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A new aesthetic role for the humble pushbutton

13 November 2015

The pushbutton is currently facing a market decline, thanks in no small part to the emergence of touch screen HMIs that provide reliable switching - even when the operator is wearing gloves. But it's not all doom and gloom for this ubiquitous product, as Stephen Schiller reports.

Over the past 25 years the role of the pushbutton in industry has been under threat and the market has changed significantly. With the development of technology such as the screen based human machine interface (HMI), which in the same time line has moved from a basic text display to the flexible graphical touch screen we know today, human interaction with machines has changed markedly.

For a company like mine, whose core business is HMI technology and all its associated products, this change has brought its own challenges. Recognising the trend, however, we have embraced the changing HMI landscape to become a major provider of technically advanced touch screen products with screen sizes ranging from 3.7in to 12.1in. But this is only part of the story…

Today the basic electromechanical switch still has a place in industry; the Touch Screen has not exactly won the war on all fronts. Not only are they used in industry but also in many non-industrial applications - public access and transport systems, for example, all have need for a push a button or a pilot light to control a function or indicate a status.

Then consider the requirements of the machine designer and control system builder. The growing trend to use a touch screen in place of electromechanical switches is largely down to its flexibility, which enables easy customisation and the creation of a unique user interface. Added to this is the reduced wiring burden and the improvements touch screen HMIs can bring in terms of appearance and aesthetics to an operator control panel.

This pursuit of improved panel design and better aesthetics is where we now see the beginning of a new trend whereby designers are beginning to seek more 'elegant' switches as a replacement for those traditional lumpy 'industrial looking' switch designs with which we are all familiar. But what can make the insignificant switch elegant? 

To encourage this trend my company has introduced not one, but three series of switches that have a single important feature in common – they are all flush mounting, with a front panel mounting of only 2mm. The design of these switches not only promotes the sleek and elegant finish that users are now seeking, but also significant functional advantages such as improved hygiene, thanks to the clean, uncluttered designs of these components.

An aesthetic range
The application will demand what size of pushbutton will be required, so we have developed product ranges in three key diameters: 16mm, 22mm and 25mm. For
semiconductor manufacturing, communication equipment, medical equipment and non-industrial applications such as audio visual equipment, parking machines and rail rolling stock control panels, our 16mm (IDEC LB flush series) is the pushbutton of choice.

However, the 22mm (IDEC CW series) switch is by far the most commonly used size in industry and our new offerings in this category can be easily adopted by the panel builder or machine manufacturer, with no need to change the panel design and switch layout. The detachable contact block gives a typical 10A contact rating which is again a standard for this switch type. We see this series finding its way to the manufacturers of high-end packaging and printing machines, food & beverage applications and the more discerning control panel builder who wishes to create a more attractive user interface.

The 25mm (LW flush series) switch offers some interesting possibilities, thanks to the various wire termination options offered by the associated contact blocks, including PCB pin mount, solder tab/fast-on termination and traditional screw termination. With these options and larger operating area, this series is finding its way into heavier duty applications such as machine tools, air drying and industrial vacuum systems. And thanks to the range of termination offered with this series, greater security of wired connections can be achieved for applications subject to shock and vibration.

Each of the three product families comprises a complete line-up, including pushbutton (maintain and momentary), illuminated (again momentary and maintained), selector switches, key switches and pilot lights. All have a minimum IP rating of IP65 (IP66/67 for the 22mm CW series) making them suitable for applications subject to washdown. And coming back to aesthetics, there’s a choice of metallic (silver) or plastic (black) bezel, giving the user even more design freedom.

Stephen Schiller is managing director of IDEC Electronics in the UK

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