HZO is Meeting the Waterproofing Challenge from the Inside Out
This Q&A interview with Simone Maraini, HZO CEO, was originally featured in Mobile World Daily, the official publication of GSMA’s Mobile World Congress.
Mobile World Congress (MWD): How has the waterproofing and protection market evolved since you first launched back in 2012, both in terms of the expectation from consumers and demands from manufacturers?
Simone Maraini (SM): HZO has seen immense change in the waterproofing and protection market since we made our debut at CES 2012. Back then, water resistant or waterproof products were typically found only in rugged markets like construction and outdoors. However, as electronics continue to become a part of everyday life, consumers take them wherever they go – be that phones, tablets, audio or wearables. These are often expensive investments consumers want and expect to be protected from potentially hazardous environments. This demand has driven manufacturers and brands to formally embrace water protection. However, as you begin to look at the various ratings, disclaimers and small print, you realise not all waterproofing is created equal.
MWD: What mistakes do manufacturers currently make when trying to protect their consumer devices?
SM: In the rush to apply water protection to their devices, manufacturers have looked into the past for methods to secure against water ingress and ended up designing in mechanical seals and gaskets. While these techniques may have worked for larger, bulkier devices previously, today’s industrial design is focused on leaner, slimmer and smaller technology. Unfortunately, as the form factor decreases, so does the effectiveness of gaskets. We’ve had many manufacturers come to us because they are having failures in spite of mechanical seal designs. This older technology is also susceptible to drops, temperature fluctuations and general deterioration, unfortunately many of today’s devices experience all of these conditions and feel the effects. Another mishap we’ve seen are manufacturers embracing hydrophobic solutions such as plasma applied coatings. While they seem tempting from a manufacturing perspective due to the ease of application, the actual protection and durability of the coatings leave much to be desired.
MWD: How does HZO’s ethos differ from that generally used by sectors’ manufacturers?
SM: We believe our tagline, “protection from the inside out,” is the ideal form of water protection. People typically think of waterproof as preventing water ingress from corroding the internal circuitry. Opposite of the norm, HZO directly protects the victims of corrosion: the PCBA. Our process involves applying a coating to the surface of the circuit board, encapsulating and protecting it. With this alternative, even if water or other liquids enter the device, the source of failure is protected. Both we and our customers have been very happy and satisfied with this approach.
MWD: How does this new method of protection impact the manufacturing, retail and repair costs of each device?
SM: The consumer electronics industry is infamous for its tight BOM costs and razor- thin margins. Yet, manufacturers still utilise our technology to protect their products. This is evidence that our solution is comparable, and in some cases cheaper, to traditional protection method pricing. Brands may choose to sell a product featuring water protection at a premium price, but many simply include the protection as another component and no price increase takes place. In addition, the inclusion of water protection has a significant impact on warranty return and repair costs – usually shouldered by the brand, carrier or manufacturer. With liquid damage being the second most common cause of damage, representing 35 per cent of all devices repaired, standard water protection is a win for all parties involved.
MWD: Which major manufacturers/chip makers are you working with currently?
SM: We wish we could disclose all the companies we are working with and the products we are collaborating on, but unfortunately confidentiality agreements prevent this. However, we have made multiple public partnership announcements with brands such as Deutsche Telekom, Dell, Kobo, Motorola and others. We also have a strategic relationship with Flextronics and other manufacturers around the world.
MWD: You’ve become known for your eye catching demonstrations dunking high-end smartphones in water and the like – what’s the reaction you’ve been getting?
SM: We never tire of the excitement of dunking a device and seeing the audience’s reaction. Whether it’s on the trade show floor or in the boardroom of a Fortune 500 company, the look is always the same: amazement and some amount of trepidation.
MWD: What are your plans for the coming year, both in terms of technological developments and meeting the challenges of the market going forward?
SM: The excitement about our solution is that the nature of electronics never changes and will always need protection from water, sweat, pollution and corrosion. Going forward we believe people will come to expect waterproof protection on their devices just as they expect a power lead in the box. Notice I said waterproof, not water or splash resistant. Consumers are no longer tethered indoors and want to take technology wherever life takes them, the market needs to strive to support that. While our origin and current focus is in the consumer market, we’re making great strides at implementing our technology in the growing IoT, Automotive and LED markets as well as validating many other potential categories. Technology is always changing and water protection is no exception. We’ve got an entire team of engineers devoted to pushing the envelope for HZO and our clients as we continue to build our IP portfolio. I’m amazed at the progress we’ve made in just five short years and are on target to continue to disrupt the world of water protection.