SCHOTT solutions no. 1/2015 > Control Panels

Control Panels
Photo: Miele

Operating with the tap of a finger

As devices become more intelligent and integrate more functions in one, glass is the material of choice for creative designs of intuitive, touch-control user interfaces.

Brian Anderson

We live in a tactile world – one where our fingertips hold the key to operating everyday devices, from modern consumer electronics and kitchen appliances to medical devices. Touch pads, interactive displays and touch-screen technologies have become the switches of choice for many consumer electronics devices. And that’s for good reason: By eliminating traditional knobs and buttons, companies can make complex operations simple and intuitive, and do this with clean, minimalist design. However, the more comprehensive and sophisticated the devices become, the higher are the demands for the surface material, demands that special glass can meet in numerous ways. In many applications that use touch technology, ease of use as well as direct and clear feedback is crucial to the user. This applies especially when false operation or incorrect use could cause harm. Knowing definitively whether a device is on or off can also make a world of difference, which is why designers have been integrating touch control panels with acoustic, tactile, or visual feedback signals into many applications.

To meet these various needs, SCHOTT has developed glass solutions with a range of properties that can fulfil the requirements for streamlined design of touch panels and the critical need for safe and intuitive operation. These are being used for everything from kitchen appliances to medical devices and other industrial and commercial applications. In addition, the latest glass processing technologies from SCHOTT and the ability to combine glass with electronic components allow a wide variety of interfaces between ’man and machine.’
TFT touch technology BOSCH
With its built-in appliances, Bosch has now combined TFT touch technology with the tactile feedback of a mechan- ical control ring and has integrated it ­into a glass panel. Photo: Bosch Hausgeräte GmbH

Smart feedback

SCHOTT’s Smart Touch technology provides the feedback needed to ensure proper usage of a device while maintaining a sleek appearance. Cavities which are processed into the glass provide tactile feedback for touch switches – users press or slide a finger along one of these grooves to activate the touch sensor behind the glass. These cavities are ground into the glass surface; they eliminate moving parts such as knobs and buttons, provide a smooth surface that gives a tactile experience while operating the device. This is especially beneficial for on/off switches. In addition, SCHOTT recently unveiled another tactile feedback capability, allowing control panel manufacturers to integrate haptic structures for easier recognition of touch switches. Director Global Business Development & Innovation, SCHOTT Flat Glass , Gregor Grosse, commented, ”The tactile nature of both feedback options increases security that could not be achieved with a touch panel alone.”
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Awards for innovative design

Robert Sachon, Head Designer at Robert Bosch Hausgeräte GmbH, talks about innovative design concepts for the kitchen
Espresso machines like this model from the Spanish company Quality Espresso feature a modern design of the control panel made of glass, which has clearly visible displays that are easy to read. Photo: SCHOTT/A. Sell
Furthermore, a wide range of glass printing capabilities, colors and design options gives user interfaces a more modern appearance. Options include metal effects, matte surfaces, mirror effects, 3D designs and much more so that device manufacturers can create very individual ­designs for their appliances. Moreover, a color technology developed by SCHOTT expands the design possibilities for glass control panels with a so-called ”dead front effect.” When turned on, seven-segment displays and control elements become visible; when turned off, the device has a homogeneous black surface. Additional elements help designers move beyond the standard interface. For example, semi-transparent prints on the rear side help improve the illumination of icons, lines or areas for higher luminosity.

Today, it is also possible to print circuits directly on glass, a great advantage for manufacturers as they subsequently assemble capacitive sensors, LEDs or other electronic components for switches. This eliminates the use of foil as a carrier material, which often became brittle or discolored during the product life cycle. With conductive printing on glass, these aging effects are no longer a risk. It is capabilities like these that make glass the ideal material for touch and control panels. Glass provides a premium look and high durability. It is extremely robust against impacts and, because of its increased strength, it will stand up to everyday use. In addition, glass is more scratch resistant than other materials – plastic panels, for example – and can be cleaned more easily to ensure a high-end appearance for many years. Gregor Grosse sums it up by saying, ”The characteristics of glass are allowing design options with better usability, a longer lifetime, and increased cleanliness – due to the jointless surface of the control panel.”<