Silicone Dynamics http://www.siliconedynamics.net Silicone keypads, membrane switches, silicon fabrication Thu, 07 Aug 2014 15:55:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.4 The Design and Development Process for Electronic Devices http://www.siliconedynamics.net/membrane-switch/the-design-and-development-process-for-electronic-devices/ http://www.siliconedynamics.net/membrane-switch/the-design-and-development-process-for-electronic-devices/#comments Sat, 19 Apr 2014 20:02:49 +0000 http://www.siliconedynamics.net/?p=929 Here at Silicone Dynamics, we are frequently approached by engineers and product designers in all stages of their product design.  Whether you are actively sourcing parts for your manufactured device, or just looking at your options while you make design decisions, we have the expertise to help you.  Silicone Dynamics is staffed by personnel that understand the entire life-cycle of modern consumer electronics, and we can point you in the right direction while you find the keypad for your device that will add to its functionality while cutting costs and reducing the amount of time necessary for its development.

Concept Stage

Every product begins its life in the concept stage as a dream in the head of an engineer or a development firm.  Products in the concept stage are comprised of little more than vague ideas on how an existing product can be improved or how a problem can be solved in an innovative way.  If you are currently in the concept stage of your product design, we can help you firm up your idea and we can point you towards some sources that will help you refine your idea into the design phase.

Research Stage

If you have made it to the Silicone Dynamics website, and you are looking into the design of a custom silicone keypad for your device, the odds are that you are currently in the research stage of your product design.  The research stage can eat up the majority of time in the typical product design life cycle, especially if there isn’t a great deal of direction behind the production of the product.  We help all product designers speed their research by giving them direct access to the best silicone keypad production centers in the world, and we can customize our silicone keypads to the exact specifications required by individual projects.  Our engineers work with you to refine your keypad design, and we help get the manufacturing cost where it needs to be to ensure that your products are ultimately commercially successful.

Circuit Design

Circuit Design ExampleOnce you have decided on the basic form that your electronic device will take, you will need to create a schematic diagram that lays out the general design of your circuit and the parts that are necessary.  Many electronic devices can be dramatically lowered in price through the use of printed circuit boards, although there are some positive attributes of more traditional circuit board construction as well.  Silicone keypads work with most circuit designs; just make sure you work with the design engineers at Silicone Dynamics to help you create a circuit design that will make the best interfaces possible.

Printed Circuit Layout and Packaging

One of the most important steps in the design of your electronic device is the creation of the printed circuit and the housing that will separate the circuit for the elements/user.  You need to keep user experience in mind, and you can utilize materials like silicone to produce keypads with varying degrees of elasticity, transparency, and colors, and you can label keys either on the keys themselves (with stamping, printing, etc.) or on the plastic or metal housing that surrounds the keys.  Silicone keypads will make your life much easier as a product designer because they are extremely flexible and can be utilized in nearly any environment, and because they are naturally resistant to damage and to wear and tear.

Prototyping and Small Run Production

Silicone Dynamics offers free production of sample keypads so you can examine the different materials and actuation levels in preparation for your product prototyping.  Once you have settled onto a design for your circuits and your housing, we can produce a small run of the keypads so you can test them out on your prototypes and your first initial products.  We recommend a small production run for distribution to different retail outlets and end-users, but also so you can gauge the costs of manufacture.

Design Review

We recommend that you send your initial designs to at least three different manufacturing facilities before you commit to construction with one firm.  While we recommend using our firm for silicone keypads, we have several different facilities that we utilize for electronics design and circuitry.  One reason to send your design to multiple firms (other than price and quality comparison) is to get extra sets of eyes to see ways that you might be able to improve your own designs.

Setting up the Manufacturing Equipment

Huge manufacturing facility

Even though you will be doing your component manufacturing (and maybe your assembly as well) overseas, we still recommend you have in-person visits to the manufacturing facilities that you choose to use.  Manufacturing overseas gives you access to huge cost savings, but you also need to keep an eye on your manufacturing processes to make sure that standards are being upheld.  Our silicone keypads, despite being manufactured relatively cheaply, are the highest quality possible.  We ensure that all of our manufacturing equipment is cutting-edge, and that the manufacturing employees utilized represent the “cream of the crop” in their respective facilities.

