May 20, 2024 / by Danny Mavis

Proper time management is at the core of every activity. We’ve concocted dozens of ways to schedule tasks, prioritise events, delegate time for work or play, keep or waste time and get the most out of what we have left. The obsession with time has led to relatively simple everyday devices such as watches and alarm clocks, to more complex inventions, stemming from time switches to the atomic clock. All have the basic function of controlling how we use time in daily life,

What are Time Switches?

Time switch

Time switches or timers are devices that control an electric switch. This functions using a predetermined timing mechanism and allows the control of household items, such as kitchen appliances, air-conditioning or lighting, in addition to industrial automation, such as turning machinery on or off at set intervals. Most are programmable, allowing for scheduling convenience and flexibility of common tasks and processes.

All timers consist of three basic parts. The power supply part supplies voltage to the internal components, the timing section measures time and sends signals to the output section, and this in turn outputs signals to connected devices or machinery. Specific time features, such as cycling programs to turn equipment on or off at set cycles (daily, weekly, monthly) and at set time intervals, or pulsing programs for repetitive switching are features in the input section of a digital time switch. This is a newer take on the device and has dozens of practical features now found in residential, commercial and industrial applications.

How They Work

In their most basic form, timer switches ensure that any connected devices can be switched on or off at set or programmed times without manual intervention, The timing mechanism can be mechanical, digital or programmable, depending on the switch you choose. When the preset time or interval is reached, the timing mechanism actuates the switch, turning equipment or devices on or off.

Types of Time Switches

A type of time switch


Also called manual or analogue switches, these are the simplest in terms of build and operation. They use a dial or knob to set the desired time or interval and control basic items like ovens or lights. The switches are reliable, inexpensive and easy to use, but lack features required for more complex tasks.


Digital timers have legible LCD or LED displays, a suite of programming functions, increased security with PIN encoding, and memory functions to store set user or equipment programs. They also include niceties like countdown timers, auto daylight savings, the ability to copy and store programs from other timers or devices, selectable day/date functions for different regions and more.

The higher level of customisation, control and precision means a digital time switch can operate more than your regular set of lights. Their programming versatility is used in commercial and industrial HVAC systems to control temperatures in offices or production facilities at specific times of the day, manage power flow to motors, conveyors, elevators, gated systems and automated equipment, and may include integrated dusk/dawn sensors to increase security and lower power consumption.


These are essentially advanced versions of the digital timer. It includes inbuilt technology to calculate sunrise and sunset times based on the exact location where the timer is used, without the need for additional light sensors. It also includes extensive yearly functions, basic weekly functions, comprehensive programming, holiday on/off, and the usual array of features and functionality found in less expensive units.

Common Uses

Automation, precision and control over various equipment or systems are the main selling points of time switches. These can be put to good use in dozens of residential, commercial and industrial applications, including:

  • Lighting control – timers are common in homes and businesses and effectively turn one or more lights on or off with selected presets or defined intervals. Digital and astronomical timers offer higher precision, substantially more advanced programming options, and the ability to control multiple connections (or channels) from a single unit.
  • Security – many security and safety systems rely on time switches. Timers can turn lights or appliances on and off at set times during the day, actuate blinds and shutters, lock gates and doors and deter potential intruders. They also aid in basic safety, by cutting power to equipment, thus preventing accidents or property damage.
  • Automation – production, processing and warehousing facilities all benefit from the automated control over various operational aspects, simplifying workloads, scheduling processes, cutting down costs and energy use, and increasing productivity.

Specific uses include irrigation and drainage systems, powering water pumps in pools, fountains, and sprinklers, and energy savings in power-hungry equipment such as heaters, boilers, heat pumps, air conditioners, etc.

Advantages of Timers

Timers are simple to install, easy to operate and provide numerous benefits. They aid with automated control of any appliance or electrical equipment, cut down energy use, improve security and safety, and have multiple programming options to suit different needs. Units can be battery or mains-powered, have compact dimensions and low weight, and are installed in DIN-rails or wall-mounted. Moreover, industrial units are tested for impact, heat and moisture resistance with appropriate IP ratings. For commercial and industrial purposes, the small investment significantly reduces manual intervention in routine operations (thereby minimising labour costs), adds convenience, flexibility and simplicity in the control of daily tasks, and saves money with reduced power bills.