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Membrane Switch Design Guide


Membrane Switch Design Guide
Pannam Imaging Pannam Imaging designs and produces customized membrane switches used in applications that demand the highest level of integration, execution and reliability. We serve many markets including medical instrumentation, computers, industrial controls, electronics and data communications. Pannam has focused its competitive expertise on the high quality, high valueadded end of the product-need spectrum. Whether you need one-of-a-kind or a run of thousands, Pannam provides the highest quality membrane switch to meet your specific requirements. How to Start the Process Starting the process for designing a membrane switch is easy. Just begin with the questions and answers in this Design Guide to help direct you through each phase. Pannam's full-service Prototype Team, including designers and engineers, stands ready to assist you. Once you've worked through the Design Guide, our Prototype Team will help you design a new switch as well as produce the actual prototype including a complete set of prints and specifications. No matter what your needs are, our professional designers and engineers are there to assist you.

What is a prototype? Do I need one? Can Pannam assist me with my design needs?
A prototype is a practical, cost-effective way to create and execute your design with a minimum investment in tooling and development time. If you are not certain of all final details such as size, colors, shape or hole locations for your switch, a prototype is for you. Pannam produces prototype parts without most of the hard tooling required for production. Pannams seasoned Prototype Team can help you design your new switch as well as produce the actual prototype.

While other layers make the switch work, it is the overlay that most directly impresses your customer. To help create the desired look and feel for your overlay, we offer design assistance from simple color and overlay material selection to complex design elements incorporating creative functionality. Pannam offers complete, in-house graphics capabilities, including computer graphic design, image-setting and scanning. We can incorporate a wide variety of design elements such as logos, selective textures, transparent windows, screen tints, dead fronts and embossing.

How can I see what you are designing for me?

During the design process, you will receive a color laser paper proof of your overlay to show color breaks. Exact color match swatches, on the selected overlay material, will also be provided for approval.

What about production drawings?

During the design phase, Pannam produces inhouse prints to be sent with the job as it moves through the shop. These prints can be provided to you for your reference.

What overlay materials are available from Pannam?

Pannam offers polyester and polycarbonate materials in many gloss levels, textured finishes and thicknesses ranging from .005 - .015. Most substrate materials used in the construction of a Pannam switch are UL approved.

How can I send electronic files to Pannam and which formats do they accept?
Pannam supports files created in AutoCAD, CorelDRAW and FreeHand. If you have files created in another package, there is probably a format you can save to that we can accept. While Pannam has an extensive library of fonts, it is recommended that you include the fonts with your file, particularly if you have edited them in some way. Many packages allow you to convert text to curves or paths, eliminating the need to include specific fonts that we may not have. It is also helpful to send or fax a hard copy of the artwork. You can e-mail your file to or send us your CD-ROM or 3-1/2 floppy.

What is important in choosing an overlay material?

Given that the overlay is what your customer sees in the switch package, the way it looks and functions is crucial to a successful switch project. The most important issue after look and function is overlay durability. It is essential to insure that the overlay material chosen will last as long as your specific application requires. Clearly, polyester is the material of choice for switches that require a large number of actuations (>25,000) or if the overlay is to be embossed. Generally, our life cycle tests show polyester keypads can be actuated over 1,000,000 times before showing any signs of wear. The actual switch, without an overlay in place, can last over 5,000,000 cycles. Overlays are thus the weakest link in a switch, and the overall switch must be rated to its weakest link. While there is more design flexibility with polycarbonate, you should focus on polyester if durability is an issue.

How can Pannam assist me in developing an overlay that has the right look?
The overlay, the top layer of the membrane switch, is the graphic interface between user and machine.

What overlay thickness should I choose?

For excellent tactile feedback (feel) in a switch with stainless steel dome construction, choose an overlay thickness between .006 and .008. This thickness range will be durable enough to hold up to numerous switch cycles. A thicker overlay will significantly decrease tactile feedback (give a heavier feel).

I have seen membrane switches with a velvet finish on the keypads that wore away. How can my overlay be designed to eliminate this problem?
Selective velvet texture can be provided two ways. The surface can be printed by us or supplied by our film producer with a velvet texture integral to the material. Clearly, extended-use keypads should not have printed texture on them. Alternatively, the switch can be designed to window the keypads so the texture ink is printed only around the actual pad that functions. In this manner, potentially objectionable keypad degradation is eliminated and an attractive design element is introduced that more clearly differentiates the keypad from the surrounding switch area.

Embossing can be a great design enhancement to the function of a switch. For example, rail (perimeter) embossing can be used as a finger locator for a switch with many keypads, or a Braille pattern can be added to the overlay for the visually impaired.

