Requirements for setting up a conformal coating facility


 

SCHUK1

The set up of a conformal coating production line regardless of the application method has many similar characteristics.

Any coating facility will need the basic requirements put in place that would be standard for any piece of electronic manufacturing process.

These include ESD systems, facilities for the machines, the environmental requirements and the normal Health & Safety (HSE) considerations.

Also, the conformal coating production line, whether it is an operator manually brush coating printed circuit boards (PCBs) or an inline robotic spray coating process is typically made up of several stages.

These stages are shown below:

 

Not all the stages are mandatory or may be required.  However, each should be considered on an individual basis.


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Three key points you should know about polyurethane conformal coatings when using them for protecting electronic circuit boards


SCH UK

A polyurethane (urethane for short and designated UR by IPC) conformal coating is part of the organic family of coating materials that also includes the acrylic and epoxy coatings.

Here are three key facts to consider when examining polyurethane conformal coatings:

  1. Most conformal coatings provide good humidity and moisture protection although some are slightly better in performance than others. UR type coatings are just as good on average as acrylic materials.
  2. A polyurethane coating has traditionally been used to protect electronic circuit boards against chemical attack due to their excellent chemical resistance. This protection allows electronic circuit boards to survive in highly aggressive environments and atmospheres such as the aerospace, military and industrial sectors. However, it does make repair a little more difficult as chemical resistance to a coating means more difficult to remove.
  3. Times are changing and whereas acrylic conformal coatings used to dominate 70-80% of the market, there is a shift in emphasis towards alternative materials due to higher specifications for protecting electronics. Many new conformal coatings (UV cure, two part thin film coatings) now comprise of urethane resin bases and are becoming more popular in high volume sectors such as automotive electronics. This is because the urethane resin lends itself to this type of technology more easily than the acrylic based resins.

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What are conformal coating masking boots and why do they save you money?


SCHUK
Reusable conformal coating masking boots are a highly cost effective alternative masking material to masking tape.

Many components on printed circuit boards must remain uncoated when applying conformal coating. The purpose of masking is to prevent migration of the conformal coatings into components and keep out areas.


SCHUK2
The use of masking tapes, dots and liquid latex can be an effective process in protecting components from ingress of conformal coating. However, the application of the masking can be labour intensive, especially in higher volume applications.

Custom made masking boots can offer a labour saving alternative in both the masking and de-masking stages of the coating process.These completely reusable masking boots are applied over the components such as connectors,

These completely reusable masking boots are applied over the components such as connectors, plugs and sockets that require protection from the conformal coating applied. They can be simple boots that fit over the top of a connector or a more sophisticated design such as the examples below.

They provide reliable protection for many different types of components for all the conformal coating application techniques that include batch and selective robotic spraying (as an alternative to difficult technical programming), vertical and horizontal dipping and vapour deposition of coatings such as Parylene.


Three reasons to switch from tape to reusable masking boots for conformal coating masking

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These simple reasons can save you up to 80% of your costs compared to masking tape:

1. The masking application time is reduced. Masking boots can be 4-5 times quicker than masking tape.
2. The de-masking (removal) time is reduced. Again it is much quicker to remove boots compared to masking tape.
3. It is much less likely that the masking boot will leak and the component requires rework. Masking boots don’t leak and tapes can.

This means you can save a lot of money very quickly when switching to conformal coating masking boots compared to masking tapes.


Want to find out more about masking printed circuit boards before applying conformal coating?

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What are the different methods available for cleaning electronic circuit boards?


 

SCH

The topic of cleaning printed circuit board assemblies (PCBAs) effectively before application of conformal coating can be daunting. This is because the process of cleaning circuit boards can be difficult especially with so many variables to consider.

