HZO: Waterproofing the Next Generation of Devices
This Q&A interview with Yang Yun, HZO’s R&D President, was originally featured in Mobile World Daily, the official publication of GSMA’s Mobile World Congress.
Mobile World Congress (MWD): Water protection is often included on handsets, yet manufacturers are still fielding complaints about liquid damage, what are the shortcomings of the methods commonly used?
Yang Yun (YY): Besides HZO, there are basically two types of water protection technologies out there for handsets: hydrophobic coatings and mechanical seals. Both can be effective to a point, but have significant limitations that make them less than ideal for true protection.
Hydrophobic coatings are applied to the internal or external surface of a device, creating a hydrophobic surface to repel water away. These minimal coatings may work for light splashes, but even companies who sell this service admit the technology is limited, not offering the same level of protection as traditional waterproof devices as the coating is not capable of full submersion protection. These coatings are also susceptible to abrasion, eventually wearing off when handled by a user.
Mechanical Seals and gaskets are old fashioned solutions for water protection, which some manufacturers are using to protect from water ingress. While these methods have worked for larger, bulkier devices previously, the industrial design of today focuses on leaner, slimmer and smaller. As the form factor of handsets has decreased, so too has the effectiveness of gaskets. This technology is also susceptible to environmental issues and can be damaged by drops, temperature fluctuations and general deterioration.
MWD: How does your approach differ and what are the main aspects of your technology that set you apart?
YY: People typically think of ‘waterproof’ as preventing water ingress from corroding the internal circuitry. Opposite of the
status quo, HZO directly protects the victim of corrosion: the PCBA. Our process involves applying a microns thin 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, the PCBA, is protected.
MWD: What standards do they meet and how do they offer improved protection compared to rival technologies?
YY: The most common manufacturing standard for liquid protection is the IP (Ingress Protection) Code. This protocol has been a part of manufacturing procedures for many years and is the most recognised water protection standard. The standard itself ranges from minimal water exposure such as drips (IPX1) to manufacturer-rated prolonged submersion protection (IP68). IP67 is the threshold to cross for submersion protection which is defined as a device being submerged at one meter for a half an hour.
Most “waterproof” labeled devices meet (or should meet) this rating. HZO is able to protect products at IP67 and beyond. For example, a manufacturer came to HZO who had previously built a mechanically sealed IP67 rated product, wanted to build a more robust device with the need for mechanical seals and port covers. The result was an IP68 rated product that met the manufacturer’s specifications of up to 60 minutes in 2 meters of water – all with HZO Protection and no mechanical seals.
MWD: What’s the worst case scenario this technology can protect against?
YY: While fresh water is the typical culprit of short circuiting and corrosion in electronic devices, it is not the only source of damage. Soda, coffee, humidity, pollution, gases, corrosive chemicals, salt water, salt fog, chlorine and even sweat can render a device useless. HZO coating technology forms a physical barrier and can protect against any of these damaging liquids.
MWD: How has the handset design and usage changed the level of protection needed?
YY: Devices continue to get thinner and people are taking them more places than ever. These thin profiles make water protection complicated as manufacturers are close to hitting the limits of mechanical seals. Any bend, twist or drop of a product can dislodge or break the protective gaskets. This, combined with the phone being exposed to environments and conditions (outdoors, sauna, shower, tub, swimming, humidity) previously un-encountered, can lead to a short lifespan for the electronic. The use of thin but extremely robust protection like HZO is the way that devices will survive in the future.