Reed Relay Basics
The reed switch explained:
The reed switch has two shaped metal blades made of a ferromagnetic material (roughly 50:50 nickel iron) and glass envelope that serves to both hold the metal blades in place and to provide a hermetic seal that prevents any contaminants entering the critical contact areas inside the glass envelope. Most (but not all) reed switches have open contacts in their normal state.
If a magnetic field is applied along the axis of the reed blades the field is intensified in the reed blades because of their ferromagnetic nature, the open contacts of the reed blades are attracted to each other and the blades deflect to close the gap. With enough applied field the blades make contact and electrical contact is made.
The only movable part in the reed switch is the deflection of the blades, there are no pivot points or materials trying to slide past each other. The reed switch is considered to have no moving parts, and that means there are no parts that mechanically wear. The contact area is enclosed in a hermetically sealed envelope with inert gasses, or in the case of high voltage switches a vacuum, so the switch area is sealed against external contamination. This gives the reed switch an exceptionally long mechanical life.
Another design variable on the reed switch is its size. Longer switches do not have to deflect the blades as far (measured by angle of deflection) as short switches to close a given gap size between the blades. Short reeds are often made of thinner materials so they deflect more easily but this clearly has an impact on their rating and contact area. Smaller reed switches allow smaller relays to be constructed – an important consideration where space is critical. The larger switches may be more mechanically robust and have greater contact area, improving their signal carrying capability.