What Are Conformal Coatings?
Conformal coatings are a protective barrier or film, layered over the sensitive electronic components. When applied accurately, conformal coatings prevent sources of moisture and vapors from damaging or corroding your product’s interior circuitry. Consider conformal coatings a step above mechanical seals and enclosures. These polymeric films use unique chemical formulas and structures to block potentially harmful substances.
Think of it as a precision vacuum-seal for the interior components of a device. Conformal coatings tightly wrap around the geometry of complex parts. Rather than preventing ingress with the bulk of enclosures, conformal coatings form a tight bond that’s much thinner — typically down to micrometers.
Conformal coatings are used in a variety of industries, from military to automotive, to industrial and IoT. Whether in the field or at home, conformal coatings help to ensure machinery and devices stay functional and online through the most unpredictable conditions.
How Are Conformal Coatings Applied?
An operator or machine can treat a circuit board by brushing, dipping, or spraying on a material. With liquid-based methods of application, however, there can be accidental bubbling or pooling. At HZO, we utilize chemical vapor deposition (CVD). This method of coating is more uniform and conformal than brushed, dipped, or sprayed liquids.
After the conformal coating application process, most conformal coatings need time to cure and correctly set. While, in some cases, air-drying is enough, it’s a slow and inconsistent method. Other coatings need to react to heat from an oven chamber or exposure to UV light. Because CVD, a machine-driven, repeatable process does not require curing or heat, components are ready to move to production within a shorter time. HZO equipment speeds up time and improves the volume of prepared batches, moving parts more quickly into the next stage of manufacturing.
What Are the Benefits of Using Conformal Coatings?
Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and contract manufacturers (CMs) involved in the production of electronics have quality standards and budgetary constraints to bear in mind. Conformal coatings help manufacturers meet both by adding highly effective protection against many environmental challenges.
Why should you invest in conformal coating for product reliability? Here are some reasons:
Prolonging the Service Life of Your Device
Whether your product is for consumer or industrial use, people expect to have technology that lasts. Conformal coatings for your devices will boost their longevity for both every day and extreme conditions. Through exposure to corrosives, dusty environments, messes, splashes, and abrasions, the right coating will safeguard against it all.
While the assurance of product quality benefits your customers and encourages more purchases, businesses can minimize costs associated with warranties, repairs, and potential litigation as well.
Lightweight, Space-Saving Protection
Conformal coatings are incredibly thin — from nanometer through micrometer to millimeter scale— which trims down the impact on the size of your finished printed circuit boards (PCBs) and assemblies. Because enclosures and mechanical seals can add weight and bulk to miniaturized electronic products, conformal coating is an ideal alternative method for manufacturing organizations, large and small.
Unprotected devices fail. And when they can’t be repaired, it’s often straight to the landfill. Taking protective measures like conformal coatings can reduce the buildup of e-waste and the loss of valuable components.
HZO’s conformal coating services also revolve around responsible practices such as using non-toxic, environmentally safe materials, and careful oversight for every step in the treatment process. We’re committed to helping your organization stay green, providing protection that promotes sustainability.
Perhaps the most significant advantage of conformal coatings is flexibility. It’s possible to fortify the protection with additional layers or to blend materials to get the most reliable, cost-effective result. And because our materials, equipment, and application methods allow us to fine-tune the dimensions and composition of the coating, there are very few exceptions to what we can protect.
Which Type of Conformal Coating Is Right for My Electronic Device?
It all depends on the application. If you manufacture an outdoor GPS for hikers, for example, you may be thinking about waterproofing it against the rain. Electronics powering the Industrial Internet of Things need to withstand harsh corrosive environments. Life-saving medical devices must hold up against contact with blood and plasma.
While you’ll ultimately select your type of protection based upon your products’ environments, you’ll also want to consider your business’ needs. These factors include: expected longevity, market pricing, & green considerations.
There are plenty of specifications to determine. Fortunately, HZO has highly qualified engineers with deep-domain expertise who can help you narrow down your options and determine the right decision. We’ll work with you to craft a customized solution for each phase of production.
Below, we explore some of the common conformal coating material types and their advantages and disadvantages.
Business Need Considerations For Conformal Coating Decision:
- Expected longevity of the device
- Product to market pricing
- Green considerations
Parylene Conformal Coatings
Parylene is an organic and biocompatible compound that delivers superior protection against all forms of environmental risks. It’s uniquely inert and highly effective at reaching small recesses because of how it forms.
Parylene coating applications take place inside a chemical vapor deposition (CVD) vacuum system, where the products wait inside a room-temperature chamber. After the raw material heats up from a solid to a gas — so much so that the Parylene splits into monomers — the vapors travel to a coating chamber where the molecules cool and polymerize on everything in the chamber. Over time, this builds layers of a polymerized film, microns-thin, and pinhole-free.
Parylene conformal coatings are excellent for applications found in the aerospace, defense, medical device, and industrial products industries. This type of versatility makes it a top choice amongst OEMs.
There are several different types of Parylene, each with their attributes:
- HZO Guardian Plus™: Best barrier properties, including preventing gas, water vapor, and salt penetration.
- HZO Guardian Zero™: Highest in dielectric properties.
- HZO Guardian EX™: Two options available. One is more capable of withstanding higher thermal loads, and the other withstands exposure to UV.
Depending on the application, one form of Parylene can be more beneficial over the other. But in all cases, it provides sophisticated waterproofing for IPX ratings of 7, corrosion resistance, and reliability in the wake of harmful gases.
