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issue: February 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine

Engineering: Decoratives
Golden OpportunityPictured is a Whirlpool dishwasher interface with decoratives provided by Serigraph.

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The decision to buy a major appliance often depends largely on appearance. Serigraph, a West Bend, WI, U.S.-based decoratives and labels manufacturer, knows this, as the company has been working with appliance customers for 30 years. The company's expertise is in the development of graphics that provide a high level of shelf-appeal while meeting the rigorous performance specifications of appliances.

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. It 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 have 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.

Yet 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 surfaces.

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.


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