Creating Documentation

Creating documentation is one of the most “dreaded” aspects of production for the more technically minded product designers, because it implies long hours of taking complex information and making it accessible to the end-user.  However, documentation can be easy if you have a simple product with easy-to-use interfaces.  For example, some of the new universal remote controls are so intuitive that their manuals are only a few pages and the user can get the rest of the necessary information from on-screen prompts and from the device itself.

Legal and Regulatory Hurdles

Depending on what type of product you are producing, there might be additional legal and regulatory hurdles that you have to overcome before you go to market.  For example, you may have to test your product to ensure that it doesn’t interfere with different frequency bands, especially if you are producing something like a remote control that uses radio waves or infra-red to connect to another device.

Design Improvement and Support

At silicone dynamics, our commitment to your product design process doesn’t end when the product has been created.  We follow up with all of our clients, making sure that their design experience was smooth.  We also solicit feedback from end-users, and we are constantly improving our manufacturing process and our facilities.

]]>
http://www.siliconedynamics.net/membrane-switch/the-design-and-development-process-for-electronic-devices/feed/ 0
What are Membrane Switches? http://www.siliconedynamics.net/slilicon-dynamics/what-are-membrane-switches/ http://www.siliconedynamics.net/slilicon-dynamics/what-are-membrane-switches/#comments Sat, 19 Apr 2014 19:19:09 +0000 http://www.siliconedynamics.net/?p=917 Membrane switches are best explained by contrasting them against the other type of switch that is commonly used in electronic devices and throughout the home.  Mechanical Switches are usually made from hard-plastic and copper, and they function by manually opening or closing a circuit connection.  Membrane Switches are far cheaper, and they are more commonly used in silicone keypads and in other electronic devices that require a relatively durable solution to switching.  Membrane switches, like their mechanical counterparts, can turn circuits on and off – but they are usually printed on PET or ITO with copper/silver ink that is conductive but also easy to mass-produce on a flat circuit board.

Image Courtesy AGE IncorporatedConstruction of Membrane Switches

Image Courtesy AGE Incorporated

The construction techniques that are used for membrane switches are actually relatively simple.  Membrane switches are usually made in four different layers – with the top layer of the membrane switch made out of silicone for the best combination of flexibility and ease-of-cleaning.  Silicone Dynamics makes tons of membrane switches every year, and we work with product designers and manufacturers to help integrate silicone switches and custom membrane switches into any products.

Membrane Switch Backlighting

One of the best things about membrane switches is the ability for manufacturers to produce the switches in a multitude of different transparency levels and colors.  For example, if you are producing a calculator or another electronic device that is designed to be used in low light levels, you can easily backlight those switches.

  • LED BacklightsLEDs are basically tiny lamps, which make them ideal for backlighting indicator lights or individual keys, but less suitable for backlighting large panels because they create bright spots.  On the other hand, LED lights are easy to produce, they consume very little energy, and they are “cool” lights that don’t create too much heat.
  • Optical Fiber – Optical fiber is actually a woven cloth that is used to create a light diffusing array hooked up to an LED to provide a more “even” lighting surface.  Optical fiber is ideal for backlighting, and it is extremely durable (and will even work underwater!)
  • Electroluminescent LampsEL lamps are cheaper than optical fiber, and they have been used successfully in many older electronic devices and cheaper consumer devices.  The biggest downside of EL lamps is their relatively short life – they can burn out after around 3000 hours of use.  EL lamps are better for devices that are considered “disposable” like calculators and some cheaper consumer electronic devices.Custom Silicone Rubber Keypad Samples

Uses for Membrane Switches

Membrane switches are used in virtually every industry, and they are ideal for electronic devices with thin flat panels.  Microwaves are usually made with membrane switches because they can be easily cleaned, as are devices in hospitals and in laboratories where sterility is of primary concern.  Many television remotes also use membrane switches, and they have formed silicone buttons to change the tactile response of the remote control by shaping the buttons and embedding metal snap domes or creating a different graphic layer.

Membrane switches are easy to clean, they are self-sealing, and they have a low profile when compared to mechanical switches.  Silicone Dynamics can help you integrate silicone membrane switches into your own projects by creating custom silicone keypads to your exact specifications.

