Differences Between Rotary Switches, Encoders, and Coded Switches

In the industrial realm, there are a wide range of devices that make operating large machines and systems simple. The first of these devices is a rotary switch, which is operated by the rotation of an actuator while being able to stop in several positions to control multiple circuits with a single mechanism. The second is a rotary encoder, which is popularly known for converting the rotational movement of a shaft into an analog or digital signal. Lastly, a rotary coded switch is activated by a rotating shaft and has several position options for users. To learn more about these versatile devices, this blog will cover the differences between each and their various uses.

Rotary Switch

Rotary switches are ideal choices when more than two positions are needed to select different electrical circuits within a system. Moreover, they are available with the option of either shorting (make before break) or non-shorting (break before make) contacts. In addition, they can be designed with a detent mechanism so that they “click” and hold from one active position to another instead of stalling in an intermediate position. As a result of these capabilities, they find use in CB radios, industrial controls, electronic instruments, and aircraft.

Rotary Encoder Switch

Rotary encoder switches convert an input voltage into a different output voltage based on the position of the shaft, that of which is an analog or digital signal. More than that, it provides critical data like position, speed, count, and direction, depending on the device at hand. The key benefit of these switches is that they can rotate in the same direction indefinitely, and due to their robust design and fine digital control feature, they are frequently used in robotics, CNC machines, and printers. Additionally, these switches are defined by how they measure rotary movements and displacement; thus, they are subdivided into absolute or incremental encoder variants.

Within absolute encoder switches, the position is retained regardless of whether the encoder is powered or not. More importantly, their true position will not be lost even if there is a power outage. Incremental encoder switches, on the other hand, use an optical disk to transform the angular position of the shaft into digital or pulse signals. To do this, a certain number of pulses are generated per revolution, and each pulse serves as an increment that corresponds to the defined resolution. It is important to note that incremental encoder switches can measure a change in position but not the absolute position.

Rotary Coded Switch

Rotary coded switches are similar to rotary switches, with the exception that the outputs are binary encoded to reduce the number of terminations required by a particular application. They are generally mounted on printed circuit boards (PCBs) to control their output, but they may also be found in two-way radio devices, aircraft transponders, medical equipment, and more.


Methodical Purchasing is a leading distributor of high-quality switches that can be used in a wide range of industrial applications. With over 2 billion new, used, obsolete, and hard-to-find items in our inventory, we are equipped to fulfill an array of operational requirements from a diverse set of industries. As an AS9120B, ISO 9001:2015, and FAA AC 00-56B accredited business, we can proudly guarantee the caliber of our offerings. More than that, we operate with a strict quality assurance program that includes flaw detection testing, in-depth document verification, and more.

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November 23, 2022
September 22, 2022

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