UK front panel maker

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ruffrecords

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By chance I have discovered a new front panel maker based in the UK. The company is Metface Ltd based near Bury St Edmunds. They do a lot of synthesizer front panels which is how I stumbled across them. They can handle panel thicknesses from 1 to 3mm. I normally use 2.5mm but the majority of their work is with 2mm. They can accept data in many different panels including fpd files. I needed some panels for the poor man's tube mixer so I decided to give them a try using 2mm stock. They have a very simple method to calculate price. For 2mm thick 3U high panels they charge £1 + VAT per HP. So the 14HP 3U panels I need are all £14 + VAT each no matter how many holes or different sized holes there are  or what is printed on the panel (they use UV printing). For one panel with dB25 connectors on it they charged a little extra for countersinking the holes. despite that I will be getting 5 panels for just over £92 including VAT and shipping. I wil post again once they arrive.

Cheers

Ian
 

ruffrecords

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abbey road d enfer said:
They don't appear to have a website.
Do you know what equipment they use?

Apologies. I forgot to include a link to their web site:

https://www.meface.co.uk/

There is some info about their capabilities but no mention of equipment by name.

Edit: Reading further through their web site it appears they use ink jet printing on anodised aluminium. I wonder how durable that is?

Cheers

Ian

 

abbey road d enfer

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ruffrecords said:
Apologies. I forgot to include a link to their web site:

Thanks for the link, Ian. Funny, it's an html image, that does not appear on my screen, but is visble as text when editing your message.  ???

EDIT: Aah, OK, it's Meface, not Metface...


it appears they use ink jet printing on anodised aluminium. I wonder how durable that is?
I read a lot about it, and that was enough to convince me that it's a viable solution. Actually that's exactly what's used for silk screening PCB's. And anodized AL has even better adhesion.
You have examples of UV-cured ink on Coke cans, golf balls, cellphone covers....
I even ordered an A3+ printer from Cina that was advertised at $3k. then the seller told me he was losing money at this price so bumped up the price $800. I refused on principle, but in retrospect I shouldn't have, coz other similar printers are $5k+ now.
 

ruffrecords

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Not a technique I have come across before. It takes advantage of the high hardness but porous nature of the anodised surface to let ink seep in. Looking at some sign writing sites it appears it is a common technique for for very durable outdoor signs so it should be great for front panels. I have ordered some 3U panels from Meface so I will let you know how they turn out.

Cheers

Ian
 

shot

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About a year ago I got made two panels with UV print on 4mm thick Kapafix material.
UV printing is great! It's basically inkjet but with special ink that polymerizes under UV light. It hardens in a fraction of second, immediately after it touches the surface. The print is solid, very durable.
In the meantime, a friend of mine who has a small printing shop got the UV printer and told me that the machine can accept any material I provide him. So I guess printing directly on 3mm aluminum is okay. I plan to have him try that for me, but I'm still trying to finish current builds and not think about upcoming ones.
And the best part is it's cheap and I can do designs in any software I prefer since it prints from pdf file!

:)

Luka
 

Rob Flinn

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I was contracting at a place the other year that rented to space to a printing company.  I got into a conversation with them about the durability of UV printing.    They had a large 3 foot x 1 foot sticker that they had printed with a photograph & text.  This was stuck on the floor where the operator would stand when using one of the printers.      It's fair to say it had some wear , but you could still read the writing easily & the photo was still clearly visible although worn.    I asked when they had stuck it to the floor.    2 years previously was the answer.
 

ruffrecords

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I received the panels from Meface.co.uk a few days ago. They are excellent and their service is second to none. I forgot to add fixing holes to one panel so they made one panel as drawn and also made me one with fixing holes added for free. The DB25 connector fixing holes were supposed to be counter-bored but they countersunk them. So they are now making a replacement, again free of charge.

The printing process is clearly not the same as UV printing. I have had a lot of UV printed panels from Schaeffer and the print definitely sits on the surface of the panel. The panels from Meface have printing that seems to be sunk into the panel. The top surface is totally smooth. I have asked about the process and I will post their answer here.

So far I am very impressed both with their prices and service.

Cheers

Ian
 

ruffrecords

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I got some more info on the Meface process form them

"Hi Ian,

There's a little bit more information on tehcnology here: https://www.meface.co.uk/technology/

We print directly into the open pores of the anodised aluminium and seal the dyes after this. So called digital sub-surface printing method.

Similar, but more manual and time consuming technique known as Metalphoto, where each colour has to be rubbed into the metal one by one taking enormous amount of effort to make.

With our inkjet printers, combination of CMYK dye inks (not UV) go into the metal similteniously and has prininting quality up to 2880 x 2880 dpi, basically photo-quality.

Hope that makes it clearer.

Best regards,

Russ"

Cheers

Ian
 

abbey road d enfer

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Very interesting.
Here's the patent
https://patents.google.com/patent/GB2397275A/en
Looks like they use standard inkjet printers and renewables.
Then it need to be sealed; sealant tank cost about $2k.
I've googled "open-pored aluminium" but could only find very thin sheets (0.6mm).
 

ruffrecords

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abbey road d enfer said:
Very interesting.
Here's the patent
https://patents.google.com/patent/GB2397275A/en
Looks like they use standard inkjet printers and renewables.
Then it need to be sealed; sealant tank cost about $2k.
I've googled "open-pored aluminium" but could only find very thin sheets (0.6mm).