Pros and Cons of Parylene Coatings
Parylene excels at stopping many threats, like acidic beverages, air pollutants, and other complex chemicals. It’s even safe for implanted medical devices. Parylene’s quality coverage does come at a higher cost than other conformal coatings available, and repairs can be a challenge. But in exchange, Parylene is very durable, making it the prime option for longevity and sustainable impact.
Because of its high dielectric constant, Parylene makes an exceptional barrier against electrical interference for your device. You won’t find a more rugged, environmentally friendly material.
Parylene Conformal Coatings
At A Glance
- Completely conformal thin-film coating
- Perfect for protecting mission-critical devices
- Long-lasting environmental damage protection
- High dielectric strength, low dielectric constant
- Microns thin, pinhole-free protective coating
Plasma-based nanocoatings are an ideal choice if you want to protect your electronics from splashes and spills. However, you may want to consider a Parylene coating for complete waterproofing capabilities or to withstand the harshest, most corrosive environments commonly found in industrial settings.
Plasma-based nanocoatings, applied with plasma-enhanced CVD, at micron-thin layers are marginally conformal. Plasma-enhanced CVD works by flowing a precursor gas into the plasma chamber. The gases ionize in an electric field and become plasma, with those ionized materials bonding chemically to the product’s surface and each other to create a barrier. The resulting thickness can range from several nanometers to several micrometers.
At HZO, we possess a wide variety of proprietary materials and applications to provide the best nanocoating services for your specific product. We’re able to formulate combinations that will suit the properties of your device, whether you’re considering conductivity, cost, resistance to particular solvents, or other factors.
Pros and Cons of Plasma-Based Nanocoatings
Plasma-based nanocoatings create consistent coverage for every material surface. And with plenty of treatment options available, they’re an excellent option to explore in adding reliable water resistance properties at an accessible price point. The hydrophobicity of this coating ensures that moisture and dense humidity won’t seep into circuitry and, instead, rolls off. Plus, these coatings provide reliable protection against gases and vapors that can corrode metal components. They offer fast, easy curing with high thermal stability.
Plasma-Based Nanocoatings Conformal At A Glance
- Great protection for splashes and spills
- Consistence coverage for material surfaces
- Reliable against corrosive gases and vapor
- Moisture and humidity resistant
- More competitive price-point
Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD)
Atomic layer deposition used to produce conformal coating is related to chemical vapor deposition but occurs on an atomic scale, as the name suggests. One material is heated into a vapor and allowed into the coating chamber, then removed after a uniform film is created so a different substance can be introduced next. Once two or more materials collect on the component, their reactions produce new protective properties and effects.
With the atomic layer deposition (ALD) process, it’s possible to use thin metal and ceramic coatings for your PCBAs.
This process creates coatings on an atomic layer by layer basis. ALD works especially nicely for the most miniature of parts and components, as you can control the application down to nearly an atomic layer.
Since ALD can use many different substances in the process, it’s essential to choose a safe, effective treatment for the composition of your assembly. HZO’s in-depth knowledge of these materials and application techniques will help determine the most useful approach in applying a stable, protective covering for any PCBA.
Pros and Cons of ALD Coatings
When it comes to treating microcircuits and nanocircuits, atomic layer deposition conformal coatings offer the necessary precision for the job. With many combinations available, there’s unparalleled flexibility for meeting the performance specifications you need. This variety makes the costs differ widely as well. We recommend consulting with our engineers to pin down what’s right for your application needs and business purposes.
Like Parylene blending, ALD can take longer intervals to make these layers and complete the process, but enhancements with plasma help.
Parylene Blends (Hybrid Coatings)
Since Parylene comes in different forms with slightly varying attributes, is there any benefit in combining the materials on the same surface? We say, yes! HZO is leading the industry, exploring opportunities to blend types of Parylene together for conformal coating treatments. We’ve researched methods that deliver the most effective results using varying amounts of material. These techniques can yield a cost-saving, customized solution for you.
Why consider Parylene blends, and why is it valuable? It’s possible to optimize the durability, thermal resistance, and insulative properties of your device in this way. One can take advantage of Parylene’s polymer structure to create something called a co-polymer, linking the different monomers together in a random distribution.
With Parylene blend conformal coatings, there’s no need for your design team to feel pressured to rethink your product’s capabilities. If you have a device that must perform in demanding, fluctuating environments, HZO’s team of experts will help you prepare for all environments.
Pros and Cons of Hybrid Parylene Coatings
The efficiency and versatility of blending materials is a real advantage. This technique offers plenty of control over the process and the resulting performance. Parylene is a highly transparent material so that these coatings will have minimal impact on visibility.
Conformal Coating Services
There are many different approaches to conformal coating today. But only HZO’s turnkey solutions are a modern, streamlined process for all the essential environmental coatings your existing or upcoming products may need. With our Spectrum of Protection™, you have access to a broad list of premium resources and high-volume deposition chambers at your site or ours. Specialized members of our staff can assist with any stage of the design and refine which CVD application will satisfy your specifications.
We know you can’t leave anything in doubt, which is why we deliver the most comprehensive protection capabilities in the industry. Whether you’re looking to harness plasma-based nanocoating, Parylene and its blends, or the pinpoint accuracy of atomic layer deposition, HZO is willing and ready to help. We’ll give you the most considerable benefits and highest efficiency from the treatment process and secure the life of your product, protecting against corrosion, increasing reliability, and decreasing failure rates.
Request a quote and start incorporating innovations into your devices. Reach out to our team to connect with an expert today!