Co-Designing Method - From Concept to Reality
Customer Service and Consultation: The process begins when the customer emails or calls us with some ideas of a particular product that have in mind and will work with our customer service representatives to review concepts and materials. At this stage, we are looking for general information to form the basics of the product to create a quote.
Estimating and Order Entry: The customer is given an estimate or quote for the product, depending on the cost of materials, number of steps required to make the product, and how much time the project will take to make.
Design: Our design team will continue to communicate with the customer to determine the finer details of the product, including materials, LEDs, tactility, components, etc. Sometimes the customer will email or send us a rough copy of the artwork or “blueprints” of the product that they want. A rapport between our staff and the customer is built until we come up with exactly the right components. Then, ECI’s design team creates a model based on the graphics or blueprints provided by the customer along with all of the specifications determined between staff and customer. Colors, LEDs, layers, and thickness are all taken into account and a timeline is made to determine how long it will take for the part to be made. In designing prototypes, ECI must remain flexible in order to make any changes to the product. If the customer is not satisfied with the prototype, our staff will continue to work with the customer to find what will make it better. Once the design is finalized, a proof is made and sent to the customer to be approved.
Purchasing: Once the order is confirmed, ECI’s purchasing department will purchase all the materials needed to make the product, first checking to see if inventory has enough material already in stock.
Color Matching: Once materials are purchased, colors must be mixed and thoroughly checked for accuracy and approval. The printing department receives a color sampling order, specifying the colors of the product – typically specified by the Pantone color matching chips. We then mix the colors from our library according to specific recipes and attempt to match the colors exactly under a controlled light source and environment.
Screen Making: Screen making is where the image of formed to begin the production process. Screens are produced through a photographic process to create a stencil for each color to be printed. This is done by burning the artwork film onto the capillary film. The artwork is placed on an emulsion coated screens and exposed, rinsed and prepared for press. Once the artwork is burned onto the film, the artwork is removed and the mesh and film are washed off. They are then vacuumed and placed in the dryer for a few minutes until it is thoroughly dry. Once dry, block-out is poured onto the screen and distributed evenly around the artwork. Careful eye for detail and quality is taken to inspect with magnification before printing.
Material Prepping: Materials are pre-cut at the “shear” to create the parts that will be printed and used in the product. This includes adhesives, laminates and spacer materials.
Printing: Once the screen, ink, and materials are prepped and ready, they go onto ECI’s presses to be printed. If the product is a membrane switch like the one shown, the circuit will be printed first, then the overlay. The press squeegees ink onto the material through a stencil, and a layer of conductive ink is applied and cured to the screen. It is then examined alongside the artwork film, tested, inspected, and sent through a dryer where it is inspected once more for pinholes, dust, or other defects.
Fabrication: The circuit and overlay head to the fabrication department to precisely cut the parts from the blanks. The layers in the design are then pre-cut into various shapes and ready for assembly. Vision systems are used on printed material to increase the accuracy of the print to cut features. All layers are then kitted and delivered to assembly.
Assembly: All of the layers of the product are ready to be put together and tested. First, the back adhesive is applied to the bottom layer of the circuit. Then, a second layer of adhesive is applied with the top circuit. The product is then ready for component placement of switch domes and/or LEDs. The domes are then secured with lamination. A spacer material is placed on top and then the excess overlay material, spacer material and laminate receives a final-cut using ECI’s laser cutter. If the product has LEDs, they are installed. A connector is then applied to the circuit which is then tested electrically.
Testing: The LEDs and buttons of a membrane switch go through a preliminary test before the overlay is applied and then tested with ECI’s program, which tells us if each button is working and makes sure all LEDs work as well.
Inspection and Packing: ECI staff checks to make sure that each overlay and membrane switch is ready to be shipped, checking for defects, recording them, setting them aside and packing the ones that pass.
Shipping: The product is sent to shipping department where it is boxed up, inspected one last time, labeled and sent out to the customer.