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How Do I Choose the Best Electronic Switch?

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  • Written By: Andrew Kirmayer
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2014
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Choosing the best electronic switch for an application requires knowing what kind of load it can handle, how long the switch will be operative, what regulations it meets, and the kind of environment it can function in. Another way to choose a switch is to see the type of rating given by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), or the level of Ingress Protection (IP) specified by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Electronic switches mount to circuit boards in different ways, including surface mounts, soldering, or with a quick connect design. Some might not be able to handle the temperatures of soldering, while the size needed affects the choice because so many components must fit onto small circuit boards of even home electronics.

An electronic switch must be able to handle the load and voltage of the particular device it is being used on. If it is rated too low, then the power of the device can short it out and the switch won’t work. Too high a rating could make a switch inefficient and unnecessarily expensive. The functions of mechanical contacts are not relevant because electronic switches contain bipolar junction transistors or field-effect transistors. One must know the ratings of these components, which are usually listed in the product’s specifications.

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Life expectancy is another concern. Depending on the quality, a switch might be less expensive but cost more later on to maintain and replace, especially if it is mounted to a circuit board. An electronic switch may also need to operate in the presence of moisture, high temperatures, or dust depending on where it used. Building electronics are usually placed in a controlled environment, but electronic switches used for industrial systems, medical devices, and construction equipment are often exposed to the elements.

The IP ratings of the switch indicate how protected it is. An IP 65 rating, for example, means that the electronic switch can be used where there is dust in the air, and where there is direct exposure to water. If it is IP 67 rated, the switch can be immersed in water, while lower ratings such as IP 60 mean exposure to water would damage the device, but that dirt won’t get inside. All of the IP ratings specify how well any electronic enclosure is sealed. The size of the electronic switch is also important, because whether it is a standard, miniature, or ultra-miniature switch affects inclusion into the overall design of the electronics.

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browncoat
Post 3

@umbra21 - This is one of the reasons it would pay to go into being an electrician at the moment. People may once have tried to do this kind of thing on their own, but now most people will just call an electrician.

They should probably still try to know the basics though, like how to choose the best kind of switch. Trusting the electrician to know what to do only works if you know you can trust him or her. And you'll only figure out if they really know what they're doing if you know a little about the job yourself.

umbra21
Post 2

@croydon - Yes, electricity can be dangerous, but generally I think when changing a switch most people could do it without needing to call an electrician.

As long as they respect the fact that it can be dangerous and double and triple check themselves the whole way through, it's actually quite simple.

I would also make sure you are using the right kind of instructions. Don't use anything that's not up to date, and don't look for slap dash instructions online either, as you can't be sure they can be trusted.

This is not to say that you should do every electric repair yourself. But changing a switch or installing one might be within your abilities.

croydon
Post 1

I just wouldn't even try to install anything that requires electricity. I know I could probably figure out what needs to be done, but I would live in fear that I had done something wrong.

It just seems like too much of a risk. I'd much rather call a professional to have it done, and make sure it was done right, even if it's something like installing a switch.

Electricity is just too much of a dangerous thing, in my mind, and if someone else got hurt from my work, I would never be able to forgive myself.

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