Configurable mechanical button replacement solutions accelerate time-to-market

17 November 2014

In today's technology world, the industry is rapidly moving towards touch based solutions.

Due to this paradigm shift, companies across the world foresee a tremendous need to be a part of this touch revolution to create a significant impact in this highly competitive, $1bn market. Buttons play a critical role in user interface applications for almost all industries and have become ubiquitous. 

Consumers want sleek and reliable applications and so today’s electronics industry is driven to develop flat, easy-to-clean surfaces and easy-to-use buttons; replacing mechanical buttons, which are unreliable due to dirt accumulation, getting stuck, wearing out over time and lacking aesthetic appeal.

Industrial design has become an important consideration in any end-application design with sleek capacitive buttons becoming the industry standard. The traditional capacitive button solutions are difficult to implement as they require specialised technical expertise. Also, the end applications require time-consuming manual system tuning for a robust performance.

Capacitive touch sensing solutions offer differentiation through sleek industrial designs, reduce maintenance costs and provide adaptive immunity to electrical noise simultaneously. Capacitive sensing technology has evolved as a key trend in industrial user interface design. 
Capacitive sensing is an obvious choice, given that they are more durable, reliable and have a better aesthetic value, to name a few of the advantages. The popularity of this technology, especially in human interface devices (HID), has grown rapidly due to its ability to reduce manufacturing cost, increase product lifespan by eliminating mechanical components, and enhance product look-and-feel. Capacitive buttons and sliders are proving to be much more appealing than mechanical switches and rotary encoders, both in terms of looks and reliability. Not only do these sensors allow a striking user interface but also offer a highly durable and reliable solution, provided they are properly designed and calibrated.

Designing low-cost, responsive, and low-power capacitive sensors for reliable operation in noisy environments can indeed be a matter of few days, including prototyping through validation for production requirements. A configurable mechanical button replacement solution such as Cypress’ CapSense Express offers one of the solutions to implement capacitive buttons reducing time-to-market by a significant amount. 

It is important to understand the difference between a configurable and a programmable solution. Often times in the market, embedded system design has not been able to win against a classical mechanical design due to time to market and special expertise required for implementation. This is where the biggest advantage with a configurable solution against a programmable one lies. A configurable solution is one where no firmware development (or device programming) is required and it just needs to be set-up to implement specific features.

There are two major tasks that consume time and act as a barrier during a design phase of a capacitive touch solution, firmware development/device programming and manual system tuning.
Firmware development is required for the solution to perform some specific functions. But, configurable solutions make it easier and offer solutions that are already capable of implementing those specific functions without programming. In addition, Cypress’ CapSense and CapSense MBR solutions also come equipped with SmartSense Auto-Tuning technology which eliminates the effort for manual tuning and can save up to four man weeks of time during the design and production phase.

Figure 1 provides a clear comparison on how a traditional capacitive sensing solution is different from a configurable solution during the design cycle. The ‘normal design cycle’ takes numerous steps before taking the design to final mass production, making it ready for the market.

The second ‘configurable MBR design cycle’ takes system design pace to another level by eliminating the firmware development and also the manual sensor tuning part. This can save time ranging from one-four weeks in the total design cycle.

A configurable solution capable of auto-tuning such as CapSense MBR can definitely act as a plug-and-play solution against the mechanical buttons. With the advantages that a capacitive system brings to the end-application, CapSense MBR also saves a lot of time during the design and the production phases.

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