When we think about technology invented over 30 years ago, the assumption is that it’s now outdated and possibly obsolete. VCRs, answering machines, and 8-bit video game consoles come to mind. However, one technology that has stood the test of time is the membrane switch.
Introduced in the early 1980s, membrane switches were quickly adopted by many industries, including medical equipment. Since then, materials and converting processes have greatly improved, making membrane switches even more functional and cost-effective. Today, membrane switches are the go-to interface for many types of medical devices – from patient monitoring systems to hospital beds to surgical equipment.
Benefits of Membrane Switches
Why are membrane switches so advantageous for medical equipment? The interface is reliable, easy to use, and meets the unique demands of healthcare environments. The most pertinent advantages for medical devices include:
Graphic visibility – The top layer of a membrane switch is a graphic overlay (also known as the faceplate), which can include customized designs and unlimited colors. In medical equipment, these graphics often work in conjunction with important interface functions or indicators light. Most importantly, the graphic overlay can be viewed in a 180° radius, which isn’t possible with touchscreens.
Cleanliness and sanitization – For basic hygiene and to prevent hospital-acquired infections (HAI), medical equipment needs to be as clean and sterile as possible. Featuring a sealed, smooth surface, membrane switches are very easy to clean, especially compared to mechanical switches with raised buttons. New membrane switches can also be designed with anti-microbial films that provide built-in germ-fighting protection between equipment cleanings.
Enhanced user experience – An intuitively designed membrane switch can simplify the operation of medical equipment and improve the accuracy of input by health professionals. A few common features that can be incorporated include tactile feedback and backlighting.
Durable and resistant to elements – With few moving parts and protective coverings, membrane switches are known to be very reliable and long-lasting interfaces. Fully sealed designs can also withstand exposure to water, chemical, bodily fluids, dust, and other elements that are harmful to electronics.
Lightweight and design-friendly – The compact form factor of membrane switches opens up the door for portable, easy-to-use medical devices, including in-home diagnostic equipment. Membrane switches can also be completely customized to your unique specifications.
Shielding – Membrane switches can be designed to include shielding elements to block electrostatic discharge (ESD) without compromising overall performance.
Manufacturing Membrane Switches for Medical Equipment
Once you decide that a membrane switch is right for your product, it’s important to find a manufacturing partner that adheres to the strict standards of medical manufacturing. At Tapecon, we have extensive experience designing and producing membrane switches for medical equipment. In addition to our facility being ISO 13485 certified and FDA registered, our screen-printing process is optimized to be clean and suitable for medical graphic overlays and printed circuits used in membrane switches.
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At Tapecon, we have over 100 years of experience helping customers solve their complex product challenges. Learn more about our membrane switch applications.