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Limit Switch Explained | Working Principles

In this article, we're going to introduce you to a device called a Limit Switch.

There’s probably not a day that goes by where you don’t use or encounter a limit switch at home, or at your workplace.

Types of limit switches

There are 4 general types of limit switches:

1. Whisker

2. Roller

3. Lever

4. Plunger

Depending on the application, a limit switch may be a combination of 2 of the general types such as roller-lever.

4 General Types of Limit Switches

What are limit switches?

A limit switch is an electromechanical device operated by a physical force applied to it by an object.

Limit switches are used to detect the presence or absence of an object.

These switches were originally used to define the limit of travel of an object, and as a result, they were named Limit Switch.

Limit Switch Definition

Limit switches applications

When you open the fridge door, a light comes on inside. How does that happen? Yes…. you guessed it! A limit switch is used to detect if the fridge door is open or closed.

Fridge Door Limit Switch

Let’s look at another application of a limit switch that you may encounter at home. On many overhead garage doors, there is a limit switch that stops the movement of the door when it reaches its fully opened position.

Garage Doors Limit Switch

How Do Limit Switches Work?

Alright….now that we’ve looked at a couple of limit switch applications where you might see them in action at home, let’s have a closer look at the device itself.

Limit switches are electromechanical devices consisting of an actuator mechanically linked to an electrical switch.

When an object contacts the actuator, the switch will operate causing an electrical connection to make or break.

Limit Switch.

Configurations of limit switches

Limit switches are available in several switch configurations: Normally Open, Normally Closed, or one of each.

Limit Switch Configuration

Symbols of limit switches

Depending on the origin of the electrical schematic, you may see limit switches drawn in different ways.

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) have slightly different symbols.

Limit Switch Schematic

Microswitch

Let’s have a look inside a microswitch that is a type of limit switch.

A microswitch has 2 limit switches operating together and sharing a common terminal. One limit switch is normally open and the other is normally closed. 

To be technically correct, the switch configuration is Single Pole Double Throw, or commonly referred to as SPDT.

The dashed line indicates that both switches are mechanically connected and will operate at the same time. 

Microswitch

Microswitch simple circuit

Alright, let’s connect the microswitch to a lamp circuit. In the inactive state, the Red lamp is on as the device is not being operated by an object pushing on the trigger.

When the Trigger is pushed the device will activate, and the Green lamp will come on.

Microswitch Circuit Example

Limit switches in action

Now that you’ve seen the limit switch in action you are probably thinking about some of the applications where you have seen them in action.

For example, you might see limit switches operated by a container on an assembly line, or operated by a rotating machine part or by any number of other moving mechanical objects.

Limit Switch in Action-

Limit switches could be used to count passing objects, or determining the position of a hydraulic cylinder.

Hydraulic Cylinder Position Detection

Proximity sensor vs. limit switch

Limit switches are slowly starting to disappear from many industrial applications. They are being replaced by proximity sensors.

Unlike a limit switch, a proximity sensor has no mechanical moving parts.

A proximity sensor performs the switching action with electronic switches.

Proximity Sensors

Limit switches will not completely disappear any time soon as they outshine their proximity switch counterpart in their ruggedness and reliable operation in difficult environments.

Generally speaking, limit switches are capable of handling much higher current values than proximity sensors.

Limit Switch vs. Proximity Sensor

You might want to review one of our other articles:

Summary

OK, let’s review…

– There are 4 general types of limit switches: whisker, roller, lever, and plunger.

– Limit switches are electromechanical devices operated by a physical force applied to it by an object.

– A limit switch is an electromechanical device consisting of an actuator mechanically linked to an electrical switch.

– Limit switches are available in several switch configurations: Normally Open, Normally Closed, or one of each.

– Depending on the origin of the electrical schematic, you may see limit switches drawn in different ways.
– Limit switches are being replaced by proximity sensors in many applications. 

If you have any questions about using Limit switches, add them in the comments below and we will get back to you in less than 24 hours.

Got a friend, client, or colleague who could use some of this information? Please share this article.

The RealPars Team
By Ted Mortenson

By Ted Mortenson

Automation Engineer

Posted on Oct 19, 2020

Ted Mortenson

By Ted Mortenson

Automation Engineer

Posted on Oct 19, 2020

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