The silver conductive ink circuit layer is printed on .003 - .005 thick polyester and is designed to minimize overall resistance. After printing, the circuit layer is die-cut to the proper shape to fit in the switch sandwich.

Are there any embossing limitations I need to be aware of?

There are certain limitations to be aware of: Height -Typically, emboss height on a polyester overlay should range from 1 to 2-1/2 times the thickness of the base material. It is possible to emboss beyond 2-1/2 times material thickness, but only at a cost to durability. Heavily used keypads that have been embossed will most certainly degrade more rapidly due to a thinner wall thickness at the point of stress. Width - Recommended minimum emboss width is 8 times the base material thickness. This will maintain strength and form of the overlay. Radius - The recommended minimum corner radius is .032. Completely square corners are not possible because they will crack the overlay material.

Do I have to supply Pannam with an electrical schematic for the circuit layer?
No, not unless you have done this before specifically for membrane switches. It is more cost-effective to allow Pannam to do the circuit design. Depending on the size and shape of the part, complexity of the electrical schematic and keypad configuration, it is sometimes more difficult to fit all of the circuitry on a single layer. It is sometimes necessary to use bridging or multiple circuit layers to accommodate the functionality required. Pannams Prototype Team with its years of experience, can make electrical schematic suggestions to limit the number of printed circuit passes, which will reduce the cost of the switch with no loss of performance.

How are the colors printed?

All the colors on the overlay are printed on the rear or back surface (second surface) of the overlay material using a screen printing process. The thickness of the overlay material protects the graphics from damage or wear by the operator or environment. Selective textures and window clearing agents are the only inks printed on the outside or top surface (first surface) of the overlay and are UV cured to produce a hard, very durable finish.

How can embossing improve the look and function of my overlay?

Depending on design creativity, embossing can dramatically enhance the look of the overlay. It can add to the function of the switch, as well. There are two basic ways to emboss. The first is the conventional method, metal to metal with male and female dies. This is fine for most applications, but does have height-of-embossarea limitations that must be understood. The second method, hydro-forming, has much more flexibility but is more expensive. The choice of one method over the other is dependent on the requirements of your design. Pannam supplies both methods and can help you decide which will yield the best results for your application.

What colors are available for the overlay?


Pannam uses a computer color matching system to help formulate any color as well as archive recipes of colors already matched for specific customer applications. We can match colors from the Pantone Color Selection Guide, Federal Standard Guide, European Standard Guide or a customer-supplied swatch (minimum size - 2 square).

How long can the circuit tail be on the membrane switch?

The circuit tail is part of the circuit layer. The length of the circuit tail can be as long as required to terminate to other functioning parts of the system. The longer the circuit tail, the more base material and conductive ink used, which will increase the cost of the switch and the resistance. Pannam can also supply extension cables with or without connectors.

Overlay & Circuit Tolerances

What are the tolerances for the overlay and circuit layers?
Imaging: .015 copy to edge Die-cutting (Hole & Perimeter Size): .010 hole to edge

How can I match the background color of my overlay to a bezel color?

The best way to do this is to have Pannam use its computer color matching system to take a color reading of the customer-supplied bezel. We can then match the switch background color accordingly. Note that molding process color can vary, and acceptable standards and ranges must be established between you and your molder. Switch backgrounds will not vary as much and to avoid disappointment, acceptable variations need to be agreed upon up front.

What embossing shapes are available?

Pad Rail (Perimeter) Dome The entire shape of the keypad is raised. A rim around the perimeter of the keypad is raised. The entire keypad is raised to a spherical shape (this type of emboss is normally used in poly-dome constructions).

What type of circuit tail connectors does Pannam offer?

Berg (Standard) CrimpFlex (Standard) Amp Molex Various crimp pins

How is the circuit layer manufactured on a membrane switch?
There are a number of methods for producing circuit layers depending on durability, power and system integration requirements. Pannam offers screen printed silver conductive ink circuits as its standard construction. We can also supply copper-etched and PCB circuits depending on your design requirements.

Depending on size and shape, custom logos and multi-level shapes can be embossed, as well.

Surface-Mount LEDs
Pannam supplies rigid or flexible switches with embedded, surface-mounted LEDs available in a variety of colors.

Actuation Force / Design

Non-tactile switches can be designed with a broad range of actuation forces starting at 3 oz. Switch travel, which affects actuation force, can range from .007 - .011.
Overlay Adhesive Top Circuit Spacer Bottom Circuit Rear Adhesive

Pannam stainless steel dome specifications: Size 8.5mm 12.2mm 12.2mm 20mm 30.2mm Force 9-11 oz. 11-14 oz. 16-18 oz. 17-23 oz. 21-28 oz. Travel .015 - .019 .020 - .024 .020 - .024 .032 - .039 .047 - .055

How do I choose between a printed shield and foil shield layer?