When considering cleaning the circuit you need to assess many factors including:

  1. The board and component compatibility with the cleaning method
  2. The ability of the cleaning method to remove the contamination effectively from the circuit
  3. Any residues the cleaning process may leave behind that may be harmful to the circuit in the long term.
  4. The reasons for cleaning the circuit (e.g. contamination removal, adhesion promotion etc.)?

After considering these factors you can compare with the processes available.


The main methods of cleaning printed circuit boards

The main methods of cleaning used in everyday electronics processing before conformal coating application can include:

  • Aqueous washing
  • Semi-aqueous washing
  • Solvent & chemical washing
  • Plasma surface cleaning

These processes can be mixed, the method can be varied but the fundamental concepts still apply.

However, whatever method you choose you still have to consider that the key to success in cleaning circuit boards is similar to the success made with conformal coating.

You need to match the cleaning process, the cleaning materials and the circuit board together.

If you do this then this will give you the best results for cleaning the circuit board assembly.


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The science behind fluoropolymer coatings for protecting electronic circuit boards


SCH UK1

Nano-coatings are being used regularly to protect printed circuit board assemblies.

This is because the material they are made of fluorinated polymers and these materials have very specialized properties that produce very different results to traditional conformal coatings.

So, what are the unique properties of a Nano-coating?

To understand the properties of a Nano-coating you have to understand what a fluoropolymer coating is made of.

Typically, the coating itself is comprised of fluorocarbons and characterised by carbon-fluorine bonds.

Since the coating is made of fluorocarbons then the film surface is not susceptible to Van der Waals forces (interfacial electrostatic bonds).

Therefore, the surface energy of the fluoropolymer coating is extremely low and hydrophobic (water repellent). It acts like Teflon on a frying pan.

This non-wetting of water on the circuit board is one of the many key properties making them so popular.

What other properties do Nano-coatings have that may help protect circuit boards?

For electronic circuit board assemblies there are several key properties that are being used.

These include being:

  • Hydrophobic: Being highly water repellent
  • Ultra-thin: Protection whilst being extremely thin
  • High moisture barrier: Low water vapor transmission rate provides excellent corrosion resistance
  • Chemically resistant: Having a high chemical resistance helps protect the circuits from chemical attack.
  • Good dielectrics: fluoropolymer coatings have high dielectric properties

However, to really understand the benefits you have to look at the key difference compared to a conventional conformal coating.

That is that no masking is required when applying the Nano-coating.

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The key reason for using a Nano-coating in protecting electronics is that no masking is required whilst applying the coating to the printed circuit board.

In the image above the connector is coated completely in the Nano-coating. It was just dipped in the coating. The image shows the water is being repelled from the connector. However, electrically the connector works perfectly fine.

So, why is there no need to mask when using a Nano-coating?

First, consider a normal conformal coating is applied at typical thicknesses of 25um or more.

Also, the conformal coating is a high insulation material.

Therefore, at this thickness the conformal coating would electrically insulate components like connectors and it must not be applied to any part that needs electrical conductivity.

However, this is not a problem for a Nano-coating.

Since the Nano-coating can be applied at ultra-thin thicknesses (1-2um in thickness or less) without any protection performance reduction, then the extremely soft coating is easily removed or scratched away when the connectors are joined and the electrical circuit is easily made.

This key parameter of not requiring masking during Nano-coating application combined with the hydrophobic nature of the coating material makes the Nano-coatings highly effective in protecting electronic circuit boards at a very low cost per unit.


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Five key facts about using fluoropolymer Nano-coatings for protecting printed circuit boards


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  1. A Nano-coating is hydrophobic. It repels water from the surface of the circuit board and water will not wet the circuit.
  2. The Nano-coatings are extremely thin (<2um). They are very different to traditional conformal coatings.
  3. Nano-coatings do not require masking. The circuit board can be completely submerged in the liquid with no masking applied without damaging components.
  4. They have excellent chemical resistance due its fluorine bonds. The Nano-coatings are perfect to protect against chemical attack.
  5. Using a Nano-coating is a fast simple process. The coating can be dipped quickly, without masking, and the coating dries extremely fast.

