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Customising automotive HMIs with advanced switches

Posted: 16 Jul 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:haptics  User interface  vehicle infotainment 

Manufacturers have also developed pushbutton switches that offer panel-mounting options to help simplify assembly. Rear panel-mounting switches, such as C&K's pushbutton switches, are ideal for applications where multiple switches are going to be mounted to a PCB. Customers can mount them to the PCB first, then the entire assembly can be installed into the armrest or panel. This allows for a much easier installation compared to traditional front mounted switches that require the mounting hardware to be tightened from behind the panel, which is sometimes hard to access; as well as having to run all the leads to the mating connectors on the PCB. Rear mounted switches allow customers to install the hardware from the top and still achieve the same look while simplifying the installation process.

Custom electromechanical solutions
OEMs are approaching electromechanical component manufacturers for more than just switches. By utilising a switch manufacturer for designs beyond the switch itself, increased flexibility in overall design can be realised. Switch dimensions are becoming more critical, making it imperative to work closely with customers to discern all details. Today, it is less about the switch being mounted to a PC board or adding wire leads or a connector to the switch, and more about defining the issues that need to be solved. Because switch manufacturers are now dealing with the entire module, they are spending an increasing amount of time with customers to determine how the module is being impacted in the application to assess potential challenges that were not previously considered.

By working closely with customers in all phases of the design process, switch manufacturers can identify materials that interface with the operator, and those in the actual contact mechanism can be re-evaluated and altered to conform to performance, reliability, lifespan, and robustness standards. For example, some manufacturers are now offering switch packages with multi-switching capability and high over-travel performance, with various core-switching technologies such as opposing tactile switches or a dome array on a PC board. Such packages often include additional PC board-mounted integrated electronics, custom circuitry, and industry standard connectors for the complete package.

Still other solutions optimised for automobiles, such as interior headliners, feature not only customised switches with insert moulded housing and custom circuitry and termination, but also paint and laser etched switch button graphics and decoration capabilities, as well as backlighting for nighttime use. Today, switch manufacturers are doing even these customised graphics and decorations in-house.

Although the electromechanical components are some of the last devices designed or specified into a centre console, dashboard, or steering wheel, switches are one of the most important components in a system—and one of the first components a vehicle operator contacts. Each automotive manufacturer has different performance requirements, external presentations, internal spacing, and footprint restrictions. As such, each vehicle requires different packaging and orientation of switches to achieve the functional and performance objectives. Customised haptic options (actuation travel, force, and audible sound), ergonomic options (illumination, decoration, appearance), sealing options, circuitry configurations, housing styles, mounting styles (including threaded or snap-in mounting), and termination options are integral to meeting these application requirements.

Combining innovative electromechanical designs with complete switch assemblies often affords customers greater flexibility and customisation options that reduce assembly and manufacturing costs while improving performance and reliability. Working closely with the switch manufacturer to solve design problems and implement customised performance requirements can yield faster time-to-market by streamlining the prototyping and production ramp-up stages, thereby bringing the finished product to market more quickly.

About the author
Owen Camden is business development manager at C&K Components.

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