When the complexity of the membrane switch requires two circuit layers (top and bottom circuit), a printed shield is more cost-effective. In this method, the shield is printed directly on top of the top circuit layer, eliminating the need for a separate foil layer. When only one circuit layer is required, a foil shield is less expensive than a printed shield.

Why would I choose to have LEDs mounted in the switch itself rather than in a PCB to which the switch will be mounted?
There are several reasons. You may only have LEDs and no other components in your switch. The mating printed circuit board may have many other components and not enough room for LEDs. Or, the PCB may have to be located too far away from the front surface to illuminate LEDs properly at the overlay plane.

Force listed above is for the stainless dome itself. Other aspects of construction design will affect actuation force or feel.

Non-Tactile Switch Construction

How is the L.E.D. circuit manufactured?

The LEDs are glued to the screen-printed silver conductive traces with a heat-cured conductive epoxy. The LED circuit tail can terminate to its own dedicated connector or it can terminate through the same connector as the keypad circuit.

Actuation force is determined by the spacer thickness (layer between the top and bottom circuit layers see diagram above) and the diameter of the spacer hole. For example, a switch with a thin spacer and large diameter spacer hole will have a light actuation force. Examples of actuation choices for specific applications: Light Force (3-6 oz.) Medium Force (10-14 oz.) High-Speed Data Entry Most Applications (Medical, Test Equipment etc...) Manufacturing Plant, where a machine operator might accidentally lean or place something on the switch

How do I know which dome to choose for my application?

Typically, Pannam makes a proper dome recommendation based on the size of the keypad. Nine out of ten times the 12.2 mm dome is chosen and is the most cost-effective. The overall tactile switch thickness starts at .027.

Does adding a shield layer affect the tactile response of the stainless steel domes?
The shield layer sits directly above the stainless steel dome plane. Typically, the shield layer thickness is between .003 and .005. Since the layer is so thin, tactile feedback is not significantly affected.

Why should I include shielding in my membrane switch construction?
Shielding is used to protect the switches from E.S.D. and E.M.I. interference. Pannam can design a switch that incorporates the proper shielding layer for your specific application needs.

Are there various termination methods available for the shield layer?


Are switches with surface-mounted LEDs thicker?

Surface-mounted LEDs increase overall switch thickness by .020 - .030 due to the height of the LEDs.

Heavy Force (16-20 oz.)

The preferred method for reliability. The tab can be attached to a stud or standoff on a back panel or metal enclosure. Shield layer can be terminated into a pin or pins on the circuit tail connector.


What type of shielding methods are available?

Pannam uses three different basic shielding methods to protect switches: 1. Foil Laminated aluminum foil and polyester.

Electrical Specifications
Switch Contact Rating Loop Resistance Switch Configuration Surface-Mount LED Specifications Contact Bounce 28V DC/30mA max. 100 Ohms max. SPST normally open Available upon request Less than 20 milli-seconds on break, less than 10 on make

The overall non-tactile switch thickness starts at .030.

Overlay Dome / Dome Retainer Circuit Rear Adhesive

Wrap-Around Shield layer can wrap completely around the membrane on all four sides to ground to a chassis. Although this method is very reliable, it is more costly than the other two methods due to the added labor necessary to execute.

2. Transparent Shielding required over Film windows - very expensive. 3. Printed Screen printed with silver conductive ink in a grid, bus-bar or full-coating format. Typically, the grid format is chosen because it is very reliable and does not use as much silver conductive ink as does the full-coating format (less costly).

Tactile Switch Construction

Actuation force in a switch designed with tactile feedback does not have as much feel flexibility as a non-tactile switch. Using different sizes of stainless steel domes will vary the force to meet most requirements.

Switch Backing
What are my backing material options?
Switches that are not mounted on PCBs or copperetched circuits are adhesive or aluminum backed. Pannam can provide a wide variety of adhesive backings on switches. Primarily, it is important to understand the nature of the surface to which the switch will be applied. For instance, a smooth surface will readily accept an adhesive while a powder or rough surface will require a thicker, more aggressive adhesive. Additionally, it is important to understand the durability and environmental requirements of the switch after it will be applied in a system to insure the proper adhesive choice. Pannam has full, in-house capabilities for shearing, bending, milling, punching and installing PEM inserts in aluminum back panels. They typically range in thickness from .032 to .125. They can be alodined to create a non-corrosive surface, or if required, they can be anodized to create a nonconductive, non-corrosive surface that can be colored. Although alodining is usually less expensive, anodizing is more durable.


