Businesses today are always trying to work smarter, not harder. Technology is the easiest way for a business owner to accomplish this goal without hiring additional employees or increasing their marketing budget. However, which technology should they purchase?
When considering new technology, it’s essential to understand its capabilities and what you need it to do to use it effectively in your business. It’s imperative when purchasing membrane switches.
This simple guide will help business owners understand the basics of membrane switches to make an informed decision when purchasing this technology.
What Are Membrane Switches?
Membrane switches are a type of electronic switch used in many different kinds of devices, from industrial machines to home appliances. The membrane switch panels are made up of multiple switch layers and a graphic overlay. The user interface is created by pressing down on the overlay, making contact with the underlying switches.
How Do Membrane Switches Work?
The three layers that make up a membrane switch are:
- Substrate Or Backing Plate. This is generally a piece of plastic or metal and is the part of the switch laminated to the circuit board.
- Conductor Layer. This is a thin film made of either metal or conductive plastic, which makes the switch work.
- Overlay. This is a thin polyester sheet or vinyl with a printed graphical user interface.
When a user presses the overlay, they press down on all three layers of the switch at once. The conductor layer transfers this force to the substrate, which is how the signal gets passed from one end of the switch to another. The user will eventually see an appropriate response, whether it’s a simple ‘yes/no’ type of question or a two-digit number.
Many membranes are designed to be durable, lasting for multiple travel cycles of 1 million or more operations. It means that membrane switches can handle many operations without wearing them down.
Different Types Of Membrane Switches
Depending on the type of membrane switch you need, there are many different types to choose from. Here are some of the most commonly used forms:
- Printed Circuit Board (PCB) Membrane Switches: PCB membrane switches are the most common type. They consist of a substrate, a conductor layer, and an overlay. The overlay is generally screen-printed with the user interface and can be cut to any size or shape.
- Thick Film Membrane Switches: Thick film membrane switches are made up of a substrate, a conductor layer, and an overlay. The difference between this type and PCB membrane switches is that the conductor layer in a thick film switch is applied using a screen-printing process instead of laminated to the substrate. It makes the switch thicker and less flexible.
- Graphic Film Membrane Switches: Graphic film membrane switches are made up of a substrate, a conductor layer, and an overlay. The conductor layer in this type of switch is also applied using a screen-printing process, but the overlay is made of flexible vinyl and isn’t printed with the user interface. It makes very complex designs possible with curves and shapes that aren’t possible with other types of membrane switches.
Membrane switches can be manufactured in two ways: through imprinting and etching.
- Imprinting: This uses a mold of the desired switch design that’s been engraved with specific patterns. The mold is filled with a plastic polymer, which takes the shape of the engravings.
- Etching: This involves removing material from a sheet of metal to create the switch design through an electrolytic process.
Knowing which type of membrane switch you need is essential to making the right purchase.
What Are Membrane Switch Applications?
Membrane switches are widely used in many different devices, but they’re most commonly found in electronics. Some typical applications for membrane switches include:
- Consumer Electronics: televisions, DVD players, home theater systems
- Industrial Equipment: medical devices, laboratory equipment, factory machines
- Automotive: car stereos, GPS units, dashboards
- Telecommunications: telephones, PBXs, switchboards
These are just a few examples, and the applications for membrane switches are limited only by the designer’s imagination.
When purchasing membrane switches for your electronics, always make sure to consider the type of device you’re designing and what functions need to be included for it to work correctly. In some cases, this means choosing a specific membrane switch type based on the function it’ll be performing.
Advantages Of Using Membrane Switches
Membrane switches are prevalent across many industries for several reasons, including:
- ease of use
- membranes are customizable to meet specific needs
- resistant to wear and tear
This guide only provides a few of the advantages that membrane switches offer. But when choosing a membrane switch, always keep these benefits in mind.
How Do I Choose The Right Membrane Switch?
Now that you know a little more about membrane switches, how do you choose the right ones for your business? Here are a few tips:
- Know What You Need The Switch To Do: Before you even start looking at switches, you need to know what you want them to do. What are the specific functions you need them to perform? What are the specifications of the device they’ll be used in?
- Consider Your Budget: Membrane switches can be expensive, but there are many different types and styles to choose from, so you’re sure to find something that fits your budget. You may also buy in bulk to save money, which might make up for the initial cost of the switches.
- Know Your Application: As mentioned earlier, membrane switches are used in all devices, but they’re especially effective for their durability and resistance to harsh conditions. If you need switches that can withstand exposure to dirt or water, it’d be good to choose membrane switches. If you need switches that can handle extreme temperatures or constant vibration, consider something more advanced like hall effect sensors or rotary-switch arrays.
What Are The Features To Look For?
Once you’ve determined what you need the switches to do, it’s time to start looking at specific features. Here are some features you should keep in mind:
- Size: Switches come in all sizes, so you need to choose the right one for your application. Make sure to measure the available space and compare it to the dimensions of the switch.
- Electrical Rating: The most commonly used ratings are either 6A at 110V or 10A at 250V, but you can also get switches that limit the current to what’s needed for your application.
- Contact Rating: The contact rating tells you how much electrical current the switch can handle before it overheats or fails. You can find ratings in terms of amps, volts, or watts. Keep in mind that the contact rating will largely depend on what your device is running off of, so you need to consider these specifications when choosing the switch.
- Temperature Rating: Temperature ratings tell you how high the switch can operate before it starts to fail. While switches are generally tolerant of a wide range of temperatures, you need to make sure the switch can handle the temperature of your application.
- Life Expectancy: Membrane switches are typically built to last, but they have a finite lifespan. You should expect the switch to last anywhere from 10,000 to 1,000,000 cycles.
Knowing the features you need can help you choose the right membrane switches for your application.
Other Things To Keep In Mind
Just a few more things to note, and you’re ready for your next membrane switch purchase:
- Consider the environment where the switch will be used.
- Choose a switch that’ll be easy to operate for you.
- Make sure the switch has the correct markings and symbols for your application.
- Consider the physical appearance of the switch.
- Think about how you’ll mount the switch.
Once you’ve considered these factors, you’re ready to start shopping for membrane switches.
When buying membrane switches, you have many options available to you. By following this simple guide and carefully considering your business and industry needs, you’re sure to get the perfect switch for your application.