The emergence of novel materials with flexible and stretchable characteristics, and the use of new processing technologies, have allowed for the development of new connected devices and applications. Using printed electronics, traditional electronic elements are being combined with flexible components and allowing for the development of new smart connected products. As a result, devices that are capable of sensing, actuating, and communicating remotely while being low-cost, lightweight, conformable, and easily customizable are already being developed. Combined with the expansion of the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and encryption algorithms, the overall attractiveness of these technologies has prompted new applications to appear in almost every sector. The exponential technological development is currently allowing for the 'smartification' of cities, manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture, logistics, among others. In this review article, the steps towards this transition are approached, starting from the conceptualization of smart connected products and their main markets.
Printing electronics has clear advantages in production cost. Capital expenditure is low; material utilization is high. Sensors have been a prominent area for demonstrating printed electronic functionality within the research and development community. The device structure is straightforward, the printing process is relatively simple, and the materials available for sensors are plentiful. Worldwide, a significant tool chest of printed sensors has been built. The same has not been true for other components. Memory and logic, in particular, require high-precision printing and options have been scarcer. Printed logic requires specialized functional inks and has been among the last of the component technologies to mature.
Memtronik is one such company that elevates your product offering through printed electronic technology. Custom graphic overlay, membrane switch, capacitive switch, touch screens or printed electronics like FSR, biosensors, heaters and more! No matter the project, you will have a quote in-hand within 48 hours. By working alongside with its design and engineering teams, clients will be able to develop innovative solutions for their respective applications and/or enhance the current product. Memtronik's experts have mastered the most cutting-edge electronic printing technologies. Thanks to its highly-automated manufacturing facility, you can benefit from the high-volume production capabilities which will provide clients with the consistent superior product quality. Today, Memtronik employs more than 100 people. It comprises of a dynamic workforce that allows the company to accomplish great things on a daily basis.
Membrane Switch Components
What makes the membrane switch such a durable, flexible, robust solution? One of its major strengths is the simplicity of its components, all of which leave lots of room for customization. In the hands of expert manufacturers, membrane switch components come together to create an extremely reliable human-machine interface (HMI) that can accommodate almost any design constraint under the sun! The main advantage of a membrane switch (aside from its durability) is the incredible range of options available to personalize your interface. No matter what you have in mind, Memtronik's experts can design a keypad that will offer the best possible experience for your users.
Components of bio-printed membrane hardware include;
Graphic Overlay: It is a membrane switch component you can see. More specifically, it serves as the interface between user and machine. Design and durability are therefore two extremely important elements when creating a graphic overlay. It needs to hold up against external conditions – usage, humidity, heat, corrosive cleaners, etc. – while providing a pleasant user experience. Depending on how durable it needs to be, a graphic interface can be made of polycarbonate, polyester, or acrylic. A number of functional and aesthetic elements can also be added on, and its thickness can vary to provide more or less sensitivity based on the intended tactile experience.
Adhesives: It would be easy to dismiss this part of the design process – choosing a glue isn’t exactly rocket science! But when you realize that its job is to attach a graphic overlay to the underlying circuitry, and then the keypad to the machine, it’s easy to understand why adhesives play an essential role in the membrane switch’s resistance to external conditions. Based on the surface, materials, desired performance, and even appearance, the ideal adhesive will vary. At Memtronik, the adhesives they use during the membrane switch manufacturing process are far from ordinary! The company prints them directly onto the circuit, which increases the quality of their products while significantly reducing the cost.
Circuits and Spacers: The most important membrane switch components are its two printed circuits and its spacer. When you press a key on a membrane switch, the associated segment of the upper circuit makes contact with the lower circuit, creating a connection that sends a signal to the machine. These circuits and spacers can be printed on different types of materials, so they can adapt to the specifics of the machine on which the keyboard will be installed.
Metallic Domes: Depending on the product type, you can add a membrane switch component that offers tactile feedback for the user. This component generally takes the form of a metallic dome inserted between the two circuits, creating resistance that allows the user to confirm that they have successfully pressed one of its keys. In some cases, this tactile feedback can improve the user experience. Most domes have a lifespan of approximately three million presses.
Custom Options: With Memtronik, you can customize and personalize any of the above-mentioned membrane switch components according to your needs. For example, you can integrate backlighting using LEDs or an electroluminescent panel. They can also integrate a support plate, which a rigid plate is made of aluminum, polycarbonate, or acrylic that sits behind your keypad.
Capacitive touch: Leveraging a first-class user experience
Capacitive switches are sure to win your customers over, no matter how exacting their standards may be. Their feather-light sensitivity provides an elegant user experience; a simple finger gesture is all it takes. Combined with printed electronics, capacitive switches are also available in many different forms. If you want to provide a bolder design for your customers, this technology offers lots of flexibility when it comes to customization. Capacitive switch keypads provide an exceptional user experience and allow for innovative design – but the advantages don’t stop there. Capacitive switches are also known for their industry-leading durability. They do not contain any moving pieces, which significantly reduces their malfunctioning risk and makes for a long-lasting solution.
Mounted on a thin film, flexible electronic circuits are much lighter than classic printed circuits. Even if they’re twisted or folded, they can adapt to any shape and provide impressive durability. Flex circuits are made of a thin and flexible substrate. They offer impressive freedom of design and nearly unlimited potential for customization. Memtronik has every type of flexible or hybrid circuit you might need. Their design teams are guaranteed to deliver tailor-made products, from prototyping to large-volume manufacturing. If you have any questions, Memtronik's specialized printed electronics engineers will gladly guide you through the decision making process.
Stéphane Forget | Founder & President
He is a multi-faceted entrepreneur specializing in the electronics industry. He has over 22 years of experience in developing and operating North America's largest membrane switch and printed electronics company. Finishing university with a degree in accounting combined with many years of industry experience, he founded Memtronik Innovations in 1994, and rapidly expanded into the human machine interface market.