]]>
http://www.siliconedynamics.net/slilicon-dynamics/what-are-membrane-switches/feed/ 0
Should I Outsource the Manufacture of my Silicone Keypad? http://www.siliconedynamics.net/slilicon-dynamics/should-i-outsource-the-manufacture-of-my-silicone-keypad/ http://www.siliconedynamics.net/slilicon-dynamics/should-i-outsource-the-manufacture-of-my-silicone-keypad/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 18:24:52 +0000 http://www.siliconedynamics.net/?p=910 For many product designers and companies that are concerned with quality, the decision to outsource components of consumer electronics requires careful consideration of the costs and benefits.  There is a definite perception that overseas manufacture of certain components is implicitly a lower quality than state-side production, but this is not true within the silicone keypad industry.  Silicone keypads that are manufactured in production facilities across Asia can be many times cheaper than identical products manufactured in the United States, and there is no perceptible difference in the quality or the efficiency of production.

Outsourcing PCB Assembly

In the last five years, nearly all PCB (printed circuit boards) have been outsourced to China, thanks to increasing focus on quality control by facilities all over the Chinese mainland.  As little as a decade ago, building electronic components in China was something of a crap-shoot thanks to inconsistent production standards and management in China that didn’t always follow the design standards of their clients.  However, as more and more companies outsourced their products to China, competition within China has become fierce.  Smaller manufacturing facilities have forced innovation in the entire outsourced industry, so now you can expect high quality from your provider no matter where in China (or elsewhere) your products are developed.

Cheaper than Domestic Manufacturing

The technology for manufacturing silicone keypads has been around for long enough that there is no significant advantage in technique or scale by manufacturers within the United States.  In addition, the relatively low complexity of the silicone keypads means that even manufacturers with limited experience can produce silicone keypads within a fine tolerance range after the molds are created and approved.

For obvious reasons, primarily labor costs, the production of silicone products in China and Asia is far cheaper than the production of those items in the United States.  Even when you consider the shipment costs of the silicone keypads to the United States, they are still far cheaper per unit.  This cost-savings, so long as the units all are functional, will allow you to increase your overall margins and will allow you to produce other features that might have been on the back-burner because of cost.

Faster than Domestic Manufacturing

Counter intuitively, it is actually faster to produce your custom silicone keypads and buttons in China than it would be to make those same items here in America.  Instead of having to jump through regulatory hurdles with American factories, you can typically progress from design to production in only a week or so.  The biggest time-sink of dealing with a Chinese facility can be waiting for different proof copies of your product so you can ensure that your product meets all of your standards.

How to Outsource

While it might technically be possible for a product designer to deal directly with Chinese and international firms and importers in the creation of their silicone keypads, it is definitely not recommended.  As an individual company, you will have very little “pull” with the international suppliers, and you have no good way of following up with the company in question.

Silicone Dynamics is your bridge to outsourcing, giving you the benefits of outsourcing along with the protections of dealing with an American company.  We have the best suppliers working under contract for us, and we have “boots on the ground” in the Far East to ensure that our contracts are completed promptly and with a high level of quality.  Our clients utilize our services on a regular basis, and the security and consistency is well worth it.

]]>
http://www.siliconedynamics.net/slilicon-dynamics/should-i-outsource-the-manufacture-of-my-silicone-keypad/feed/ 0
Designing a Remote Control for Consumer Electronic Devices http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/designing-a-remote-control-for-consumer-electronic-devices/ http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/designing-a-remote-control-for-consumer-electronic-devices/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 15:48:43 +0000 http://www.siliconedynamics.net/?p=907 A remote control is an input device that can be used to control a piece of electronic equipment that is some distance from the user.  Remote controls are used in a huge range of consumer electronic devices.  Common remote control applications include television sets, box fans, audio equipment, and some types of specialty lighting.

For engineers and product developers that are looking to bring an electronic device to market, remote control design can be vital to the eventual success of the product.  Remote controls become the primary interface devices for electronic equipment, so proper design (and attention to keypads and labeling) will cut down on user dissatisfaction.

Why Develop Remote Controls?

Remote controls add to the cost of your product, but they are a feature in high demand by electronic-purchasing consumers.  For devices with display screens (such as televisions and monitors) remote control functionality is virtually mandatory, allowing consumers to mount the screens where they would otherwise be inaccessible during use.  Many other devices, from ceiling fans to space heaters, use remote controls in order to extend functionality and provide convenience for users.

Remote controls add value to consumer devices that is much greater than their cost to produce.  Consumers view remote controls as time-saving devices and as bonuses to convenience, and they can provide an avenue for additional revenue for device manufacturers that want to sell the remote controls separately as a value-added accessory.

