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This article gives you comprehensive insights into membrane switches. Read further to learn more about:
Membrane switches are a type of human-machine interface characterized by being constructed from several layers of plastic films or other flexible materials. Conductive materials and graphic inks are printed or laminated onto the surface of these plastic films. They function by temporarily closing or opening an electric circuit. The compact and efficient construction of membrane switches makes them suitable for a vast array of applications such as household appliances and industrial equipment interfaces.
Membrane switches have been around for about five decades. In the early 1970s, the first membrane keypads were introduced. They were made up of polycarbonate plastic films printed with copper or silver infused ink creating the electronic circuit. These were composed of two conductive layers with one spacer in between. The products were inexpensive but threatened by problems such as degradation and cracking of the polycarbonate film and missing tactile feedback.
The next iteration solved the durability and quality-of-life issue by changing the plastic film into polyester and adding metal domes into the design. However, membrane switches have not been readily adopted since, during that time, the huge personal computer market was dominated by mechanical keyboards. Mechanical keyboards were preferred due to their more tactile feedback.
Come the 1990s, thinner keyboard keys and membrane switches were used to make more compact and quieter keyboards. By that time, smaller electronic devices were the future of technology. The emergence of appliances and equipment with small electronic components further elevated the need for membrane switches.
Today, the global membrane switch market has a market size of approximately $4.2 billion in 2015 and is expected to grow to $13 billion by 2025. Membrane switches are extensively used in industrial, medical, and consumer goods applications.
Membrane switches are extensively used in a variety of applications may it be domestic, commercial, or industrial. There are other types and forms of user interfaces such as touchscreens, keyboards, switches, and selector knobs. Membrane switches are preferred because of their compact profile, simple construction, reliability, resistance to harmful elements, and low cost. These advantages are further elaborated below.
Membrane switches are composed of several components in the form of layers that are assembled using pressure-sensitive adhesives or heat sealing films. Its main parts are an overlay containing the graphic elements; a circuit that includes the conductive tracks, metal domes, circuit tail, and terminals; and a spacer that maintains a break between the switch contacts.
Other materials that can be used as overlays are acrylic, vinyl, and PVC.
Graphics can be printed on the reverse side or front side. Reverse side or sub-surface printing is the more common method since it produces longer-lasting prints. The overlay plastic film protects the graphics from abrasion and chemical attack. Front side or top-surface printing, on the other hand, is done to create various features such as selective texture and windows.
Depending on the type of membrane switch, the circuit can be designed and built in two ways.
Before selecting which membrane switch to use or supplier to order from, it is best to gain an understanding of its specifications and features. And like any other electronic or electrical device, it is important to fully determine the characteristics of the system where the interface will be installed. The electrical specifications of the membrane switch must be applicable to the system to prevent any electrical shorting or premature failure of the membrane switch or control unit. Moreover, there are other features that are worth noting such as coatings, backlighting, precision cutting, and so on.