When choosing a switch means more than just the ‘ON’ and ‘OFF’ function
A switch might seem insignificant because of its ubiquitous presence, but the ideology behind the utilisation of a switch comes in the wake of the functional demand and surrounding conditions.
The preliminary jobs of a switch are the ON/OFF functions or rather the START/STOP functions. In a basic switch, this is achieved by the position of metal surface contacts and a mechanical plunger. The contact surfaces provide a plane for the flow of electricity when the switch is ‘ON’ and the contact is broken apart when the switch is ‘OFF’, to stop the current flow. But for more complex and accurate processes, different working methodologies and technologies come into play.
To arrive decisively at a solution for choosing an appropriate switch, you must zero in on the working conditions, and the different criteria the switch must possess to function effectively. These could include the mechanical strength, contact surface quality or even resistance to flux/current leakage. And the working conditions range from industrial to household utilisation.
Contamination of Surface Contacts
When surface contamination occurs while constructing a mechanical switch, the usual approach would be a protective silicone lining to protect it. But this only protects the surface from dust. In mechanical switches, the presence of a metallic contact plate increases the possibility of surface corrosion and oxidation. This will result in the gradual wear and tear of the surface contact which could lead to a dampening of the flow of current and ultimately, a breakdown in working ability. Also, contact surface can produce high flux which can result in a deposit of silicone residue at intricate points. This is avoided by using certain corrosive-resistant materials and poor electrical conductors such as gold or nickel-based alloys. This occurs with regular wall mounted switches and can be avoided using high quality reinforced surface contact switches. Companies like Honeywell and Apem are leading manufacturers in this division.
In an electrical switch, the contact plate is swapped with a semi-conductor diode. The p-n-p junction diode works in accordance to the flow of current through the semi-conductor. The ‘ON’ position is achieved through a voltage and the ‘OFF’ condition is achieved by inducing a reverse breakdown voltage. Hence in this condition, contact surface corrosion is a miniscule problem in comparison to the flow of current. To govern this flow of current, dampers and improved soldering techniques are employed to absorb stray currents.
Contact Surface Material
The material of the contact surface is determined purely by its functional environment and industry need. The switches used in households employ different contact surfaces as opposed to manufacturing industries and corporate offices which employ 100+ individuals.
Different materials used at the contact surface possess target specific properties. For example, a switch which uses Pure Silver (99-9% Ag) as a contact possesses high electrical and thermal conductivity, low contact resistance and operates at a low contact force. This is used in thermal heaters and appliances because of its enviable resistance to heat and electrical flux.
An alloy known as Coin Silver (90% Silver and 10% Copper) can withstand high pressures because of its hardened surface. It is also cost effective to produce and hence, is used in automotive relays. These relays are used in digital equipment and encoders as well as medical devices. C&K is the global leader in this division due to its high quality and increased demand from engineers around the globe.
Shape of Contacts
The types of mechanical designs which go into the construction of a contact surface depend upon the metal and resistive advantages. In hindsight, their physical properties, which when designed in a fashion, provides a specific switching operation for a target industry.
Take the example of solid riveted contacts. They are usually made of high density metals such as Silver alloys and Palladium (Pd) alloys. These surfaces are for simpler applications and are used for more economical reasons.
Cladded and riveted contacts are Silver alloys with copper (<10%) and are supported rivets with a thick shank. The high strength it possesses is the sole reason for the employment of these contacts in the Automotive, Power Engineering and Communication industry.
In accordance with the shape and design, there are different surface contacts employed, namely:
• Contact rivets with brazed surface layer – Power Engineering applications.
• Contact screws – Adjustable contacts for Controls and Horns.
• Vertically welded wire segments – Economical Manufacturing at higher quantities.
• Horizontally welded wire and profile segments – Measurement Devices and Controls.
• Tungsten weld buttons – Ignition Points and Arcing Contacts.
• Seam-welded contact strips or profiles – Switches, Pushbuttons, Relays, Auxiliary Contactors and Sliding Contacts.
These are some of the many shapes and their proven uses.