Remote Control Protocols

Remote control protocols are the different communication methods that are used to pass signals between the remote control and a receiver on the primary electronic device.  Remote control protocols vary depending on the range of the device and the potential for interference in the signal by other electronic devices and background noise.

The most common type of remote control utilizes consumer infrared protocols to create a line-of-site transmission to a device.  This type of remote control, used in devices like televisions, uses inexpensive micro-controllers or encoder chips to control A/V devices from a distance.  Consumer IR is used in scenarios where the user of the remote control will be in the same room as the device, and they are less sensitive to background interference than devices that rely on radio signals.

For many industrial applications, especially industrial remotes that might control multiple pieces of equipment and require two-way conversation between device and remote, radio control systems are a good choice.  Radio control systems operate in a frequency band that is dictated different regulatory bodies (such as the FCC) and they use complex encoders and receivers to transmit information.  Radio receivers allow the remote controls to receive some type of feedback from their device, so they are ideal in commercial applications where the users might not be able to visually confirm that the inputs were received by the controlled device.  Radio remotes are more expensive to produce than infrared remotes, but they provide a greater range of functionality.

Finally, some consumer devices utilize wireless signals either as their primary protocol or in addition to other protocols.  Wireless remotes piggyback on existing wireless networks, or they create ad-hoc wireless connections between two devices.  Wireless remotes can provide the same “enhanced” functionality that radio remotes can provide due to the two-way data transmission, but they are heavily influenced by background interference and are commonly used only in video-game consoles, some televisions, and other audio/visual equipment for residential application.

Remote Control Keypads

Silicone dynamics is one of the main producers of silicone keypads in the country, many of which are used in commercial devices and in consumer electronics.  In the average home-theater, a typical consumer may have anywhere between four and six different remote controls, the majority of which use some type of silicone keypad.

We believe that the consumer-electronics world is suffering from a degree of complexity that is simply too high for most consumers, and that remote controls should be produced with a minimal degree of complexity.  Every button on your keypad should be well labeled and should be self-explanatory, with a minimal amount of input type (number, letter, on/off, etc.) on each controller.

Silicone keypads are ideal for consumer electronics and for industrial applications because they are suitable for a wide range of environmental conditions and they can be very cost-effective to produce.  You have a great deal of flexibility in your

Designing Silicone Keypads for Remote Controls

Silicone Dynamics has a great guide for producing silicone keypads for remote controls and other consumer electronic device.  In summary, you should be concerned both with the design of the keypad as well as the labeling of the keys and the design of the bezel that will go around them.  Go to www.siliconedynamics.net to request a free quote for your next device.

]]>
http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/designing-a-remote-control-for-consumer-electronic-devices/feed/ 0
Designing a Less Complicated Keypad http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/designing-a-less-complicated-keypad/ http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/designing-a-less-complicated-keypad/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 15:39:52 +0000 http://www.siliconedynamics.net/?p=905 Designing a “Less Complicated” Keypad

One of the main complaints that consumers have with modern electronic devices is the complexity of their remote controls and keypads.  While modern electronics might have more features than ever before, manufacturers do a poor job of reducing that complexity into an easy-to-use remote control device.  According to C-Net, the average home theater owner has more than six remote controls for the various parts of their A/V systems, and this level of complexity is so high that consumers are reluctant to make additional purchases that will add additional remote controls and even more complicated input devices to their lives.

Reducing the complexity of keypads is important for manufacturers of remote controls and keypads, but it can be difficult to create a less-complicated keypad without sacrificing features.  The following tips will help engineers and product developers as they try to design silicone keypads that find a good compromise between being feature-filled and simple to use.

Standardized Layout for Numeric Keypads

The type of numeric keypad that consumers have the most experience using is the one that is on phones and keyboard number-pads.  For this reason, any other numeric keypad design requires more active attention on the part of the user in order to enter in numbers.  Using standardized layouts for numeric keypads ensures that your consumers can use the keypads without looking at them, and it reduces the overall stress levels of users.

Does your device need a numeric keypad at all?  Television remotes, for example, all include their own numeric keypads – but they are very rarely used because consumers don’t generally memorize the numbers of their favorite channels.  If there is an alternative way of inputting numbers on your devices (such as an on-screen numeric keypad that can be navigated with arrow buttons) this might be a  better way of simplifying your keypad.

