Makers are introducing models with better features and flexibility to adapt to trends for various electronic devices.
Taiwan's rubber keypad manufacturers are focusing on types with a broad application base to strengthen foothold in a market shifting to touchscreen solutions. Suppliers are rolling out models designed to meet requirements in mobile and fixed-line phones, digital cameras, fax machines, printers, calculators and car control panels.
For the first sector, makers are developing thin and light variants targeted at low-end smartphones. Riding this trend, Silitech Technology Corp. has launched nonconductive vacuum metallization or NCVM, gapless and TPU selections. The company, which accounts for more than 20 percent of handset keypad output worldwide, is optimistic the line will remain prevalent in basic cell phones.
Some suppliers produce QWERTY versions, which are likewise popular in the segment.
To attract more orders, enterprises are adopting modular designs and employing environment-friendly, high-grade materials. The last consists of easy-to-clean and abrasion-resistant inputs that can withstand legend printing. Manufacturers ensure releases meet RoHS guidelines.
Makers are likewise employing various techniques that improve aesthetics to match latest trends in computer, communication and consumer electronics products. Great Rubber Co. Ltd, for example, has adopted dual-injection molding technology, also called double-color injection molding. This procedure involves a single injection for two materials, resulting in dual colors or textures.
Under efforts to boost competitiveness, Taiwan suppliers are exploring other sectors, including industrial, medical, automotive and military.
Kingley Rubber Industrial Co. Ltd, for instance, has applied for the requisite TS 16949 certification for cars.
Some take advantage of their experience in rubber and plastic molding to cater to the gifts and toy markets. Great Rubber offers promotional keychains, photo frames and USB accessories in the former input.
Manufacturers such as Kingley, meanwhile, provide related products, including rubber and plastic molding components, membrane switches, and touch panel and in-mold decoration solutions.
Suppliers invest in silk-screening machines, automation lines and injection equipment, and shorten the delivery period to bolster OEM/ODM business.
There are 30 to 40 makers engaged in the segment in Taiwan, mostly small and midsize operations.
The major players are Kingley, Silitech and Unitel High Technology Corp. Some carry out manufacture in mainland China or have subcontracting companies there.
Rubber keypad selection
The mainstream product types from Taiwan are epoxy silicone, laser-etched, P+R and TPU. Releases of the first category with printed or painted graphics are commonly utilized in low-end remote controls for their cost benefits.
Enterprises employ laser etching for models positioned at the midrange. The technique allows a more seamless engraving of graphics on various materials such as plastic, rubber and silicone.
Versions that are produced out of this method are used in mobile phones.
TPU keypads are made of TPU film, which is harder than silicone and boasts high tensile strength and anti-abrasion, -dust and -shock attributes. This kind is widely adopted for its good resistance to graphic abrasion.
China manufacturers also offer in-mold decoration keypads, which have a hard top texture yet soft-tactile surface. Because of enhanced transparency, models in this category deliver better backlight effect.
Unitel, which has been expanding production equipment to make specialized keypads, also offers NCVM, dual-injection, EL and metallic key dome versions.
Silicone rubber is the key material in manufacture. This is sourced from local providers such as Chang Horing and Topco or Japan and US partners. A small piece costs below $1.
Prices are not determined by a single factor since production involves various processes and materials. Because of this, bulk purchases are preferred to maximize manufacture.
Some makers consider the weight of components in specifying quotes. Models requiring additional materials and techniques are more expensive. QWERTY keypads for Blackberry mobile phones, for instance, may go for $12.
Hong Kong: Makers of rubber keypads enhance processes, aesthetics
Suppliers of rubber keypads in Hong Kong are adopting various production techniques to cater to different customer specifications. Manufacturing processes are likewise aimed at improving durability and aesthetics.
For printing, companies use silk-screening and laser etching. The last is particularly suitable for complex yet precise and clean markings or engravings. Yan Chuen Technology Co. Ltd employs this aside from embossing and metallic finish.
Coating options consist of glossy and matte silicone. To enhance chemical resistance and anti-abrasion features, PU finish and epoxy potting are used. Models at Yan Chuen incorporate the last.
Most Hong Kong suppliers conduct injection molding in manufacturing. They are also equipped with stamping and extrusion molding machines.
Selections are typically made of silicone rubber. Many enterprises combine rubber with plastic or metal foil. For environment-friendly products, some recommend recycled silicone rubber for applications where tensile strength is of secondary importance.
Luen Fung Silicone Rubber Mfg Co.'s keypads utilize P+R with PC film, epoxy and PU coating and laser etching.
Contact type preferences include conductive pills in round configurations or other shapes. These can have gold plating for low contact resistance and long life. Silk-screen using conductive ink for shape and size versatility is also available. The number of layers and coating thickness can be customized.
Rubber keypads from Hong Kong find broad application in telecom devices, security and payment systems, medical and A/V equipment, vehicles, industrial controls and toys. You Eal (HK) Ltd, a major player in the line, offers single keys, laser-etched, epoxy-topped coated, translucent and foldable units, and metal conductive pills.
Some enterprises also provide related products such as membrane keypads, gaskets, heat seal connectors and insulators, while others can carry out design, subassembly and finished assembly services.
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