Also known as silicone rubber keypads, elastomeric keypads have become increasingly popular in recent years. They are used in both consumer and commercial applications, with many people preferring them over traditional keypads.
So, what are elastomeric keypads and what benefits do they offer? An elastomeric keypad is a special type of keypad that uses compression molding properties to form webbing around an electrical switch. As you may already know, silicone rubber is soft and flexible; thus, allowing it to compress upon contact. When you touch a button on an elastomeric keypad, the silicone rubber materials respond by pushing down with your finger. And when you let go of the button, it responds by reverting back to its original shape. This behavior is the basis on which elastomeric keypads operate.
One of the most notable benefits of elastomeric keypads is their slim design. In fact, many smartphone manufacturers use them for this very reason. The silicone rubber material allows for slim, compact designs that aren’t otherwise possible with traditional printed circuit board (PCB) keypads. As a result, elastomeric keypads are used in applications like smartphones, remote controls, industrial control equipment, etc.
Furthermore, elastomeric keypads support laser etching. As the name suggests, laser etching involves the use of a laser to “etch” symbols or letters onto a keypad. It works by burning away a top coat of paint to reveal a different-colored layer underneath. By removing specific areas of the top layer, laser etching can create symbols and letter on the keypad. When used in conjunction with EL or LED backlighting, laser etching is capable of producing a variety of effects.
Elastomeric keypads are also resistant to moisture. If a keypad is being outdoors, certain precautions must be taken to prevent the intrusion of moisture. If water is allowed to seep into the keypad, it could short out and damage the circuitry. Thankfully, this isn’t a problem with most elastomeric keypads, as the silicone rubber material creates a natural barrier between the underlying circuitry and the outside elements.
There are also some disadvantages to using elastomeric keypads, however, such as little-to-no tactile response. When you press down on an elastomeric keypad, it responds by producing light tactile feedback in the form of the silicone rubber material reverting back to its original shape. This feedback is minimal, however, and pales in comparison to the feedback produced by PCB keypads.