How It Works
It all starts with a phone call. We have customers that call us from all over the world!
The goal of the first conversation is to determine exactly what the customer is looking for. We use this information to come up with a design plan. This design plan details the look and finish / materials to be used, type of communication protocol that will be implemented and the methods we will use to build it. The most important piece of information that starts the conversation is a sketch of what the customer is looking for. This could be a detailed drawing or a simple napkin sketch.
Our customer was able to provide us with a beautiful rendering of the touch keypad assembly. With this drawing we could now have a very productive conversation. This rendering allows me to think about all of the requirements, from the different color uniform lighting to the mechanical shape and thin form factor that is required. This rendering also made it obvious to us that the customer needed some type of mechanical housing to pull off the full look and feel that they are looking for. Since the electronics/graphic and lighting overlays and the mechanical housing designs all must fit together perfectly, it is very important that all of this design work is done simultaneously. Once we discussed all of the aspects of the design requirements, we put together a design plan. This design plan basically summarizes our conversation and shows the customer our true understanding of what is required for their new product. For this project, we put together the following design plan:
- We are going to use our PCB type capacitive touch keypad. This means the PCB will have the touch pads on the top surface of the PCB and all of the necessary electronics on the back side of the PCB.
- The customer wants to use RGB LEDs to uniformly light the graphic overlay. This meant that we could use our LEDs that have the all 3 color (red, green, and blue) dies in one led. Doing this would save a considerable amount of space. Our lighting layer is a special laser etched or imaged layer that allows the light to uniformly glow underneath the graphic overlay. The thickness of this lighting layer would be 1mm.
- The graphic overlay will be made so that it is scratch resistant and have opaque and translucent inks. The customer is interested in using glass or polycarbonate for the material. The thickness of this will be 0.030” or 1mm chemically strengthened glass.
- We will have to use a special mechanical mounting method in order to assemble this correctly. Male or female PEM fasteners can be used.
- The communication method will be half duplex RS-485 as well as standard low side driver control using NPN transistors.
- A custom GUI interface will be used for the setup and demo control of these capacitive touch keypads. The customer has a trade show that they are attending in a couple of weeks and needs some way of showing all of the keypads working together as well as being able to change the colors of the lighting. This same windows application software can be used to do acceptance testing of future production keypads.
- A mechanical design review is needed to determine the best mechanical mounting method for the different private jet interiors. A GoTomeeting will be conducted so that the customer can see my Solid Works 3D Cad desktop as I design different possible solutions.
- The mechanical parts must be aluminum so that they can be polished and plated with precious metals, like gold, silver, chrome etc. We will use the FDM process for initial prototypes and then have one of our partners’ 3D print metal parts.
This design plan was approved by the customer and the work began. We only had a couple of weeks to make this happen as the customer wanted to show this off at the NBAA 2013 Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition The customer was very excited because not only were we able to commit to finishing the design and building the prototypes on time for their show, but that our prototypes will look like and feel like the real thing! Even our electronics are machine assembled. Their customers attending the show will not be able to see that these are the first prototypes. They will look like actual production parts! Now for the fun part! I want to walk you through the following design process:
It is very important that the electronics, graphic and lighting overlays, and mechanicals are designed simultaneously. Doing this ensures that the complete assembly will fit together correctly the first time. After all, we don’t have time to for mistakes! We use Altium Designer because it allows me to make my schematic, PCB layout and 3D mechanical design of the PCB all in one software environment. The 3D mechanical part can be easily imported into my Solid Works 3d design so that I can check for interferences and make sure everything will fit and work the first time. Altium designer also directly communicates with our pick and place line making the assembly of the prototypes. The first thing we design is the electrical schematic. My software engineer and I work closely together during this design phase. It is important that what we make can be programmed to do what the customer needs. The next thing I do is layout the electronics. At the same time I will design the graphic overlay and lighting layer using Corel Draw.
3D design of the capacitive touch keypad PCB
Vector artwork made using Corel Draw
Complete Assembly of Capacitive Touch Keypad includes the PCB, Uniform Lighting Layer and Graphic Overlay
During all of this, the 3D mechanical design must take place. We will put the entire model / assembly together and make sure everything fits correctly. I will then send my pcb files out for fab and get ready for the production of these prototypes. I will use our laser to create the custom lighting layers and the graphic overlays will be reverse printed on the correct materials. Once the PCBs arrive, I can solder all of the components using our surface mount pick and place assembly line.
Here is a video of this in action! Like this video? Click here to view more like this! youtube
Once the PCBS are made, we will inspect all of the them to make sure they are 100% perfect using our Mantis Elite. Now we will complete the assembly by adding the lighting layer and graphic overlay. This assembly will now be taken into the software lab where my software engineer will bring this beautiful prototype to life! For the first time, I get to see this keypad light up in the different colors.
It is amazing to finally see all of that work come to life!
3D printed metal cover in place
Each button is tuned for perfect sensitivity with the metal enclosure in place to make sure we account for any possible interference from the surrounding components.
