Touchscreen applications — found on a tablet device, at the supermarket checkout, ATM, airport, or manufacturing facility — are now such a ubiquitious feature of everyday life that it’s easy to fail to appreciate the technological innovations that made these applications possible in the first place.

Consumer and industrial touchscreen technology falls into two broad categories — resistive and capacitive — both of which are commonly encountered by people in their everyday lives and which have revolutionized the ways that humans interact with machines.

Resistive Touchscreens

Resistive touchscreens, so-called because their function relies on resistance, or direct pressure to the screen, are the most common form of industrial touchscreen technology.

Resistive touchscreens are composed of two thin sheets of glass or specialized film with a space between them. The sheets of glass or specialized film that face each other are coated with indium tin oxide (ITO), a clear conductive material. When pressure is applied to the screen, these conductive surfaces come into contact with each other, resulting in a cascade of signals.

Because resistive touchscreens operate on the principle of pressure, they are equally responsive to a gloved finger, a stylus, a pencil eraser, or anything that applies sufficient pressure to produce physical contact between the conductive coatings of the two interfacing sheets.

Resistive touchscreens are generally the more affordable of the two types of touchscreen technology, though they provide lower image quality, are less quick to respond (since physical pressure must be applied), and aren’t multi-touch enabled since they can register only one pressure-point at a time.

The reliability and durability of resistive touchscreens have broad industrial uses and are commonly found in warehouse, restaurant, and retail point-of-sale applications, as well on industrial machine control panels.

Capacitive Touchscreens

Though capacitive touchscreens didn’t explode onto the consumer scene until the advent of the iPhone, their invention in the mid 1960s preceded that of the resistive touchscreen by over 10 years.

Due to its superior image quality and instant responsiveness, almost all consumer touchscreen devices feature capacitive technology. Capacitive touchscreens rely on the electrical conductivity of the human body, using electrical conductivity rather than physical pressure as the input, thus effecting alterations in the screen’s electrical field. These alterations are triangulated by the touchscreen’s processor to calculate a pair of coordinates that “read” the touch location and allow for multi-touch functions like “pinch” and “zoom.”

Because capacitive technologies rely on the electrical charge generated through direct contact with the human body, capacitive touchscreens are generally unresponsive to a gloved finger or any surface that does not emit an electrical charge. This limitation does not apply, however, to capacitive touch technology that incorporates an ITO layer that registers even non-electrically charged touch.

Some capacitive touchscreen technologies incorporate a protective layer anterior to the display that protects it from moisture, extreme temperature fluctuations, vandalism, and cleaning products, allowing for industrial and outdoor applications in storefronts, ATMs, flow meters, thermostats, medical equipment, and other computational devices.

At Pivot, we’re the driving force behind some of the most innovative industrial touchscreen technology that’s been brought to market. If you’re looking to bring an industrial product or medical device to market or simply to enhance your manufacturing operations, we can help. At Pivot, we have a track record of over forty years of expert experience in partnering with businesses to help them successfully launch new products, and with manufacturers to achieve state-of-the-art operations. Contact us today and see what we can do for you.