Reduce the Total Number of Buttons

The NN Group, in a well-researched study on user experience with input devices, found that there were more than 239 buttons on a typical suite of remote controls used for home/audio systems.  The vast majority of these buttons aren’t used for anything on a regular basis, and these extra buttons actually make it harder to use the input devices because they confuse the user and they clutter the interface and force the designer to make the remaining buttons smaller to accommodate them.

Reducing the total number of buttons is the main way that an interface designer can make their silicone keypad more user-friendly.  There are plenty of alternatives to having a keypad that has dozens of extra buttons.  Consider making some of the buttons do “double-duty” by using a modifier switch, or having more of the functions controlled through contextual keys or through the use of on-screen prompts.  Completely eliminate some of the least-used buttons, and put them elsewhere on the device, either in user menus or give them button-combinations that can be found in your user manual and used in the rare circumstance that they are actually needed.

Better Labeling

Another common user complaint about interface devices is the poor job that some manufacturers do with labeling.  After you produce your silicone keypad with Silicone Dynamics, it will still be necessary for your device manufacturer to include labeling on the bezels (or on the keys) that illustrates the purpose of each key.  Some keys can be made self-explanatory by their shape – like using arrows for the cursor keys – but most keys must be labeled.

The biggest problem in labeling is the divide between engineers and the actual users that will be utilizing the devices.  Your engineers might know what acronyms mean, but these same acronyms (DSP, FQ+, etc.) go over the head of the typical consumer.  Using acronyms can make your remote control impossible to utilize without having to consult a manual, turning your keypad into a guessing game rather than a useful piece of equipment.

Other Design Suggestions

  • If you have input buttons that are ‘paired’ like a volume-up and a volume-down switch, consider turning this into a single rocker switch.  Rocker switches are easy to make with silicone keypads, and they are easier for users to understand and to find without looking directly at devices.
  • Reduce the overall complexity of your input device by increasing the size of individual buttons, maximizing space between unrelated buttons, and getting rid of all the buttons that aren’t absolutely necessary.
  • Consider using color-coding for different functions to group buttons into different “families” and creating an association for your users.  You can color buttons by using different silicone colors, or you can make your silicone buttons translucent and you can put different lighting underneath each button.
  • Cooperate with manufacturers that make complimentary devices!  If your device is usually used alongside other similar devices, consider a little cooperation to ensure that standardization makes all of your products more useable.  For example, television manufacturers can ensure that the different device remotes work together for different DVD players, etc.

 

]]>
http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/designing-a-less-complicated-keypad/feed/ 0
Designing Your Custom Keypad: Actuation Force and Snap Tolerance http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/designing-your-custom-keypad-actuation-force-and-snap-tolerance/ http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/designing-your-custom-keypad-actuation-force-and-snap-tolerance/#comments Fri, 24 Jan 2014 21:10:48 +0000 http://www.siliconedynamics.net/?p=898 One of the main decisions that you will make when designing your keypad is how you want your keys to feel when they are pressed.  Silicone keypads are extremely versatile and Silicone Dynamics can produce keypads ranging from extremely sensitive to extremely tactile.

Reasoning and Analysis

Actuation force is important for keypads – giving the user some sort of feedback when they press a particular key.  Keys with extremely low actuation force are very sensitive to input and prone to accidental pressing, but keys with extremely high actuation force might be too difficult to push easily in succession, and the high actuation force reduces the life of the keypad because the silicone gradually wears out with each press.

Keypads that will be used many times per day need a low actuation force to prolong their lives

Keypads that will be used many times per day need a low actuation force to prolong their lives

Depending on your application, you might want a keypad closer to one of these extremes.  Keypads where multiple keys are pressed in quick succession typically require a lower actuation force in order to provide a better user experience.  On the other hand, keys where the operators may be wearing gloves (or otherwise require non-visual feedback) may require a higher actuation force to confirm that the keys are being pressed by the operator.

Recommended Actuation Force and Snap Ratio

Silicone dynamics firmly (bad engineering pun) recommends that customers choose a snap ration of around 50% with an accompanying actuation force of 130 grams for most consumer applications.  This produces a key that is relatively easy to press while still providing tactile feedback, and it extends the life of the keypad to a moderate level.  This is also a good target range because it allows the tolerance level for the manufacture to vary without damaging the usability of the keypad.