Want to find out more about Nano-coatings?

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Three key reasons to use a Molecular Vapor Deposition (MVD) process to protect a circuit board instead of conformal coatings


Molecular Vapour Deposition (MVD) is a new process introduced to the electronics coating market.

MVD is a hybrid coating technique using ALD (Atomic Layer Deposition) and CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition) coating processes in combination.

The method uses multiple layers of ultra-thin coatings with differing properties to build a completely protective coating with a final hydrophobic Nano coating as a top layer.

MVD

Here are three key points that strongly suggest you should find out more about this coating:

  1. The physical and electric performance of the MVD coating is superior to other materials like conformal coatings and Parylene. Parameters such as Water Vapor Transmission Rate (WVTR), hydrophobicity, coating adhesion, dielectric strength and temperature performance (>250°C) are vastly improved when protecting circuit boards.
  2. The MVD coating does not require masking to protect sensitive components and electric connectivity in connectors is easily made even when coated. This is because the coating thickness of the MVD material is x10 less than that of Parylene.
  3. The cost of process is much lower than all other protective materials due to the fact that raw ingredients are low cost and no masking is required.

There are many other performance criteria that make this material a really interesting process that could change perceptions.

For further reading try the Nexus Blog articles

See how this coating could improve the performance of your circuits now.


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Nexus article on, “Outsourcing your conformal coating project – The key points”


Nexus

Nexus, the independent conformal coating resource, recently published an article on subcontracting your conformal coating services out to a third party.

I thought it would be useful to signpost people to this article and republish the points they raised since getting it right can be so critical in outsourcing.

Nexus identified that there are, “three key points to consider when choosing a subcontractor”.

These three key areas were:

  1. Quality
  2. Turnaround time
  3. Price

They stated that,

“if you get these three key areas correct then you have succeeded.

Everyone will be happy and there are no more problems with conformal coating.”

(Source: Nexus).

However, within each of these areas, they outlined a lot of questions that should be asked to ensure you get it right.

Those points were examined in detail with some real insight into subcontract services.

If you are considering outsourcing your conformal coating then I can recommend reading the article now.


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What is a fluoropolymer nano coating and how can it protect my circuit board?


SCHUK1

A fluoropolymer Nano-coating is an ultra-thin film comprised of fluorocarbons and characterised by carbon-fluorine bonds.

Chemically inert, fluorocarbons are not susceptible to Van der Waals force. This means that films formed using these materials are non-stick (hydrophobic and water repellent) and friction reducing.

Also, due to the fluorine bonds, these Nano-coatings demonstrate a high level of chemical resistance to acids, bases and most solvents.

This makes them interesting materials for protecting electronic circuits. 


What properties of the Nano-coatings areused to protect circuit boards?

Fluoropolymer coatings have very specialised properties.

However, for electronics the main properties that are useful include:

  • Being highly hydrophobic (water repellent)
  • Having a high moisture barrier
  • Having a high chemical resistance
  • Having high dielectric properties
  • Providing high corrosion resistance
  • Providing good abrasion / wear resistance

These properties are excellent for protecting circuit board assemblies in harsh environments.


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How do conformal coating masking boots save money in your production process?


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Three reasons conformal coating masking boots save you money

Here are three reasons that can save you up to 80% of your costs compared to masking tape:

  1. Masking time is reduced. Masking boots can be 4-5 times quicker than masking tape.
  2. De-masking time is reduced. Again it is much quicker to remove masking boots compared to masking tape.
  3. Masking boots don’t leak. Masking tape has to be carefully applied. Any gaps will allow leaks. Boots don’t leak as easy so less repair.

This means you can save a lot of money very quickly when switching to masking boots.


Find out how we can help you with your conformal coating masking boots now.

Contact us to discuss your needs and let us explain how masking boots could work for you.

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