Membrane switches are circuits which enable users to interface with a device using pressure. These switches are made up of layers of circuitry, adhesives, and a graphical overlay. Tactile membrane switches are a type of membrane switch that provides tactile user feedback, usually through actuated metal domes.
In this article, we’ll explore the key factors you should consider when selecting or designing a membrane switch for your product. We’ll start by evaluating how (and in what environments) the end user will interact with the tactile membrane switch. From there, we’ll look at the factors that differentiate membrane switch manufacturing facilities.
Consider the Environment in Which the Tactile Membrane Switch Will Be Deployed
There are many environmental factors you should consider when constructing a tactile membrane switch. You should ask yourself if the device will be used:
- Indoors, outdoors, or both
- In extreme temperatures
- In areas high in contaminants (dust, microorganisms, etc.)
- In extreme environments (underwater, high pressure, high impact)
- In areas with a high risk of electrostatic discharge (ESD)
An understanding of these (and other) environmental factors will have a substantial influence on the development of your tactile membrane switch. Here are some of the ways tactile membrane switch manufacturers can address common environmental concerns:
- Using UV-resistant materials on switches used in outdoor or mixed indoor/outdoor environments
- Using materials like polycarbonate for switches utilized in extreme temperatures
- Adding ESD shielding
- Ensuring the switch has a high ingress protection (IP) rating for environments with dust and water. This can be accomplished by integrating a gasket into the design. General Label is able to build to an IP67 rating.
- Using antimicrobial coatings for medical devices
- Using LEDs for low and no light environments
This list of environmental concerns is not comprehensive, nor is the list of customization options available for membrane switches. Tactile membrane switches can be built to withstand high-pressure impacts, chemical corrosion, and more.
Understanding the Device the Membrane Switch Will Be Integrated With
In addition to the environment in which the end product will be deployed, it’s important to consider how the tactile membrane switch will integrate with that product. Considerations include:
- Termination options—Zero Insertion Force (ZIF), female contact, latch housing for extreme vibrations or durability, etc.
- Device profile
- And more
The use of small LEDs and printed electronics can drastically reduce the size of a membrane switch, slimming the overall profile of your device and allowing the membrane switch to fit within tolerances. Material use impacts tolerance and termination options affect profile, tolerances, connectivity, and more.
Think About Who Will Use the Membrane Switch—and How It Will Be Used
Now that we’ve considered the device and the environment, it’s time to think about how the membrane switch will be used.
This discussion revolves around tactile membrane switches—tactility, then, is presumed to be a crucial feature. The reasons for choosing a tactile membrane switch vary, but they fall broadly into two categories:
- Providing users with more feedback
- Providing users with feedback in the absence of audiovisual feedback
Your end user might be an elderly person who needs additional feedback to confirm that they’ve activated the switch. You might be designing your device for the person who cares for that elderly person—a healthcare worker in a hospital who is already overburdened by audiovisual feedback from machines.
Your device might be used by a factory worker wearing gloves where a firm tactile response is required to ensure they know they’ve activated the switch.
Thinking about the end user will influence a number of graphical features. You’ll also influence how rigid the actuated steel domes will be—softer, easier-to-actuate domes are better for users who can’t apply sufficient pressure, but they tend to provide less tangible tactile feedback.
Backlighting is another important factor—more feedback is often better when an end user is, for example, hard of hearing or in low light environments like a server room.
Finally, you’ll want to consider how often the membrane switch will be used. We have membrane switches with tactile domes that can be actuated over a million times in their lifespan—our switches will probably last longer than other components of your final product.
Evaluate the Facility Where the Membrane Switch Will Be Built
There are a number of questions to ask about your membrane switch manufacturer:
- Does it have the appropriate ISO certifications?
- Does it provide appropriate support (design, engineering, manufacturing, etc.)?
- Does it have experience manufacturing membrane switches?
- Does it have clean rooms to ensure a certain level of Ingress Protection?
- How quickly can it develop prototypes?
- Where is it located?
- What relationships does it have with material suppliers?
General Label is proud to answer yes to all of the above questions and strives to be a world class manufacturer or printed electronics and membrane switches.
Working With General Label
At General Label, we provide support from conceptualization to the final membrane switch. We have ISO Class 7-rated clean rooms, all the necessary ISO certifications, and quick-turn prototyping. We’re located in Minnesota and have good relationships with high-end material suppliers like 3M. Being in North America is a huge advantage—you can visit our facilities without crossing an ocean.
We’ve made our name manufacturing membrane switches. Having been in the business for decades, we’ve created innovative methods for creating sleek, durable membrane switches with integrated tactile domes and LEDs. Interested in a tactile membrane switch for your product? Call us today!