Covid-19 has dramatically changed the way that we live our lives. As we ensure social distancing from others and reduce contact with potentially contaminated surfaces, we are having to become more and more inventive to reduce the spread of the disease.
Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs) such as push-button switches, joysticks and other controls are typically used by multiple people throughout the day particularly in work environments such as factories and warehouses. The challenge is to find ways of using such HMIs that reduce the risk of contamination. EAO have been working to develop machine controls that reduce this risk, by providing three key solutions:
1. Sensor-operated HMIs to eliminate the need for physical touch
By incorporating sensors, HMIs that would ordinarily be operated through physical touch can be triggered simply by movement and proximity rather than touch. This is ideal for reducing potential contamination. The following sensors are all integral to this technology:
Ideal for non-physical contact, radar sensors work by using a radio frequency transmitter to bounce a signal off an object. Reflected signal is gathered by an aerial and then this data is validated to initiate the switching function. Radar switches can be tuned to work at both close proximity and over longer distances. Mostly unaffected by moisture and temperature, radar sensors are reliable and often have a long life.
Capacitive sensors are used extensively in touch screen technology. They can be added into the body of a panel or switch to provide the signals required. However, a minimum distance must be maintained ensure that cross interference between switch elements does not occur.
These sensors are used in intruder alarms, security lighting and automatic door openings. Passive Infra-Red (PIR) sensors work well over a reasonable distance but are less effective from a close proximity as they do not offer effective tuneable distance sensing.
Active Infra-Red sensors work by placing an IR LED emitted beside an IR sensor. As an object passes in front of the emitter, the IR light is reflected back from the object to the sensor. The sensor detects the light and initiates the required function. Users should account for the reflectiveness and size of the objects as this will have an impact on the chosen sensor.2. Redesigned actuators to enable operation via inanimate objects
Where HMIs do need to be operated by physical touch, EAO have sought to redesign actuators so that they do not need to be pressed by hand. Instead, many HMIs can be operated via touch using a body part that is less susceptible to infection (such as an elbow) or by touch using an inanimate object such as a key.
EAO’s innovative Series 56 Universal switches do just this as they can be easily actuated with the elbow, knee, back of the hand or an inanimate object. Features include a larger size with a 34mm diameter and a rugged metal lens that is 5mm above the switch surface. Once touched these switches provide multi-sensory feedback to the user with an audible “click” sound and with both a green and red illumination indicating the status of the switch and ensuring that it can be easily identified at low ambient light levels.
Series 56 switches are built using high quality plastics and anodised aluminium. This, along with IP65 sealing, ensures that these HMIs can be easily wiped clean with approved cleaning fluids. These features are hugely beneficial during the pandemic where surfaces and touchpoints are cleaned more thoroughly and frequently.
Suitable for use in a number of applications, Series 56 switches can be used within the workplace, in transportation and on machinery. With front bezels available in several colours and lenses laser-etched with a range of different icons, these switches are versatile and can be used in different applications accordingly.
3. Antibacterial/anti-viral switch actuators
To go one step further, EAO have recently invested more time and development into the manufacturing of devices made from plastics infused with anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. Whilst in development and until these new products are widely available, EAO are focusing on the manufacturing of switches in medical grade stainless steel.
EAO series 82-66 switches are ideal for reducing the transmission of disease as they are made from both medical grade stainless steel and chemical resistant Triton plastics. They also feature IP67 sealing which offers efficient protection from the use of cleaning fluids. Again, like Series 56 switches, these are available with lenses etched in a variety of different icons and symbols.
In the wake of Covid-19, manufacturers and designers are striving for machine controls that effectively resist the spread of infection. Successful implementation of such HMIs enable workplaces to return to normal more quickly and increase the confidence of users. EAO are already able to provide a selection of switches that can achieve just this and are continuing their research and development in this area to create even more innovative switching solutions.