Reading the patent it is clear that sublimating inks are necessary for this to work - so presumably they go straight from solid to gas when heated which is how they readily enter the pores in the surface of the aluminium. Googling sublimating inks it turns out these are available as alternatives for use in some Epson and Ricoh ink jet printers. Here is a company that sells the ink and the heat transfer paper.

https://www.bestblanks.com/aboutsublimation.html

Looks like it might be a technique that could be applied in DIY form.

Cheers

Ian
 

abbey road d enfer

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ruffrecords said:
Reading the patent it is clear that sublimating inks are necessary for this to work -
Yes; I must admit I read only the abstract from the patent. My attention span for legal verbiage is that of an oyster.

Looks like it might be a technique that could be applied in DIY form.
Unless the technique evolves in the direction of simplicity, I'd favour UV printing for now.
 

gyraf

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Inkjet'ting onto anodized is trivial and we've done that for decades now, I don't get the patent claims at all..?

The really hard part is that you almost can't handle the open-pore aluminum between the anodizing and the surface closing process, at this time it is extremely sensitive to all sorts of environmental and mechanical influences.

Which means that anodizing and printing has to be done in one place, close in time/space.

You can get a thin aluminum-sticker made like this commercially, then stick it to whatever front panel you like. Pic related.

https://www.emmaelectronic.com/#products

ReezaFRATzitz1000.jpg
 

ruffrecords

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abbey road d enfer said:
Yes; I must admit I read only the abstract from the patent. My attention span for legal verbiage is that of an oyster.
Mega LOL. THat made my wife nearly choke on her cup of tea this morning!  :(
Unless the technique evolves in the direction of simplicity, I'd favour UV printing for now.
Well I have now found some lower cost (£from £220) Epson printers available with sublimating ink cartridges:

https://www.inkexperts.co.uk/product-category/sublimation-supplies/sublimation-printers/a4-printers-for-sublimation/

These guys also sell lots of sublimating ink blanks - everything from mugs to tote bags.

You also need a heat press which is another £200 or so. The only thing I am not clear on is if these will work with the thermal mass of aluminium.

They also say the service needs to be sublimation ready which they say means it has been treated with a special polymer that the ink adheres to - I suspect this mostly applies to odd surfaces like T-shirts and mugs; hopefully anodised aluminium is sublimation ready.

Also, I have just realised why Meface prints first and drill holes second - because they need a completely flat surface to print on.

Cheers

Ian
 

TwentyTrees

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I've recently had a number of panels produced by Meface, and I wanted to post a quick report as I've been very impressed with both their products and their service.

As Ian notes, the result of the printing process is quite different to the UV printing I've had done elsewhere, and both looks and feels great. I tend to go with dark panels with white legends for my own projects, which wasn't possible with Meface as they can't print white (ink particle vs aluminium pore size, as I understand it) but in the end the natural alu legend with dark printed "background" looks rather sharp I think.

IMG_20210416_145433_491.jpg

I will also say that their machining is absolutely beautifully done - very precise, and very neat. As well as the above, I had them make a couple of pieces to bolt together into a 500 series bracket for a custom switching and power filtering module, and it came together perfectly.

IMG_20210306_163559_190.jpg

I should note that their service doesn't work for everything (they don't do bending or standoffs, and sometimes you need white print). That said, I've been really happy and I will certainly be using them again, given the relatively low cost and high quality of their product!
 

Ricardus

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I've recently had a number of panels produced by Meface, and I wanted to post a quick report as I've been very impressed with both their products and their service.

As Ian notes, the result of the printing process is quite different to the UV printing I've had done elsewhere, and both looks and feels great. I tend to go with dark panels with white legends for my own projects, which wasn't possible with Meface as they can't print white (ink particle vs aluminium pore size, as I understand it) but in the end the natural alu legend with dark printed "background" looks rather sharp I think.

View attachment 80583

I will also say that their machining is absolutely beautifully done - very precise, and very neat. As well as the above, I had them make a couple of pieces to bolt together into a 500 series bracket for a custom switching and power filtering module, and it came together perfectly.

What is that preamp/EQ unit?
 

leadbreath

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Great thread, thanks for the link Ian, will give them a try. Will be good to have someone available for Frontpanels that cheaper than Schaeffer!!
 

JMan

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As Ian notes, the result of the printing process is quite different to the UV printing I've had done elsewhere, and both looks and feels great. I tend to go with dark panels with white legends for my own projects, which wasn't possible with Meface as they can't print white (ink particle vs aluminium pore size, as I understand it) but in the end the natural alu legend with dark printed "background" looks rather sharp I think.

View attachment 80583
Wow. I don’t know if my eyes are finally failing or what, but I’ve looked at this several times, zoomed in, all that, and my brain is definitely still seeing white. Pretty impressive! Also, beautiful panels overall, congrats.
 

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