Sensitive to the touch: New technology increases switch, sensor durability


System integration/control components

New touch-sensitive technology from ITW ActiveTouch is said to offer high levels of switch, sensor, and control system durability in a variety of harsh and hazardous applications and environments.

Buffalo Grove, IL —A new touch-sensitive technology said to attain levels of switch, sensor, and control system durability impossible to achieve in the past has been developed by ITW ActiveTouch, a unit of Illinois Tool Works Inc. The technology, the result of seven years of research and development, says ITW, is available in modular switches, keypads, and keyboards, or can be integrated into custom bezels or panels. Switches using the technology offer such advantages as no moving parts; unlimited lifespan; and water, vibration, and shock resistance. Input devices can be made insensitive to liquid spills and other contaminants while retaining a familiar tactile look and feel.

Announcing the technology, Brian Truesdale, general manager of ITW Switches/ITW ActiveTouch, said the technology offers long life, resistance to temperature and environment, resistance to physical damage, and robust design. "Switches can be made from just 1/2-in.-thick stainless steel, yet are impervious to even a hammer blow," he said. Devices can be integrated with intelligence to report diagnostic information or adapt to a surrounding environment to ensure uninterrupted operation, he added.

Basis for the technology is the principle that a material capable of supporting shear and torsional mechanical waves at ultrasonic frequencies can have those waves trapped or localized by creating specific features or geometries in the material. Trapped energy regions, or resonant cavities, are set in motion with transducers and act as high-quality resonators. Resonance in the cavity area is initiated by an electrical impulse to the transducer, followed by decay of the vibration. A finger or gloved hand touching the front surface of the resonant cavity dampens the vibration and reduces the decay rate. The reduction is detected by a microcontroller, which can be multiplexed for multiple switch positions. The sensor's active "pinging" of the area every few milliseconds gives it the inherent capability of self-diagnostics and self-adaptation in real time.

Click here to access a brochure about the technology.

—Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Jeanine Katzel , senior editor

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