Our Windows Application GUI software is used to connect to each keypad via half duplex RS 485
Once we have tuned the keypad we will then test all of the communications / lights / buttons using our custom GUI software that was created for this project. Our customer will be able to use this software to demo the keypads at their tradeshow. Being a full prototype design house specializing in capacitive touch interfaces made Rapid Keypads the best choice for completing this design in such a short period of time. Our talent, software and equipment have been assembled to give our customers that fastest “Looks Like, Feels Like” prototypes in the world!
Our company was looking for a way to show case our technology to take advantage of its unique capabilities and properties. When we discovered Blue Sparq and asked for their help, we were excited to learn that they could not only help bring to reality the concept we had in mind, they helped improve on what we had. The result was a demonstrator that became our best tool for showing potential customers what our technology was capable of while in their hands. In addition, Blue Sparq has continued to support modifications and changes that evolve the demonstrator, many of which were same day! It has been Blue Sarq's ability to support us same day and to genuinely care about the success of our prototypes that has encouraged and continued a successful relationship. As I continue in my career, I will always consider Blue Sparq and Rapid Keypads as a first source for rapid prototyping custom electronics and advanced capacitive touch user interfaces.- Brian Zellers
We received our first working prototype with supporting documentation in less than two weeks well before our own prototype boards were completed. The support from Blue Sparq was as promised, both Jameel Ahed and his engineering staff were very responsive to all issues and replied to all e-mails and telephone calls almost immediately. Overall, we were so pleased with the product and support that we are now considering changing existing products to capacitive touch keypads.- Kenneth Koscheka
UltraSonic Power Corporation
UltraSonic was in need of a helping hand with their existing user-interface controller, with Blue Sparq, they achieved a more beautiful and easy-to-control interface.More Projects
Blue Sparq, Inc. incorporated its high speed rapid prototyping capability with its Rapid Keypads - Capacitive Touch Keypad Technology to produce this stunning prototype in just a couple of weeks! The mechanical parts were first made using the Blue Sparq FDM machine and then the final parts were produced by a high precision SLA machine. Finally, the parts were given a gorgeous high end paint job!More Projects
Using our translucent conductive ink and projected lighting technique we were able to acheive a bright and uniform keypad lighting. Our customer wanted the look and feel of an iPhone without using a full LCD touchscreen. Blue Sparq was given the task of creating this "Looks Like, Feels Like" prototype for the consumer electronic show in only 3 weeks! We exceeded our customer's expectations!More Projects
Vagabond Vending LLC, partnered with Blue Sparq to create three types of telemetry devices. The CDMA, GSM, and Wi-Fi modules.More Projects
Lighted Capacitive Touch Keypads for Consumer Products
Using our translucent conductive ink and projected lighting technique we were able to acheive a bright and uniform keypad lighting. Our customer wanted the look and feel of an iPhone without using a full LCD touchscreen. Blue Sparq was given the task of creating this "Looks Like, Feels Like" prototype for the consumer electronic show in only 3 weeks! We exceeded our customer's expectations!Learn More
Capacitive Touch Interface
Blue Sparq was contracted to give this exercise equipment a new look and feel. This was acheived by changing the old fashioned mechanical membrane switch keypads over to the new Capacitive Touch Technology found in the latest smart phones and tablets. After the prototype development was complete, this customer expected the production of these new touch panels to be done overseas, however we were able to beat the foreign pricing and keep this a MADE IN AMERICA product!More Projects
Lighted Medical Touch Control Panel
This capacitive touch control panel was very challenging to design and prototype. Each lighted segment and icon had to be individually controlled. The graphic overlay is made using our special dead front technique, which makes the overlay look extremely black when the light is off, hiding the icons.More Projects
Selective Lighting - Glass Overlay
This is a single button capacitive touch keypad with a dead fronted glass overlay. This keypad has 2 icons that are controlled by the main controller. When the button is pressed, the LOCK icon appears. When the button is pressed again, the LOCK icon will turn off and the UNLOCK icon will be displayed.More Projects
Foy Automation Control
Flying by foy contracted Blue Sparq to give their automation controller a new look and feel. They wanted to integrate special custom touch sliders and a touch screen with mechanical buttons. We added special dead front back lighting and indicator lights to give this panel a very modern look. This control panel communicates via ethernet as well as USB.More Projects
DreamWorks SKG contracted Blue Sparq, Inc. to build a capacitive touch panel that has media controls for their mobile kiosksMore Projects
Mission: Build a beautiful, state of the art, interface for a high tech vending machine.
Project Spec: Full USB Capacitive Touch Keypad using Selective LED Lighting for each button. Custom Dead Fronted Graphic Overlay made of 0.125" thick Glass. Custom RFID Reader with USB interface
Explosion Proof Capacitive/Film Method Keypad
Half Inch 0.5" Thick Glass used for an explosion proof capacitive touch keypad interface. The user now can touch the outside of this thick glass window to control the explosion proof device. RapidKeypads.com can use its rapid prototype capability to make a capacitive touch keypad that can sense through any non conductive material.
In this case, the capacitive touch system is sensing through 0.5" thick glass. This is perfect for an explosion proof control panel. In this demonstration you can see our multi touch system in action.