Bringing the Switch into the Digital Age

Really, could any electrical device be simpler than a switch? It 
performs the most basic of functions, sending a simple on/off message to
 the equipment it controls. However, like just about every other 
component in our increasingly sophisticated electrical systems, 
switches, push buttons and other seemingly simple input devices now are 
becoming both smart and wireless. Schneider Electric

Chuck Ross

Really, could any electrical device be simpler than a switch? It performs the most basic of functions, sending a simple on/off message to the equipment it controls. However, like just about every other component in our increasingly sophisticated electrical systems, switches, push buttons and other seemingly simple input devices now are becoming both smart and wireless. Here’s a look at a couple of these newer designs now making their way onto today’s process-control equipment.

Security at your fingertips
Security-reliant facilities long have had keyed switches to restrict equipment operation to a limited number of users. More recently, digital passwords also have been adopted for the same purpose. But keys can be misplaced and passwords forgotten, so manufacturers now have developed biometric switches based on advanced fingerprint recognition.

The advantages for users are obvious: no more keys to carry or passwords to remember. But for operations managers, these devices offer multiple plusses, beyond a simplified authorization method. Users’ fingerprints also can be linked to various layers of authorization, and can be tracked by time and frequency, providing potentially valuable real-time and historical data on how and when equipment is being used.

Wire-free connections
Space constraints and safety concerns are just two reasons why some process designers seek to locate switches away from the equipment being controlled, but installing necessary electrical wiring can be an expensive proposition and make future moves and changes difficult. New wireless switches eliminate these problems – and some don’t even need batteries. The self-powered switches use a radio signal to communicate with an equipment-mounted receiver, allowing operation from up to 300 feet away, depending on the presence of any obstacles.


Photo courtesy of Schneider Electric

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