Electronics > Manufacturing & Assembly

Recommendations for Silicone Rubber button manufacturing? Approximate costs?

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newto:
Getting close to finalizing the electronics for our latest product prototype (hopefully the last prototype before production), decided on the display, mostly narrowed down the case, and realizing we can't keep putting off the button decision.

We're leaning towards silicone rubber buttons, but we've never built anything with them, so we have no idea who's a good source, and what the costs will be looking at.

Anyone have recommendations for suppliers? Preferably with samples available, and cheapish prototyping. We're essentially starting from scratch on the buttons, so we know basically nothing on design and material selection that we want, and all the other options available. Probably should have been sorting this out earlier, but we've had way too many other things going at once (turns out there's a global silicon shortage, and half my job has turned into trying to track down parts for our current products *and* my prototypes).

Our products have gone from nice tactile buttons (80s), to terrible membrane buttons (90s), to okay touchscreens (2010s), but I feel like a nice set of silicone buttons in a boring grey or white case will give us a nice modern product that isn't a pain to use with gloves (one of the main complaints about our touchscreen units).

Even with the touchscreen, all of our products feel old and outdated, so this is our chance to bring our stuff to be at least partially modern. We're even going from USB-B to USB-C and lead acid to lithium!

Mangozac:
Have you tried good membranes with design done by a proper graphic designer? The difference between membrane fascia artwork done by an engineer and an experienced product graphic designer is night and day!

For both membranes and silicone buttons I can't recommend Yan Chuen more highly. http://www.yanchuen.com/
I've toured their factory in Shenzhen.

I do agree however that having some silicone buttons in addition to the touchscreen will provide a modern and rugged looking design.

newto:
Yeah, we may end up with membrane buttons. I assume they're much better these days, especially when running with modern circuits, I speculate that the old products had underpowered microcontrollers and terrible software, so would sometimes miss button presses, along with the panels being very stiff

But I want to put in the time to see if it's possible to have molds and buttons for a reasonable-ish price. If we can get 100-250 units for under a couple thousand total, I think that's worth it for us.

Mostly I want to try to distinguish our products from our competitors, which mostly use membrane panels and monochrome displays. Our current flagship product has a colour touchscreen, but also looks like military surplus equipment, and the housing feels out of place for how a lot of customers use it (black metal carrying case sitting in a scientific lab). My goal  is probably aiming too high, but I want something that has the feel of a modern oscilloscope or benchtop instrument, and actually feel designed, rather than a bunch of off the shelf parts slapped together (which is what it is, I just don't want it to feel that way).

We're also planning refreshes of two older products, which could probably use the same buttons, I was thinking of adding a few extras to the design, that way we can just cut them off for this product, but have more options for other versions (or if we suddenly realize we want some more for this one)

jpanhalt:
About 5 years ago, I bought the case and buttons for the Pax Instruments T400 data logger.  I developed my own firmware, board, etc.  Charles Pax is the owner and at the time was located in Hong Kong (I believe).

Here's a link to the device: https://paxinstruments.wordpress.com/  That shows the silicone buttons he used.

I don't know whether he is still in business, but he might give you some ideas on where to get those buttons.  My last contact with him was in 2017 at "contact@paxinstruments.com"  He was quite helpful, but I couldn't find any recent links to Pax Instruments, so I suspect writing to him may be a dead end.  I delayed responding to this thread, as I hoped someone else would have a more likely contact.

EDIT:
OOPS.  That link shows the older buttons.   This Adafruit link shows the newer silicone buttons that I got: https://www.adafruit.com/product/3081

coppice:
A good membrane keypad can be robust, reliable and long lasting. NRE is very low, and RE is pretty reasonable. Their feel varies a lot between makers, though. Good ones feel OK, although you won't get the fast pressing action a silicone keypad can offer you. One issue to beware of is combining a keypad with a window for a display. The window needs to be clear, and the keypad area of usually nicer with a textured finish. You can get that mix cheaply, but its done with a textured coating over clear plastic for the keypad. It can wear fairly quickly and not look great. If you only want a keypad you can use a textured surface plastic that will last.

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