Actuation Force Alodine The maximum force measured prior to or including the point at which keypad contact closure is achieved. A chemical conversion process that oxidizes aluminum to form a non-porous aluminum oxide. Referred to as "poor man's anodizing" because it is less costly and not as durable as anodizing. Electro-chemical oxidation of aluminum to form aluminum oxide with a porous nature. The anodized layer can be durably colored and is non-conductive, non-corrosive and resistant to abrasion. Discharge of electricity (a spark) that can occur when contacts are opened or closed. Arcing can degrade or burn contacts, reducing useful life. A flexible layer within a membrane switch construction that illuminates select areas of the overlay, such as text or graphic symbols. Examples of backlighting methods are E.L. (electroluminescent) or fiber optic. Functioning component (sub-layer) of a membrane switch. Typically made of a silver conductive ink printed on polyester. Also can be a flexible copper circuit, a PCB or polyester printed with other conductive materials. Intermittent contact opening and contact closure that may occur after switch operation. (Make) - Point at which specified resistance is achieved. The force at contact closure. Printing translucent ink in an area so that the graphic is visible only when backlit. The degree to which light transmits through a color or transparent window. The higher the density, the less light will be transmitted. The voltage that an insulating material can withstand before breakdown occurs, usually expressed as a voltage gradient (such as volts per mil). Electromagnetic Interference (Radio Frequency Interference). Radiated energy from electrical devices, lightning and similar sources which interferes with the proper operation of electronic circuitry. Electrostatic Discharge transfer of high potential electrical charge between objects by contact or through the air. Information or documentation created electronically by computer. A set of characters having a unified design. The degree of shininess of a particular material, usually specified in percentages such as 75% gloss, 90% gloss and so forth. Image made of a pattern of various size and shape dots (newspaper photograph) rather than continuous gray. The process by which electronic files are transferred to film or paper directly from the computer (computer onto film technology). Light Emitting Diode. A momentary switching device in which at least one contact is made of a flexible substrate.


Arcing Backlighting


Contact Bounce Contact Closure Contact Force Dead Front Density Dielectric Strength E.M.I. (also R.F.I.)

E.S.D. Files Font Gloss Level Halftone Image-Setting L.E.D. Membrane Switch

Moisture Resistance Non-Tactile Switch Overlay Pad Emboss Proof Polyester Dome

Ability of a material to repel moisture either from air or when subjected to water. A switch assembly that has a tactile ratio equal to zero. Top layer of a membrane switch (the graphic interface between device and user) generally made of polyester or polycarbonate. A raised area on an overlay, which defines an entire graphic. (i.e., a full keypad or L.E.D. window). A paper simulation of what a screen-printed overlay will look like, submitted to a customer for approval. A keypad on a membrane that has been dome-embossed on the overlay or top circuit layer to add tactile feedback when the switch is activated. The dome shape, which is usually formed by a hydro-forming process, can vary in size and shape to achieve a desired force and tactile feedback of the keypad. Method of fabricating prototype components without using steel rule dies (hard tooling) allowing changes before production runs without expensive tooling charges. A raised area on an overlay which defines the perimeter of a graphic. (i.e., perimeter of a keypad or a border). A drawing showing electrical interconnections and functions of a specific circuit arrangement. Method of printing by forcing ink through a mesh selectively. This is done by closing parts of the mesh with a stencil. Area of image printed with dots so ink coverage is less than 100%, simulating shading or a lighter color. A transparent velvet finish printed on specified areas on an overlay to accentuate design elements such as windows, keypads or graphics. A layer of polyester material that is either laminated with aluminum or printed with conductive ink to protect a switch from E.S.D. or E.M.I. interference. Surface Mount Device. Surface Mount Technology.

Prototype Tooling Rail Emboss Schematic Screen Printing Screen Tint


Selective Texture Shield S.M.D. S.M.T.

Specified Resistance Maximum allowable resistance measured between two terminations whose internal switch contacts, when held closed, complete a circuit. Sub-Surface Printing Imaging on the back (second surface) of an overlay so the printed graphic is protected from wear by the actual material. Tactile Ratio Tactile Response Tactile Switch A measure of tactile response. A sudden collapse or snapback of a membrane switch prior to contact closure or after contact opening. A switch assembly that provides a tactile ratio greater than zero. Tactile switches give the user immediate physical feedback that the switch has been activated. Tactile feedback on a membrane switch can be achieved by using a stainless steel dome or a polydome construction. How a switch is connected to the device it activates. Partially transparent. Having the property of diffusing light. Having the property of transmitting light without appreciable scattering so that objects beneath are entirely visible.

Termination Translucent Transparent

From preliminary idea to custom membrane switch, it's a team effort at Pannam. Hard-working. Creative. Full-service. The "easy-to-do-business-with" membrane switch supplier.

18531 South Miles Road Cleveland, Ohio 44128 1.800.482.7758 FAX 216.587.0358 e-mail: