Tactile switches are electromechanical switches installed beneath the keys of a computer keyboard, motor control keyboard, keypad, and other electronic devices. They produce the satisfying “bump” that users feel in their fingers when they strike a key, coupled with a distinct clicking sound. These tactile and auditory cues inform a user that a key or keyboard is functioning as it should and is registering the applied actuation force during typing. Learn more about the components that make up a tactile switch, why they are useful, and their advantageous characteristics.
Tactile Switch Components
Standard tactile switches have a rather simplistic design structure, generally using only about five key components in their operation. These include:
- Cover. A cover of metal or another rugged material is the external-most component of a tactile switch. It offers protection, shielding the internal components beneath or, if necessary, utilizing a ground terminal to safeguard against detrimental static discharge.
- Plunger. Beneath the cover rests a plunger, which, depending on its application, may be composed of rubber, metal, or another material and have either a raised or flat configuration. The plunger is partly responsible for the tactile and auditory feedback of the switch.
- Contact dome. The contact dome is the other component that, with the plunger, produces the telltale click and feel of a tactile switch. Be it metal or another material, the composition of the plunger and contact dome determine the kind of sound and feel a user will experience. Contact domes have an arched shape that allows these components to reverse their configuration under compression, ultimately creating a circuitry connection between dual contact points fixed in the switch base to power the switch.
- Base. The largest of a tactile switch’s components, a base of molded resin holds the contact points and terminals that enable a connection with a corresponding printed circuit board (PCB) base.
- Actuator. The actuator controls the electromechanics of the tactile switch, allowing it to function. It is responsible for closing and opening the circuit.
Why Choose Tactile Switches?
Tactile switches are a highly reliable and safe mechanical switch option as their operational life typically lasts years. This makes them useful in critical applications that need dependable components, as well as in electronic devices for which constant maintenance would be problematic. They are also easy to use, not requiring much force to activate them, which can help boost typing speed.
If an application has space constraints, tactile switches are ideal as these small devices possess a low profile, making for an optimal fit in notebook computers or other devices with limited internal space. Compared to quiet linear switches or louder clicky switches, tactile switches produce a moderately audible clicking noise and offer a range of tactile feedback based on the plunger and dome material compositions, as well as the switch variant. Their sound is less distracting if volume is a concern in a user’s application.
All of that said, the best tactile switches offer a range of benefits for versatile keyboard and keypad applications from computers and security systems to telephones and appliances.
Benefits of Tactile Switches
These electromechanical switches possess advantageous features that enhance both their reliability and the user experience, including:
- Feedback that users can feel and hear. The sound and feel of a tactile switch are evidence to the user that the switch is operational and engaging with the circuitry. As users are typing, tactile switches help enable them to tell when they have missed a key because they don’t feel or hear the corresponding bump or click.
- Engagement of circuitry. Tactile switches are either on, meaning the electrical current is flowing through them, or they are off. Depending on the switch, the “on” function can be either when a user presses a key or when they release it. This is beneficial because it enables both continuous operation and quick, efficient data input.
- Minimal current and power demands. Tactile switches are capable of functioning while utilizing lower current and power ratings than some other switch types and have less arcing occurring at their points of contact. As a result, this makes them an ideal fit for low-voltage systems and components. They also tend to be more economical to manufacture.
- Longer life span than other varieties. As another factor that impacts their cost-efficiency, tactile switches only contain a small amount of moving components, which means that they often have a longer life cycle than comparable mechanical switch types. Given the reduced maintenance concerns, manufacturers can even mount them directly to a circuit board.
Tactile Switches From Amphenol NEXUS Technologies
Tactile switches are highly versatile given the array of key, material, and actuator options that are available, and Amphenol NEXUS Technologies can assist you in finding the right switch for your application. Our push-button switches offer significant tactile feedback for reliable proof of actuation, and we also offer military-grade components for critical applications. Contact us today to learn more about our product line and how our switches can support your operations.