Honeywell celebrates: Micro Switch marks 75 years of sensors, still going strong

Spotlighting longevity, durability, and impact on industry, Honeywell began celebrating the 75th anniversary of its Micro Switch technology last week. The company gathered employees, executives, and members of the media at its facility in Freeport, IL, for a day that included a historical review of sensors and switches and tours of its plants.

By Control Engineering Staff September 24, 2007

Freeport, IL —Spotlighting longevity, durability, and impact on industry,


began celebrating the 75th anniversary of its

Micro Switch

technology last week. The company gathered employees, executives, and members of the media at its facility in Freeport, IL, for a day that included a

One of the first Micro Switch products, developed during World War II, was named the V3 to represent Victory in Europe, in Asia, for Micro Switch. V3 switches are still manufactured at the Micro Switch facility in Freeport, IL, on seven automated production lines.

“This is a very special milestone for our industry, as the Micro Switch is one of the major contributing factors improving industrial productivity,” said Beth Wozniak, president of

Honeywell Sensing and Control

(S&C). Leading the team of Honeywell personnel discussing the past, present, and anticipated future impact of the device, she told media representatives, “This is the story of how an invention 75 years ago built a very successful business,” adding that Honeywell S&C, with more than 6,000 employees in over 100 countries,%The average tenure of employees at the Freeport plant is 24 years,” she noted.

Invented in 1932, the Micro Switch has paved the way for millions of products that would not have been possible without it, offering superior operating characteristics, long mechanical life, and absolute dependability in closing and opening electrical circuits, reported Honeywell. Although materials have improved the switch, the initial device has remained the same, enabling the advancement and affordability of many of today’s modern machines and appliances.

In an interview later in the day, Wozniak, who has been S&C president for 18 months, told Control Engineering that she predicts a healthy economic future for the product in an environment that has the devices literally everywhere, in applications from automotive and medical to aerospace, safety, and emissions testing. “It is a great business to be in today,” she said, citing the switches’ local design capabilities and global manufacturing capabilities as part of the driving core set of fundamentals.

The day’s festivities also included a close look at the history and development of the switch. Reminiscing about the past, Brad Kautzer, vice president of electromechanical products at Honeywell S&C, said, “Attention to detail is what has made this business successful and made the Micro Switch what is it today.”

Kautzer explained how the first Micro Switch was developed in 1932 by Philip K. McGall, a mechanic at C. F. Burgess Laboratories Inc. in Madison, WI. Unable to find switches with stable operating conditions for its chicken brooders, the company sought to develop its own and the first precision snap-action basic switch was invented for the close-tolerance requirements of the equipment. The Micro Switch came into being, continued Kautzer, “because of the need to precisely operate a chicken brooder, and 75 years later it is still found in many applications. It is a simple, elegant design that caught on because it offered benefits of size, weight, precision, and reliability.”

Incorporated in 1937, Micro Switch evolved through several forms before being bought by Honeywell in 1950, primarily for integration into HVAC products. Tracing the growth of the product over the years, Kautzer cited its role in World War II in aircraft, which brought about the need to miniaturize the switch. It led to the introduction of the V3, he explained, named in recognition of victory for Europe, Asia, and Micro Switch. Advancements in packaging and operator controls have also helped move the product forward and expand applications, he added.

Examining some of the reasons for the continued growth and success of the Micro Switch, Kautzer pointed to the trend today in the evolution of mechanical switches into safety applications. “The reason it [the micro switch] remains a desirable solution,” said Kautzer, “is because when you actuate a mechanical switch, the mechanism is designed so that any mechanical movement will force open the set of contacts such that you can guarantee those contacts will open. It remains one of the best technologies out there for solving these problems. So when I’m asked‘when is electromechanical technology going to succumb to other sensing technologies?’ I have to answer ‘I just can’t see it.’ After 75 years, the Micro Switch is still going strong.”

Calling the anniversary “a birthday party for the Micro Switch,” Karen Majeski, product marketing manager, large basic and subminiature switches for S&C, looked at the business today. “The Micro Switch is pervasive, part of everyday living in dishwashers and other appliances and also in such applications as the Mars Land Rover,” she noted. “The microprocessor may be the brain, but the Micro Switch is the muscle that makes it all happen. In today’s world, there are many places where the Micro Switch is still the best product, the best solution, for the application.”

During tours of two plants at the Freeport location, Honeywell personnel stressed the success of its onshore manufacturing efforts, thanks in large part to employee participation in the company’s HOS (Honeywell operating system). HOS includes the use of six sigma and lean manufacturing tools, continuous improvement methods, and other techniques that encourage employee participation and stress pride in one’s work.

The facilities produce V3 switches on several automated lines, as well as a variety of products including Hall effect sensors, pressure transducers, and flow sensors, many in custom packaging. The facility also recently launched COLF (chip on lead frame) processing, described by a Honeywell engineer as a way to package sensors with the most efficiency at the lowest cost at the highest volume. Honeywell makes more than 120 million Micro Switches annually.

More information on the products and the anniversary celebration is available on the Micro Switch Website.

— Jeanine Katzel, contributing editor , Control Engineering News Desk( Register here and scroll down to select your choice of eNewsletters free .)