When choosing parts for their final products, OEMs and manufacturers of all stripes have a number of concerns to keep in mind. How easily does the part integrate with the whole? How does the part impact the aesthetics of the final product? And, perhaps more importantly, does the part provide the durability needed for the environment the product will be employed in?
Many of our clients create products for industries where durability is a must and product faults are unacceptable. When your clientele is manufacturing medical or military equipment, durability is a must.
Our membrane switches are incredibly durable. In this article, we’re going to discuss some of the design choices we can make to improve the durability of your membrane switches. Before we dive into that, however, it’s important to understand what a membrane switch is made of.
The anatomy of a membrane switch
Membrane switches are made up of four or more layers. The first layer is the graphic interface that can be interacted with to tell the device what to do. Beneath this layer, you’ll find a circuit layer of conductive inks and/or dielectrics printed onto a polyester film (PET), with placed tactile domes, single, dual, and/or tri-colored LEDs.
You’ll find a number of layers sandwiched between the graphic interface and the circuit layer. These layers can be used for spacing and shielding. There are adhesive layers to connect the graphic interface to circuit layers and a mounting adhesive to connect the switch to the final product.
As you can see, membrane switches feature a lot more layers than you might expect at first glance. Each of these layers must be built with durability in mind. Adhesive layers that can’t withstand heat could ruin the switch. Graphic layers that aren’t abrasion-resistant could become unnavigable. And circuit layers that can’t resist the elements could render a product completely inoperable.
Different materials and processes yield different durabilities
There’s no one answer to the question “How durable are membrane switches?”, as the materials being used in the switch have a dramatic impact on its overall durability. While polycarbonate and polyester are two of the most commonly used materials in membrane switches, even those materials come in a wide selection of variants. Some are UV-resistant, some antimicrobial, and some are labeled XE for their ability to withstand extreme environments. Our team of project managers and design engineers are with you every step of the way to help design a switch to meet and exceed the expectations of your application.
We use different materials in various combinations to create membrane switches that can withstand the environments in which they’ll be deployed. Some of the materials we use include:
- ESD Coatings
- Antimicrobial Coatings
- Flame Retardant Materials/Coatings
- 3M™ 467/468 (200MP adhesive)
- 3M™ LSE adhesives (Low Surface Energy)
- 3M™ VHB tape(Very High Bond)
- High-Temperature Acrylics
- Custom Adhesive Gaskets
- Conductive Adhesive
We’ll also vary the processes we use for different membrane switches. For example, all of our medical membrane switches are assembled within ISO Class 7 Clean Rooms. No matter what industry we build for, all of our switches are individually tested – never batch tested – to ensure functionality before they’re passed off to the manufacturer.
Features that can make your membrane switch more durable
Now that you’ve got a better idea of what membrane switches are made of and the various materials and processes we can use to make them more durable, you may be curious as to what features your final membrane switch can have.
Our custom-made membrane switches can be:
- Hermetically sealed
- High temperature-resistant
- Low temperature-resistant
- Static dissipative, hard coated graphic material for use in explosion-resistant applications.
That’s why it’s difficult to answer questions about how durable membrane switches are – the real answer is that they’re as durable as you want them to be! Different membrane features will be right for different products.
How we engineer durable membrane switches
At General Label, we use a variety of materials, processes, and techniques to improve the durability of our membrane switches. Let’s take a look at a few of the traits that make our membrane switches stand out:
1 million+ actuations
Our membrane switches are designed to withstand repeated use. Some of our membrane switches feature actuated metal domes – these switches offer 1 million+ actuations. Other switches have no domes at all – these switches offer 2 million+ actuations. Whether you’re looking for a tactile switch or something more subtle, you can count on General Label to offer a long-lasting product.
Highly refined processes
We’ve been in the industry for decades. The knowledge and experience we’ve gained has allowed us to create some truly remarkable membrane switches.
Take, for example, the processes we use to imbed LEDs into our membranes. Through careful process control and expertly crafted surface mount equipment, we’re able to guarantee that your LEDs will last for the entire life of the product.
You can also look at the tails of our products. Tails are the portion of the membrane switch that connects to the circuit board. While most tails in the industry are made with dielectric ink, we laminate ours with polyester. This leads to less wear and tear – dielectric tails are often scratched when the tail is connected to the circuit board, or when it’s dragged across the circuit board. Lamination means this sensitive connection is built to last.
High IP ratings
We offer membrane switches with an ingress protection (IP) rating of up to 67. For reference:
- IP65 Enclosure – IP rated as “dust tight” and protected against water projected from a nozzle.
- IP66 Enclosure – IP rated as “dust tight” and protected against heavy seas or powerful jets of water.
- IP 67 Enclosures – IP rated as “dust tight” and protected against immersion. for 30 minutes at depths 150mm – 1000mm
This means that our membrane switches can be built to withstand all kinds of environments. Many of our membrane switches are assembled in clean rooms, ensuring that no particulate can make it into the switch.
A membrane switch for every need
All of our membrane switches are custom-designed to suit the environment they’ll be used in. When you contact us to design a switch, we’ll begin a brainstorming session, discussing all of the environmental hazards your switch might encounter, from UV rays and cleaning products to, yes, explosions.
Membrane switches can be as durable as you want them to be – tell us what you need, and we’ll design and manufacture it for you.