Switches Vs. Sensors: What’s The Difference?

Both switches and sensors are electronic components that are used in various systems. When they detect a specific force or change of state, they respond. Since they are used in similar capacities, the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are some important distinctions between them. Understanding their individual parameters, features, and capabilities will help in the process of identifying whether a switch or sensor is needed in a certain application.

What Are Sensors?

Sensors are devices that will respond to certain stimuli, including heat, light, sound or vibration, motion, acceleration, magnetic and electrical fields, moisture and vapors, and many others. Essentially, a sensor takes this stimulus and converts it into an electrical signal, via a transducer, which is changed into a binary code that can then be processed by a system. Their primary purpose is to detect and gauge or measure a certain degree of change and they can do so with varying degrees of sensitivity. Once the stimulus is detected, the sensor may simply store the information for later transmission or it may prompt the system to trigger a response.

What Are Switches?

Switches are devices that respond to stimuli like motion, acceleration, vibration, impact, changes in position, and others. They accomplish this through many different components and configurations that range from simple to complex. A tilt switch, for example, can be quite simple. These devices use a ball bearing to detect changes in incline. Conversely, a motion sensor switch may use infrared waves to detect motion within a set sensory range. Once a switch is activated, it will open or close a circuit, which then initiates a system response, such as an automatic shutdown, security alert, or emergency signal.

When Should A Sensor Be Used?

Sensors are mostly used when an environment or system needs to be monitored for certain changes. They can be used in passive capacities to simply record the presence or variations in certain forces. Sensors are highly effective at capturing these events for purposes of analysis. Sensors can also be used to determine whether a more immediate response is needed. In such a capacity, they can function in the same manner as switches depending on how they are configured within the system.   

When Should A Switch Be Used?

Switches are typically used when an automated response is needed once certain stimuli are detected. Since switches maintain or break a circuit, the action can be immediate, which makes them a common component in systems that are used for security and safety purposes. This is not a requirement, however, as switches can also be used in much the same manner as sensors. Instead of initiating an immediate response, their activation can trigger the monitoring or recording of an event.

How To Get Switches And Sensors      

Switches and sensors can be acquired from many of the same sources. They are both available as standard components that can be directly applied to conventional systems. These products can be easily purchased from electronic component suppliers and distributors.

Switches and sensors can also be made to meet with highly specialized parameters and performance requirements. They can also be made with materials that are catered to unusual or especially tough settings. Specialty electronics parts suppliers can sometimes satisfy these needs, but relying on the services of a sensor or switch manufacturer can yield the best results.

To identify a switch manufacturer that can meet your needs, you’ll want to have a solid idea of what type of sensor or switch you’re seeking or at least a thorough understanding of what your switch or sensor will need to accomplish and other system attributes. A knowledgeable manufacturer will then discuss various sensor and switch options that meet your requirement and what you’ll need to consider during the sourcing process.