Snap Ratio

The snap ratio of the keyboard (also called the click ratio) dictates the tactile feel that the keyboard will produce for the operator.  In general, the snap ratio is also a trade-off between tactile feel and long life of the keyboard.  Most silicone keypads outlive the devices that they are attached to, but this is still a consideration for many products.

In general, you want a keypad with higher actuation force for keys that are higher.  For keys between 15 and 25mm, aim for an actuation force of around 150 grams to give the keys the ideal tactile feedback level.  Keys that are lower can use an actuation force of 100 grams or less.

Silicone Dynamics Keypads

Silicone keypads don’t have the “firm” feedback that a mechanical keyboard provides because they lack individual switches – but they can mimic this feeling with differently shaped buttons

Return Force

Most rubber keypads follow a predictable curve for return force as compared to contact force, so keys that are harder to press will also return with more force (the force that is stored by the compression of the material)

Return force needs to be (at a minimum) the same as the contact force to prevent keys from sticking and causing multiple presses.

Anti-Wobble Pins

One of the most frustrating design flaws in any type of input device is the propensity for keys to become stuck underneath the bezel temporarily.  This occurs when keys are able to depress beyond the “horizon” of the bezel, causing corners of the keys to become stuck and resulting in multiple key presses or a long key press.

Anti-wobble pins are off-set on either side of an oblique key top, ensuring that the key top will not become lower than the surface.  If you are planning a key pad with small conductive pills but relatively large buttons, make sure you incorporate anti-wobble pins into your design with the dimensions and specifications listed in our design guide.

]]>
http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/designing-your-custom-keypad-actuation-force-and-snap-tolerance/feed/ 0
Designing Keys for Custom Rubber Keypads http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/designing-keys-for-custom-rubber-keypads/ http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/designing-keys-for-custom-rubber-keypads/#comments Thu, 23 Jan 2014 20:41:03 +0000 http://www.siliconedynamics.net/?p=893 When you are producing a custom silicone keypad, pay careful attention to the way that your keys will be labeled or marked.  Many keypad designs do not require marking, such as keypads that will be held in place by a (labeled) bezel of some kind, but most keypads need some form of marking to identify the functions of each key.  You have a number of different choices when it comes to key creation, each with their own unique benefits.

Printing

Printing is the most often used method of marking silicone and rubber keypads, mostly because it is cheaper and very versatile in colors/shapes used.  During the printing process, the keypad is flattened out so the contact surface of the printer can label the key top.  Depending on the curvature of your desired key tops, you may be able to print all the way to the edge of each key, or just in the centers.

Printed keys are cheap, but they also wear out rather quickly.  Over time, the surface of the key is abraded by handing, and the printed surface wears off.  There are a few ways to extend the life of printed keys.

  • Plastic end caps can be stuck onto the end of each key, giving the keys a unique texture while also protecting the key surface from abrasion
  • Oil coatings on the tops of the keys give the keys a glossy finish, and they also extend the life of the printing.
  • Drip coating and Parylene coatings are applied over keys after printing, producing a barrier between the printed surface and the user without requiring a plastic cap. These coatings extend the life of keys, but you should check the environmental tolerance of the coatings before you utilize them in some cases.

Printed Keys are Cheap… But they Wear Out Quickly

Laser Etching

In laser etching, the silicone rubber surface is treated with an opaque top-coat which is laser-etched away to create the design.  If you start with a translucent base layer, this can be an extremely useful labeling technique to create a backlit silicone keypad, as the light will shine through the label while it is blocked by the rest of the key.   The coating and capping options are the same for laser etching, although (since the label is actually NOT printed, just its surroundings) they are not as mandatory.

Laser etching for silicone buttons

OLS Inc.’s Laser-etching machinery in action

Plastic Caps

Plastic caps should be used for situations where the long life of the keypad is imperative.  Plastic key caps can be designed with the numbers/labels molded onto their surface, or with depressions or even differently colored plastics.  Plastic caps are the most expensive solution to the key labeling dilemma, but they are also ideal for situations where the keypad will see so much use that regular printing won’t work.  If you want to use plastic caps on your silicone keypads, make sure that the plastic that you use is non-conductive and will stand up to the same temperatures as the rest of the silicone keypad.

Additional Considerations

When you decide on a label type for your keys, make sure to consult with the designers and professional engineers at Silicone Dynamics.  We will work with you to find a compromise between key life and cost effectiveness.

