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Push buttons and switches

Key switches and switches

Differences, advantages and opportunities
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RAFI pushbuttons and key switches are ideal for use in the mechanical engineering, signal construction and measurement and control technology sectors. They are robust against environmental influences and compact - with integrated connections. The series are designed as monobloc switches, i.e. the actuator and switching element are inseparably connected in the housing. The advantage: little risk of confusion when connecting. The pushbuttons and switches differ in their connection options and mounting openings from 9.1 mm to 30.3 mm.

Two terms that do not mean the same thing. Switch is not the same as pushbutton and pushbutton is not necessarily the same as momentary switch. On this page we explain the most important differences, advantages, types and applications.

Pushbuttons in eCatalog

The difference between push button, switch, and pushbutton switch

Both pushbuttons and switches are actuated to allow a controlled flow of current. A switch remains in its position after being actuated. A pushbutton, on the other hand, jumps back to its initial position and is thus only the pulse generator. The difference therefore lies purely in the mechanism underlying both. Visually, such a difference is often not discernible.

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Which brings us to the third term: the pushbutton switch. This would be the correct term for the colloquial pushbutton. But let's stick to the following system in the further course: The switch keeps its position after actuation, the pushbutton jumps back again.

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The switch in detail

A switch uses conductive materials to create or break an electrical bridge between two connections. The switch is usually operated manually. The physical pressure of the finger on the light switch, for example, creates an electrical link between the conductive connections within the housing. This causes the light in the room to come on. The following pressure disconnects the connection and the current flow again, and the light goes out. Colloquially, this is sometimes referred to as an on-off switch. The most common types of switches are toggle switches, slide switches, rotary switches, selector switches, and key switches. At the end of the article, we explain the differences between these switches in detail.

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However, actuation by means of force is only one form among many. Switches can also be actuated by other influences. In addition to switches that are actuated magnetically (reed contact), some require a flow of current (relay) and still others require a change in position (liquid switch) or temperature (bimetal). As with almost any item, there is a wide variation in price. Some brands are inexpensive, but often not as reliable as quality suppliers. Here it is necessary to weigh which factor is decisive in the selection.

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The pushbutton switch in detail

The pushbutton switch is an actuator that is activated by pressure and deactivated again by releasing it, as described above. This creates an electrical connection which is interrupted again when the pushbutton switch is released. Inside the switch is a spring that returns to its original position when the switch is pressed. Without it, the pushbutton switch would not function.

Application examples of pushbutton and switch

Pushbuttons and switches are ubiquitous in everyday life: doorbells, light switches and computers are operated with their help. The roller shutter in the underground garage, for example, is set in motion because we press the radio remote control or turn the key switch. But switches, buttons and control devices are also omnipresent in industrial environments. Although touchscreens are now the focus of many human machine interfaces, pushbuttons or, less frequently, toggle switches are almost always needed in addition to enable completely safe and intuitive operation.

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Pushbuttons and switches from RAFI are used, for example, in the industrial segments of mechanical engineering, signal construction, measurement and control technology, medical technology, vehicle technology and automotive, but also in the consumer sector for coffee machines or WLAN routers. The most important thing is that our pushbuttons, switches and control devices are worth their price. They are insensitive to environmental influences and compact in size. Basically, the pushbuttons and switches differ in their connection options, sizes and installation openings. We would now like to discuss a few of the countless variants and articles.

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Short-travel keyswitch

Short-travel keyswitches are among the smallest mechanically operated pushbuttons. With a footprint of just a few square millimeters, they ensure perfect switching. Due to their small size, short-travel keyswitches such as the MICON 5 and the RACON and RF series from RAFI are often used in devices with limited space: radio remote controls, car keys, fittings or ATMs.

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They are often also part of entire keypads or are used in the form of membrane keyboards. In addition, short-travel keyswitches can be installed completely under the front panel and thus optimally integrated into individual user interfaces. Various plungers and keycaps also enable the realization of different actuating forces and customer-specific designs. This combination makes RAFI products a safe choice. On the one hand, the price is right; on the other hand, the high-quality gold contacts in combination with the unique tactility ensure long-lasting safety when switching.

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Emergency stop

Everyone knows the emergency stop switch, usually just called emergency stop. The actual technical term here is latching switch, determined by the underlying mechanism. The operator presses the switch in, usually firmly. In this position, the latching switch is then mechanically fixed and the circuit is closed. These switches are required by law for machines and systems in industrial environments. There, they ensure the safety of employees during operation. If the machine has to be stopped quickly to prevent injury or damage, all that is needed is a tap on the emergency stop. The machine then stops immediately. The now closed circuit sends a pulse to the machine control system, which stops the machine immediately without it continuing to run.

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This also distinguishes the emergency stop switch from the emergency power off switch, which, contrary to popular belief, does not have the same function. An emergency power off interrupts the power supply to the entire machine. The switch therefore acts as a normally closed contact. As a result, the machine does not remain in its current position, but may continue to run in its mechanical processes for a short time. For this reason, almost exclusively emergency stop actuators are used in modern machines, as they guarantee a higher level of safety. For each of the two variants, emergency stop and emergency power off, the reset functions in the same way, by turning the so-called mushroom button. According to regulations, this consists of a red keycap on a yellow background.

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A brief conclusion

Switches open or close the circuit and then remain in their position. Pushbuttons open or close the circuit only briefly and then return to their original position. When looking for the right article - whether pushbutton or switch - functions and reliability are usually more important than price. After all, high-quality products pay off over time. The term for this concept is total cost of ownership.