Innovative User Interface

A subsidiary of General Motors approached JN White for help in the engineering of a complex user interface component for a parts cart used to optimize the movement of goods between distribution centers and final customers. The user interface component consists of 4 buttons and 16 individual side firing LEDS, which backlight 5 icons and 8 status bars. The customer had significant objectives it was trying to achieve with this interface. It would be exposed to different environments meaning it would need to function in wet weather, resist the intrusion of dust, withstand UV light, be exposed to cleaning solvents/ chemicals, have backlighting that was visible in direct sunlight, have an IP65-rated enclosure to withstand low pressure water jets, be programable to a set sequence to display light indicators, and finally have strong tactile feedback that could be felt while wearing light duty assembly gloves. This was a tall order, but JN White was up for the challenge.

How JN White® Helped

JN White developed a solution utilizing black injection molded elastomer for the complex user interface. The elastomer provided all of the benefits and flexibility needed to address the many tough requirements of the project.

  • Durability– The molded elastomer is formed around the PCB creating a gasket like seal. When the user interface is screwed into place that pressure seals it to the product. Making the interface withstand low pressure water jets used to clean the product.
  • Withstanding UV/cleaning solvents/ chemical – Elastomer keypads are well-suited for applications in the industrial equipment industry. This is especially true for those that are exposed to extreme temperatures, or those which may experience extreme weather. The material also has high chemical resistance giving longevity to the product.
  • Luminous Backlighting- The backlit printed circuit board structure is encapsulated in the elastomer rubber for outstanding lighting capabilities. The elastomer in the piece is unique in that JNW is using it to light pipe the LEDs. Light piping is a method of transmitting the light from the PCB mounted LEDs to the front display panel while increasing the observable brightness. The interface used an amber LED for icon indicators and white side firing LEDs for each button. In addition to using tri-color (red, orange, green), bi-color (orange, green) and mono color to achieve the green power indicator bar. For each LED indicator there is a clear hard plastic insert to let the light through. This also allows the base black elastomer in between each bar to prevent light bleeding.
  • Tactile Feedback- The tactile feedback was enhanced by force actuators molded into the back of the elastomer. The elastomer also allows for high-profile buttons to be molded. In this case the addition of a recess and rimmed arrows further define the button for those working with gloves. These features can only be achieved through custom molded elastomer.
  • Programming- The user interface has IC chips built into it – considered the brains of the switch. The IC chip is programmed with a set of sequences to activate the lights. The electronics are set up to light one area at a time.

The Result

The final product was an innovative user-interface with several exciting and interesting elements that met the customer’s specific and demanding requirements. The initial objectives were achieved through the use of molded elastomer, a material known for its durability, high tactile switch actuation force and phenomenal backlighting capabilities. The additional objectives were achieved through the use of tri-colored, bi-colored, and mono colored side firing LEDs programmed by IC chips all mounted to a custom designed PCBA. JN White met all the customers’ requirements and went above and beyond in satisfying the client.

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