Flex-Key Corp was an American keyboard manufacturer. The company history is not clear. Flex-Key Corporation was founded on the 8th of December 1969 in Massachusetts. There is a suggestion that it was founded as F-K, Inc. and renamed to Flex-Key Corporation in December 1974, but another record card indicates that the name changed to F-K, Inc. in December 1974. Another Flex-Key Corporation appears to have incorporated on the 21st of January 1975; this business was renamed to Mektron Keyboard Corporation, which was dissolved on the 14th of February 1989. Astronics reported that they purchased Flex-Key in 1986; Flex-Key advertisements in Electronic Engineers Master in the 1988, 1989 and 1991 editions list Flex-Key as an Astronics company.
The Flex-Key Corporation subsidiary of Astronics was moved from Massachusetts to East Aurora, New York, just outside of Buffalo; this was reported in an article in a Buffalo newspaper whose website is “unavailable due to legal reasons” thanks to GDPR. A Massachusetts-based foreign corporation was incorporated in New York on the 3rd of June 1986 and dissolved on the 31st of August 1998; this company’s registered address was Orchard Park, west of East Aurora and south-east of Buffalo. A separate Flex-Key Corporation was set up in East Aurora on the 28th of February 1986. Together this suggests that the relocation took place in 1986. In May 1987, Fley-Key Corporation changed its name from KTK2 Corporation, suggesting that the name KTK2 was used for this new business in New York prior to adopting the Flex-Key name. This business was renamed again to E-L Flexkey Technologies, Inc. reflecting Astronics’s primary business of electroluminescent systems, and is now known as Luminescent Systems, Inc., still a subsidiary of Astronics.
There was still a Flex-Key Corporation in Gloucester, MA in 1991 advertising full-travel keyboards, as found in Electronic Engineers Master 1991–92. It appears that the move to New York may have split Flex-Key into separate electroluminescent and keyboard divisions, with the keyboard side remaining in MA.
Flex-Key were an early adopter of elastomeric switching. In addition to flat-surface and solid rubber keyboards, they also produced full-travel keyboards with standard truncated keycaps. Very few details have been recovered thus far about their full travel keyboards, and not much information exists about the remainder of their product range either. The CEK-33 keyboard advertised in Computer Design magazine in February 1976 is potentially a membrane keyboard although the exact nature of its “conductive elastomer switching” is not defined further; conductive rubber is another option.
Astronics reported in September 2021 that Flex-Key was integrated into what is now the Luminescent Systems, Inc. subsidiary of Astronics in 1994 and that they exited the full travel keyboard business in the early 2000s.
CEK-33 was an ASR-33 layout, full-travel 56-key quad mode ASCII keyboard advertised in February 1976 in Computer Design magazine. The keyboard is depicted with a photograph, but the image is too small to see any details clearly. It appears that the switch assembly is backed by a PCB, so the “conductive elastomer switching technique” presumably bridges contacts on the PCB. The matrix is ROM-encoded and the rated lifetime is 50 million cycles. Both 2-key and N-key rollover are supported; it is not clear which flavour of N-key rollover is intended here.
All documents were scanned by Bitsavers unless otherwise noted.
- Keyboard article, Electronics, March 2 1970
- DK-M/MS advertisement, Computer Design, Vol. 14 No. 7, July 1975
- FlexMatic CEK-33 advertisement, Computer Design, February 1976
- Relegendable keypad advertisement, Computer Design, September 1976
- Flex-Key advertisement, Electronic Engineers Master 1988-89 Volume B (better scan from the 1991–92 edition)