Data Plates

Copyright © 2005 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in March 2005, Volume 30, No. 9 of The Engravers Journal

     It happens to all of us . . . you’re at a social function and the obligatory question “What do you do?” comes up. My standard response is “I am a small business owner and my wife and I own an engraving shop.” Their predictable response is, “Oh, so you do trophies.”
    I explain there are a couple of really good trophy shops in town and I even recommend them to people who call for trophies. This remark causes some pause as my conversational mate ponders what to say next.
    I relieve them only somewhat by telling them we do mostly industrial engraving. They experience an even greater sinking feeling as by now they have no idea where this conversation is headed. “And just what is industrial engraving?” they ask. I tell them quickly about some of our products and include “data plates” in the mix. At this point they are looking at their watch, around the room, at the ceiling, or whatever, just hoping for a chance to escape.
    I go on to explain that they see data plates all the time and just don’t realize it. They have data plates on their computers, VCR and DVD players, microwave ovens, electric motors, air conditioners and hundreds of other items all around them. I tell them that these are the little “plates” which contain “data” about the product such as its serial number, model number, date of manufacture and other pertinent information. I can see a light come on as they now understand what I’m talking about, but I still sense their desire to slink away and look for someone with more celebrity status.
    Engravers rarely enjoy celebrity status, except at the PGA Golf Championship, when they show the guy getting ready to put the next name on the Wanamaker Trophy. Even though we see him, nobody knows who he is.
     Also, engraving is mentioned in the Bible more than once, but most people don’t remember it. We all knock about trying to make a living, and engraving “data plates” is a nice little way to inch along toward the goal.

This high tech plate is made from LaserLIGHTS material.  

This aluminum plate contains technical data about the machine it goes on.

    Getting back to those who use (buy) data plates. Companies that manufacture equipment are probably the most likely prospective customers. If you’re a small shop, you can target small manufacturing companies with sales calls. Small shops tend to identify with other small shops. If you are a small shop you won’t be able to produce tens of thousands of data plates for the large scale manufacturers anyway.
    Look through the Yellow Pages or just look around your neighborhood for companies who make things. They are everywhere and they need what you can provide. Talk to owners, engineers or purchasing agents. These folks have the inside track to what their needs are, and in many cases, the decisions makers who can authorize a purchase. Even if you have never made a “data plate,” you have the equipment and skill to do it. Sell your company’s capabilities as well as your product.
    Data plates come in all sizes and shapes and contain a variety of information, but basically they are used by manufacturers to somehow specify or technically describe their products.
     They also can be made of a wide variety of materials. You can make data plates from stainless steel, anodized aluminum, ALUMAMark, black painted brass, metal sublimation and sticker sublimation, not to mention many different varieties of plastic engraving material. You can rotary and laser cut them and of course, as just mentioned, sublimate them.


This plate is made from LaserLIGHTS material and displays a name, phone and serial number.

  An aluminum plate with a serial number and model number is made of aluminum with a self adhesive back.

    The layout often includes a company logo which can be produced in any number of graphic packages on the market. You probably already have a favorite way of making logos. Just include this as part of your overall graphics for the plate.
    All plates contain data, some more than others. The simplest (such as the NRC or CE plates (pictured) have very little. The NRC plate has only the logo, serial number and phone number. The CE data plate has only the logo, serial number and model number.
    Other plates contain much more, such as contract numbers, assembly numbers, even instructions or safety information. Many of the plates have a “reverse background” area where the manufacturer stamps or etches his data in the blank spot. These spots are used for variable data that’s only available at the time of final assembly. We use CorelDRAW or AutoCAD to make the boxes and size and place the text.
    Oftentimes there are rivet or screw holes in the corners or along the outer edges. We laser Plexiglas fixtures to accurately place these holes. Some plates, however, are just applied with double-faced adhesive tape.

Sublimation can add color to data plates when needed. This color plate was created on Mates material with a self-adhesive back.    

    The plate mounting requirements are usually determined by industry standards. Some environmental considerations come into play when specifying the plates. If the plate might be subjected to mechanical abuse, then it may require a rivet mounting. If the plate is subjected to high temperatures or a corrosive environment it may have to be stainless steel. For example, we make aircraft data plates and also gasoline storage tank plates. Both must be stainless steel in case of a catastrophe where the data would need to be garnered for an investigation.
    Sublimated plates are not suitable for direct sunlight, therefore it’s imperative to consult with your customer about the end use of the plates.
    In some cases, phenolic plates instead of common engraving stock are required by government specifications for electrical and fire-resistance considerations. And there are some customers who don’t need to meet any particular regulation or standard but want to display information for their customer’s convenience. In any case, consider the environment in which your plates will be used.
    When talking with your customers, try to find the best solution for their data plate needs. For example, one of our customers wants a color logo on a plate used only in an indoor environment. We chose a natural color sublimatable aluminum.

This aluminum plate has a sublimated color logo and comes with a fixture for hole punching ease. A stainless steel data plate is all rotary engraved except the logo which was lasered with CerMark.

    This particular customer orders data plates with basic (repetitive) information and later adds specific (variable) information at manufacturing. We convinced him our two day turn around time would be quick enough for him to give us all the information right before the data plate was scheduled to be attached to the equipment. This produced a much nicer looking and uniform plate. It also saved the customer the extra step of hand stamping additional data onto the plate.
    Another option is the peel and stick data plate. These can be sublimated on to the “MATES” material, or lasered onto “LaserLIGHTS” material. One customer wanted a logo on a stainless steel plate. Most stainless steel plates are rotary engraved so for this particular plate, we combined CerMark spray and lasered the logo onto it after we had completed all of the rotary engraving.
    Etched (metal) plates are also an option. Through chemical etching, you can achieve deep-etched graphics and reversed graphics and create an extremely durable plate. To add color, etched metal can be color filled.
    If you are not currently making data plates (and money from selling them), shake off that yawn and social boredom this article may have elicited and look around. See all those data plates around you? Someone else made them. You too can share in the profits and see the “deer in the head lights” look at your next party when some unsuspecting, but generally friendly, host or guest asks the obligatory question, “Just exactly what is it you do anyway?”