Tilt Switches: When, Where, How, and Why

A tilt switch is one of the simplest sensors available. You can even make one at home, as long as you have a metal ball, a piece of Veroboard, an acrylic tube, and a pin header.

Tilt switches are used in numerous industries, from children’s toys and alarm clocks, to aviation and military equipment. Similar to disturbance switches, tilt switches are components that are elementary and irreplaceable at the same time.

What Is A Tilt Switch?

The main goal of a tilt switch is to sense changes in inclination and orientation. In other words, these low power and easy-to-operate sensors turn on or off by tilting.

A tilt switch usually looks like a cylinder with a rolling ball inside. Two conductive poles stick out of the cylinder. When the cylinder is tilted, the ball touches the poles and shorts them. When the cylinder is stationary, the ball stays centered, leaving the poles inactive.

Different configurations of such switches exist but the principle of their operation is the same. Ask any expert electronic switch manufacturer and they’ll tell you that creating a top-notch tilt sensor is not as easy as making a “garage” or DIY version of it.

Tilt switches manufactured for aviation or automotive industries are durable and highly precise, ready to react even to the slightest inclination.

What Is A Mercury Switch?

You may often hear the term “mercury switch”. In fact, a mercury switch is an old version of a modern tilt switch, which used to be common in the twentieth century. You can still find some of them today, but the majority has been replaced due to environmental and safety concerns.

In a mercury switch, the ball component is made of mercury. Mercury used to be considered a good choice in the past,—before the adverse properties were discovered—due to its high density. The information about mercury’s toxicity has reduced the use of the material drastically.

A ball switch has more bounce than a mercury switch and thus offers higher sensitivity. However, it is much noisier. These can be both advantages and disadvantages depending on the application.

Which Industries Use Ball Switches?

You may be surprised how common a ball switch is today. In fact, you may be hard pressed to find an industry that doesn’t have a use for one or several ball switch types.

They are regularly in demand for:

  • Aviation settings
  • Agricultural machinery
  • Toys and novelty products
  • Automotive settings
  • Military equipment
  • Mobile gadgets
  • Home appliances
  • And much more.

Ball and tilt switches come in all shapes and sizes. They can be manufactured in general size or customized for a specific use.

Tilt switches are cheap, safe, and easy-to-use, but the materials they are made of dictate their quality. The tilt angle the switch works at is also highly important to the outcome of the project.

Final Thoughts

A tilt sensor is one of the simplest and cheapest sensors available for many industries today. A careful approach to choosing the right sensor for your project can greatly contribute to its success.