]]>
http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/designing-keys-for-custom-rubber-keypads/feed/ 0
How Does a Silicone Keypad Work? http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/how-does-a-silicone-keypad-work/ http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/how-does-a-silicone-keypad-work/#comments Wed, 22 Jan 2014 19:58:09 +0000 http://www.siliconedynamics.net/?p=888 In its most basic form, a silicone keypad is basically a “mask” that is placed over a series of switches in order to provide a more comfortable and tactile surface for users to utilize.  There are a number of varieties of silicon keypads, and Silicone Dynamics can produce keypads with far more advanced features than those listed below, but this is the general process by which silicon keypads convert user input into signals that operate electronics and machinery.

Injected Silicone Rubber Keypad Samples

Silicone Keypad Production

Silicone keypads are made with a process called compression molding, basically using a combination of pressure and temperature to create pliable (yet durable) surfaces around central electronic contacts.  Silicone keypads are designed to produce a uniform tactile response across the entire surface, and they are designed to be electronically neutral so interference from the material is not a factor in the use of the device.

One important consideration of silicon keypads is the ability to make the entire keypad a single piece of silicone webbing, rather than having individual keys produced separately.  For a device such as a remote control, this allows for greater ease of production (and lower costs) since the keypad can be inserted as a single piece underneath a plastic holding device.  This also increases the resistance of a device to fluids and environmental damage.  For example, if you spill a liquid on a silicon keypad that is made of one solid piece of silicone, the fluid can be wiped off without infiltrating the device and causing damage to the internal components.

Silicone Keypad Inner Workings

Underneath each key on a silicone keypad is a relatively simple series of electronic contacts that help deliver electronic impulses when keys are depressed.

Chiclet Keyboard Medium

When you press a key on the keypad, it depresses that section of the silicone web enough that the carbon/gold pill on the key touches the PCB contact underneath that key to complete a circuit.  These switch contacts are extremely simple, which means they are cost-effective and VERY durable.  Unlike many other input devices (looking at you, mechanical keyboards) the effective life of a silicone keypad is effectively infinite.

Customizing Silicone Keypads

The versatile nature of silicone allows for a huge degree of customization of the keypad itself.  For example, the amount of pressure that it takes to press a key can be changed by modifying the “hardness” of the silicone and requiring a greater tactile force to depress the switch (although webbing design is still the greatest contributor to actuation force).  The shape of the key also plays a role in its overall tactile feel.  This aspect of customization is called “snap ratio” and it is a balance between the ability to make keys feel independent/tactile, and the desire for designers to produce a keypad that will have a higher life span.  With enough of a snap ration, keys actually feel as though they are “clicking” which is very satisfying for the user and gives them feedback that their input was understood by the device.

]]>
http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/how-does-a-silicone-keypad-work/feed/ 0
Benefits of Silicone Rubber Keypads http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/benefits-of-silicone-rubber-keypads/ http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/benefits-of-silicone-rubber-keypads/#comments Wed, 22 Jan 2014 19:27:41 +0000 http://www.siliconedynamics.net/?p=877 From the perspective of a product designer, silicone keypads are the perfect balance between functionality and cost effectiveness.  Silicone keypads have been used in millions of applications around the world, in everything from TV remote controls to the keypads on the international space station.  Silicone keypads hold up to extreme temperatures and conditions when needed, and they also cost less to manufacture than many alternatives.

Main Benefits of Silicone Rubber Keypads

    • Silicone keypads can resist temperatures ranging from extremely cold (far below freezing) and extremely hot.  This means that they are ideal for applications in industrial equipment that is exposed to temperature extremes, and that they can stand up to temperature changes during device manufacture and shipment.
    • Since silicone keypads have an elastic structure, there is virtually no noise when keys are pressed.  This is ideal for noise-sensitive environments, but it is also a boon to consumer environments (like home theaters) where noise would be a distraction or annoyance.
    • Silicone Keypads give the user tactile feedback as well as linear feedback, and the amount of feedback can be adjusted based on the snap ratio of the rubber keypad (alterations in the silicon density and in the shape of the keys)
    • Silicone is not inherently opaque, and Silicone Dynamics can make keypads that allow light through them, making custom silicone rubber keypads ideal for applications where the keypad will be backlit.
    • Silicone rubber keypads are water-resistant, which also makes them the keypad of choice for hospitals and other environments where devices must be sterilized and cleaned after use.

