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Membrane Switches 101: Conductive Inks and Printed Circuits

Membrane switches are impressive components that operate a wide array of electronic devices – from the microwaves inside our homes to life-saving medical equipment in our hospitals to heavy-duty industrial machinery. However, no matter the environment or desired outcome, every membrane switch shares a few basic – yet imperative – features.

To create a functional user interface, a membrane switch is composed of a sequence of thin layers. However, you could argue that the most important layer is the circuit made from conductive inks printed on a flexible substrate. Without these elements, a membrane switch wouldn’t be able to take input from the user and control the operation of the product. So today, we’re taking a deeper look at conductive inks and printed circuits.

Conductive Inks for Membrane Switches

Conductive inks fall in the broader category of functional inks, which means the ink has a role other than aesthetics. Infused with conductive material – typically silver but also carbon, copper, or graphite – conductive inks are used to create traces and contact pads in printed electronics.

The use of conductive inks is rapidly growing, in part because consumers demanding smaller, lighter devices, along with increased environmental regulations and the need to reduce waste. In fact, according to the IDTechEx, the overall market for conductive inks is valued at $3 billion in 2020, and is projected to reach $3.7 billion by 2025.

Printed Circuits for Membrane Switches

Printed circuits can be used in place of traditional rigid circuits, and offer several advantages, including being more compact, flexible, lightweight, and cost-effective.

The printed circuit is where the magic happens in a membrane switch. After the circuit is designed, conductive ink is screen-printed on a dielectric substrate, which enables the device to perform a specific action. Here’s how that typically works.

  • When the user presses down on the button of a membrane switch, a metal dome is pushed down and connects the traces printed with conductive ink.
  • This turns the circuit from “off” to “on,” until the user releases the button and breaks the continuous flow of the circuit.

Putting it All Together

As mentioned earlier, the printed circuit is just one layer that makes up a membrane switch. With experience in all stages of manufacturing high-quality membrane switches, Tapecon is your one-stop partner. In addition to printing the circuit layer, we can also assist with material selection, printing graphic overlays, assembly, and more.

Get started with membrane switches.

At Tapecon, we have over 100 years of experience helping customers solve their complex product challenges. Learn more about our membrane switch applications.

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