
offers Whirlpool design flexibility in colors, graphics, and button contours.