Enhanced protection for enhanced PCB performance
Conformal coatings are designed to protect printed circuit boards and related equipment from their environment. Typically applied at 25-75μm, these coatings ‘conform’ to the contours of the board allowing for excellent protection and coverage, ultimately extending the working life of the PCB.More info > Download product selector chart > Download product brochure >
The use of conformal coatings is particularly important in automotive, military, aerospace, marine, lighting, industrial and green energy applications. Due to the rapid expansion of the electronics industry, conformal coatings are also finding their way into the domestic and mobile electronics industries, providing the necessary combination of high performance and reliability within a vast array of electronic devices.
Conformal coatings can be used in a wide range of environments to protect printed circuit boards from moisture, salt spray, chemicals and temperature extremes in order to prevent corrosion, mould growth and electrical failures, for example. The protection provided by conformal coatings allows for higher power and closer track spacing, in turn enabling designers to meet the demands of miniaturisation and reliability.
Electrolube is among the world’s foremost experts in the formulation and application of conformal coatings designed to meet international approvals (including European and American military specifications). The range of products currently available comprises acrylics, silicones, polyurethanes, hybrid chemistries and environmentally friendly options.
Electrolube can offer both transparent and pigmented coatings to improve or camouflage the appearance of printed circuit boards. The range also includes a number of ancillary products to complement the use of our conformal coatings, including thinners and removers, peelable coating masks and thixotropic materials for dam and fill applications.
Electrolubes Conformal Coatings Technical Director Phil Kinner recently wrote a micro e-book on conformal coatings for harsh environments. It’s a great little insight into the selection, implementation and testing of protective coating process.
Coatings are applied in order to protect the PCB from corrosion in its operating environment. It is important then to consider the coatings ability to protect the board from its environment. The main questions which should be considered are:
The coating must be suitable for use under the required operating conditions. Technical data sheets (TDS) are provided based on a range of internal and external tests according to international standards. Tests must also take place to ensure that the coating retains all the required properties throughout the duration of use. This is due to the differing conditions exhibited as a result of varying PCB materials and designs.
For more information on the testing carried out for the above questions – see Conformal Coating Testing
In addition to the performance characteristics of the cured coating, the application process plays an important role in the success (or otherwise) of the coating application and the following considerations should be made during the selection process:
Conformal coatings form a protective, insulating layer. The most common electrical parameter tested is the Surface Insulation Resistance (SIR). This measurement is often taken before and after coating and exposure to harsh conditions, thus ensuring the coating continuously provides the level of insulation required. The coating should also exhibit high dielectric strength; the minimum required can be determined from the intertrack separation and the potential difference between adjacent tracks.
The design of the board should include consideration of the placement of components that should not be coated. Selective spray equipment or the application of a peelable coating mask can be used to help avoid such areas. Alternatively, gel materials can be used to form a ‘dam’ to contain the coating and avoid capillary effects transferring material to unwanted areas, such as connectors. Another aspect to consider is how close together the components are. If there is not sufficient gap between the components, it can lead to the coating bridging the gap rather than correctly conforming to the board, this can have a number of effects including the coating building up to become too thick and crack, or it can leave pockets under the coating where solvent can gather and cause corrosion.
If the assembly requires repair then consideration must be given to the ease of removal of the coating. Electrolube offer products for the effective removal of conformal coatings, including those that are solvent resistant.
Electrolube have a number of complementary products to assist with the removal of the coating, please see the section of the website here:- along with the TDS instructions.
The volume of production will have effect on a multiple of the other considerations mentioned in these articles. The most obvious being the application method and the cure times, for example automated applications will be preferable for mass production, whereas hand spray coating can be used on small runs.
The mounting of the board in its final position can have an effect on the effectiveness of the coating for a number of reasons – for example, if the housing is open it will let more environmental elements in than a fully enclosed case. Whether the board is mounted horizontally or vertically is also very important, if possible it should be mounted vertically to avoid moisture from condensation sitting on the board.