Rubber Keypad on PCB with Carbon Contacts

Silicone Keypad Use Cases

Silicone keypads are used in millions of devices and environments throughout the world, and they are the most widely used input devices currently.  There are a variety of potential use cases that demonstrate the strength of silicone keypads.

Remote Control Keypads –

Silicone is perfect for these devices because it allows quiet input of commands on the remote without interrupting the enjoyment of multi-media.  Silicone is also cheap, allowing for cost-effective remote production, and it stands up to repeat use over time.  Many manufacturers also use silicone keypads because they can be back-lit, so the remotes can be used in the dark.

Industrial Control Panels –

Silicone is a neutral material that is electronically stable and is resistant to temperature and to moisture.  For industrial applications, this is ideal because the keypads can be used in nearly any environment.  Silicone keypads are used in industry for everything from complex input panels for detailed information input to larger keys (brightly colored and lit) for emergency use.

Patient Care Devices –

In hospitals, input devices must be ultra-reliable, but they also need to be resistant to germs.  Silicone keypads can be sprayed directly with disinfectant, and they are easy to use for people who do not have the hand strength to press firmer buttons.  Many hospitals use silicone keypads in nurse-call-buttons for example.

]]>
http://www.siliconedynamics.net/blog/benefits-of-silicone-rubber-keypads/feed/ 0
Custom Elastomeric Keypads http://www.siliconedynamics.net/slilicon-dynamics/custom-elastomeric-keypads/ http://www.siliconedynamics.net/slilicon-dynamics/custom-elastomeric-keypads/#comments Wed, 22 Jan 2014 18:52:19 +0000 http://www.siliconedynamics.net/?p=872 If you’ve been involved in the engineering world, you know that the design of a product is a delicate balance between function and cost-efficiency.  Engineers must answer to many departments, ensuring that products are technically sound, but also that they can be mass-produced with some degree of profitability.  Custom elastomeric keypads are an answer to this dilemma, a compromise between more-expensive keypad design and pre-fabricated keypads that lack necessary functionality.  Custom elastomeric keypads are highly reliable, and they can be implemented in nearly any environmental condition or use-case as needed.

Cost Effectiveness

There are literally hundreds of different options for product manufacturers when they are looking to create keypads and input devices for consumer electronics or industrial equipment.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of these options are simply not feasible for large-scale production.  Custom Elastomeric Keypads can be created for nearly any product, and they tend to be the most cost-effective option that still stays within the design specifications of the intended use.Rubber_keyboard_remote_control

Production Scale

Silicone Dynamics is unique among silicon and rubber keypad manufacturers in that they take orders ranging from tiny (prototyping, industrial equipment, one-off projects) to huge (remote controls for consumer devices, etc.) and can handle nearly any budget for a project.  With a high manufacturing capacity, Silicone Dynamics is incredibly responsive for project requiring vast scale of resources and production, but the personal customer service and attention to detail also ensures that smaller projects will not fall through the cracks.

Quality Control for Elastomeric Keypads

Not all design choices can be motivated purely by profit margins though.  Many keypad manufacturers utilize sub-par manufacturing facilities for their production lines, but not Silicone Dynamics.  For one, quality control is absolutely vital for products like Elastomeric Keypads.  When produced with inferior materials, these keypads can be brittle and difficult to use, and poor quality control can also result in unacceptable deviations from the dimensions specified in your order.  Silicone Dynamics takes a close personal interest in its suppliers, and it ensures that all production facilities meet the highest standards of professionalism and engineering excellence.

Custom Keypad Design

Custom keypad design is vital for any product that is going to be used by a wide range of individuals.  Keypads are the primary interface that people will have with a piece of electronic machinery, so it is important that they keypads measure up to the same production and design standards as the rest of the product.

If you’ve invested thousands of dollars in your product, don’t skimp on the design of the input devices.  You need keypads that stand up to repeated use, can tolerate extreme weather and environmental conditions, and are made from a material that will not interfere with the operations of your device. Silicone Dynamics is an extremely experienced manufacturer of all types of input devices, with the capacity to produce nearly any remote control, keypad, or rubber inlay for electronics.

]]>
http://www.siliconedynamics.net/slilicon-dynamics/custom-elastomeric-keypads/feed/ 1