Disruptive Touch Screen Technology Can Compromise Production Lines

touchscreen-cropLCD displays and touch screens are in demand. They offer a sleeker, less cumbersome alternative to a mouse and keyboard or wired touch pad. And since the user can interact directly with the device’s interface, the possibilities for innovation are endless — from elevators and mobile medical equipment to industrial automation.

For many years, electronic device manufacturers generally incorporated five to seven layers of touch screen technology in the manufacture of their products — the LCD panel layers, the touch sensor layer, and the protective top cover or outer glass. Typically a touch screen is mounted on top of the LCD display and either secured with a high-performance double-sided tape, which leaves an air gap, or a silicone gel, called optical bonding, that fills air gaps and enhances readability.

Since 2012, in-cell and on-cell touch screen technologies have taken the high volume consumer segments by storm, in particular, smartphones and tablets. Born out of similar strategies of combining layers for improved functionality, in-cell technology incorporates touch sensors into the actual LCD display panel. On-cell or G2 technology moves the touch sensor to the top cover or outer glass layer.

With fewer layers, in-cell and on-cell touch screens provide designers and engineers the ability to develop much thinner devices, locate touch sensors close to the displays, create better color saturation and visual clarity, and reduce glare. All of which make users feel like they are actually touching the display and not just the outer glass layer.

Fewer layers are beneficial to a manufacturing process as well. It reduces costs by integrating the touch screen sensor as one of the layers of the LCD display, and optical bonding takes place as part of the initial production line, eliminating the need for a secondary bonding process.

For high volume consumer manufacturers who are used to frequent product launches and relatively short product lifecycles, this market-disruptive technology can be a game-changer for both manufacturing and sales. But for specialty original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) like those in the healthcare, military, and industrial automation industries, this technology could create another type of disruption — if not vetted properly, it could compromise the entire production line.

At EmbedTek, we make it our priority to maintain a manufacturing and quality system that is agile, flexible, automated, and adaptable to reduce the burden on our customers and eliminate errors. And we frequently design new features and functions for our customer product lines to improve reliability, cost, and performance in a new way. Before we recommend any change to the design, components, or partners involved in the manufacture of a product, device, or equipment solution, we carefully analyze its impact on the entire supply chain.

On-cell and in-cell technologies are still evolving and establishing themselves. Be aware of how they’re developing and consider the following dynamics.

Sourcing — How is your existing supplier adapting to the changing landsape? Are they in a position to benefit from the impact of these changes?

Durability — On-cell and in-cell displays are not, at this point, appropriate for most specialty OEM applications because the cover glass thickness is minimal. If a thicker cover glass is needed to protect against scratches, cracks, and wear, it can affect touch performance and accuracy. Add-on cases and covers that may be needed to improve durability also add costs and steps in the supply chain.

Supply Certainty — Supply and demand can work for or against you as an early adopter. Specialty OEMs rely on trusted partners for at least five years as a product is developed, manufactured, sold, and maintained. They need to feel confident that not only will quality components be around throughout that time period, but that the provider will be, too.

Once you have all of your questions answered and long-term vision in place, you can begin to layout the integration approach that is in the best interest of the business.