- Learn about a Switch
A switch is an electrical component which can break an electrical circuit, interrupting the current or diverting it from one conductor to another.
Some switches are on/off, meaning that if you throw them in one direction they make a contact, but in the other direction, they make no contact at all. Most of the light switches in your house are like this. They are known as single-throw switches. A single-pole, single-throw switch is abbreviated as SPST. The centre terminal is called the pole of the switch. Because you can flip, or throw, this switch to make two possible connections, it is called a double-throw switch. A single-pole, double-throw switch is abbreviated SPDT.
Types of Switches
Types of switches
Toggle switches are actuated by a lever angled in one of two or more positions. The common light switch used in household wiring is an example of a toggle switch. Most toggle switches will come to rest in any of their lever positions, while others have an internal spring mechanism returning the lever to a certain normal position, allowing for what is called “momentary” operation.
Toggle switch representation
Push-button switches are two-position devices actuated with a button that is pressed and released. Most push-button switches have an internal spring mechanism returning the button to its “out,” or “unpressed,” position, for momentary operation. Some push-button switches will latch alternately on or off with every push of the button. Other push-button switches will stay in their “in,” or “pressed,” position until the button is pulled back out. This last type of push-button switches usually have a mushroom-shaped button for easy push-pull action.
Push-button switch representation
Selector switches are actuated with a rotary knob or lever of some sort to select one of two or more positions. Like the toggle switch, selector switches can either rest in any of their positions or contain spring-return mechanisms for momentary operation.
A joystick switch is actuated by a lever free to move in more than one axis of motion. One or more of several switch contact mechanisms are actuated depending on which way the lever is pushed, and sometimes by how far it is pushed. The circle-and-dot notation on the switch symbol represents the direction of joystick lever motion required to actuate the contact. Joystick hand switches are commonly used for crane and robot control.
Joystick switch representation
Some switches are specifically designed to be operated by the motion of a machine rather than by the hand of a human operator. These motion-operated switches are commonly called limit switches, because they are often used to limit the motion of a machine by turning off the actuating power to a component if it moves too far. These limit switches closely resemble rugged toggle or selector hand switches fitted with a lever pushed by the machine part. Often, the levers are tipped with a small roller bearing, preventing the lever from being worn off by repeated contact with the machine part.
Proximity switches sense the approach of a metallic machine part either by a magnetic or high-frequency electromagnetic field. Simple proximity switches use a permanent magnet to actuate a sealed switch mechanism whenever the machine part gets close (typically 1 inch or less). More complex proximity switches work like a metal detector, energizing a coil of wire with a high-frequency current, and electronically monitoring the magnitude of that current. If a metallic part (not necessarily magnetic) gets close enough to the coil, the current will increase, and trip the monitoring circuit. The symbol shown here for the proximity switch is of the electronic variety, as indicated by the diamond-shaped box surrounding the switch. A non-electronic proximity switch would use the same symbol as the lever-actuated limit switch.
Another form of proximity switch is the optical switch, comprised of a light source and photocell. Machine position is detected by either the interruption or reflection of a light beam. Optical switches are also useful in safety applications, where beams of light can be used to detect personnel entry into a dangerous area.