The science behind fluoropolymer coatings for protecting electronic circuit boards

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Recently, fluoropolymer coatings are being used more often to protect printed circuit board assemblies. This is because they have very specialized properties that are very different to traditional conformal coatings and these properties are being utilized highly effectively.

To understand these properties you have to understand what a fluoropolymer coating is made of.

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

The coating itself is not susceptible to Van der Waals forces (interfacial electrostatic bonds). Therefore, the surface energy of the fluoropolymer coating is extremely low.

This means that there is no adsorption of another coating or liquid on the surface of the fluoropolymer and the coating shows the familiar, hydrophobic, non-wetting characteristics with water and oil.

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

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The surface energy of the fluoropolymer coating is extremely low. There is no adsorption of water on the surface of the fluoropolymer and the coating shows the familiar, hydrophobic, non-wetting characteristics.


So, what other properties do fluoropolymer coatings have that help protect circuit boards?

Generally, fluoropolymer materials have very specialized properties.

For electronics the five key properties that are driving the interest in fluoropolymer technology are:

  • Being highly hydrophobic (water repellent)
  • Being extremely thin whilst still providing protection
  • Having a high moisture barrier and corrosion resistance
  • Having a high chemical resistance
  • Having high dielectric properties

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


The key reason for using a fluoropolymer coating in electronics: No masking required

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

The coating is a high insulation material. Therefore, it must not be applied to a connector or part that can be damaged or needs electrical conductivity.

Further, the conformal coating naturally has good mar resistance and it cannot be easily abraded. It is tough to the touch and not easily removed.

So, if it was applied to the wrong component it would ruin the connection.

On the reverse side, a fluoropolymer coating can be applied at 1-2um in thickness and can still show the same performance characteristics.

Further, it is also extremely soft and shows almost no mar resistance when rubbed or abraded.

This allows the fluoropolymer coating to be applied to all connectors without fear of damage as the coating is easily removed or scratched away and the electrical circuit is easily made when the mating parts are connected together.

This key parameter of not requiring masking combined with the hydrophobic nature of the material and its other key characteristics makes the fluoropolymer coatings highly desirable in protecting electronic circuit boards.


Need to find out more?

Go directly to our Nano-coating fluoropolymer section or contact us directly and we can help you.

If you are new to Nexus and our work on conformal coatings then a good place to go is our Start Here page or our free conformal coating eBook.

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Why I have to clean my circuit board before conformal coating?

 

The cleaning of a printed circuit board (PCB) before conformal coating application is normally done for two key reasons:

These are:

  • Contamination removal
  • Process improvement

They have different effects on the lifetime of the circuit board but can be equally important.


Contamination removal

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The removal of contaminants from the surface of a printed circuit board before coating application could be important.

The contamination may be harmful and affect the long-term reliability of the circuit. Defects like corrosion can be devastating to a circuit performance in the field.

Also, applying the coating over the contamination will not necessarily improve the reliability.

Therefore, cleaning the PCB before coating could be advantageous.


Process improvement

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACleaning can aid the conformal coating application process.

It could avoid conformal coating defects like de-wetting and delamination. It can also help promote adhesion of the coating to the PCB.

The surface preparation can be extremely important, especially where some conformal coatings may have compatibility issues with the circuit board.

Therefore, cleaning a PCB before conformal coating may improve the coating quality and minimise defects.


What types of contamination may be present on a circuit board?

Cleaning is used to remove many different types of contaminants from the manufacturing and assembly processes.

They can affect the long-term reliability of the circuit after conformal coating.

The residues can come from many areas including:

  • Board laminate manufacture
  • Component manufacture
  • Soldering assembly processes (fluxes)
  • Glue and ruggedizing processes
  • Operator handling (finger prints, hair)
  • Machine contamination (oils and greases)
  • Environmental contamination (dust)

Removing the contamination may be a priority depending on their harmfulness.

How should I clean the printed circuit board?


Cleaning circuit boards before coating is a huge topic by itself.

Cleaning of a circuit before conformal coating at SCH 640_NexusSuccessful cleaning of circuits can be achieved by a variety of techniques.

These cleaning techniques include:

  • Aqueous
  • Semi-aqueous
  • Solvent & chemical
  • Plasma

The key to success in cleaning is similar to the success made with coating.

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

This will give the best results for application of the conformal coating.


How do I validate my cleaning process?

There are many techniques that can be used to measure cleanliness. They include many IPC test methods.

The techniques available include:

  • Ionic Contamination Testing (ROSE)
  • Ion Chromatography (IC) or High Performance Ion Chromatography (HPLC)
  • Surface Insulation Resistance (SIR) testing

Further information can be found in the IPC HDBK 001 on different cleanliness assessment methods or talk to us.


Need to find out more?

Click conformal coating cleaning for further information or contact us directly and we can help you.

If you are new to Nexus and our work on conformal coatings then a good place to go is our Start Here page or our free conformal coating eBook.

Why use plasma cleaning for cleaning circuit boards?

NEXUS 1Normally, conformal coatings must exhibit good adhesion to the PCB in order to be effective in the long term in protecting the circuit.

Therefore, the surface properties of the circuit board can be critical to the success of the coating adhesion.

Cleaning of circuit boards before conformal coating has taken place for many years.

The reasons for doing this have always remained the same:

  • Improve the surface cleanliness of the circuit to protect against corrosion and the effects of contamination on the surface from the process.
  • Improve the surface energy of the surface to improve the adhesion of conformal coating.

Traditionally, cleaning and adhesion promotion has been achieved by either using a wet chemistry treatment like washing or applying extra undercoats (priming).

Now, there are new methods and techniques appearing on the market for improving cleaning, adhesion and actually coating circuit boards differently to the traditional methods.

One of these techniques is plasma treatment.


Why use Plasma to clean circuit boards?

Here are a few key reasons to use plasma cleaning and surface treatment of printed circuit boards:

  • Plasma cleaning can clean surfaces of a product 100% to improve adhesion and surface energy of the product.
  • Many wet chemistry cleaning processes can be eliminated. Methods using cleaning chemistries, water processing and drying energy are unnecessary.
  • Activate the surface of the circuit by changing the surface energy. This allows easier bonding and better adhesion to the surface. The significant improvement in adhesion enables the use of alternative coatings that may have difficulty adhering to surfaces without the treatment.
  • The plasma process is a simple, safe and environmentally friendly technology.
  • The plasma process has both batch (offline) and inline capability.

This means the plasma process can be highly effective on printed circuit boards.


Need to find out more?

Contact us directly and we can help you with your plasma treatment requirements.

If you are new to Nexus and our work on conformal coatings then a good place to go is our Start Here page or our free conformal coating eBook.

What application methods are available for applying conformal coating?

 

Conformal coatings can be applied to printed circuit boards (PCBs) in the production process environment in many different ways.

Listed below are the common methods of applying conformal coating materials:

Click on each to review each conformal coating application technique in our free ebook online.

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Conformal coatings can be applied to printed circuit boards (PCBs) in the production process environment in many different ways including spraying selectively, batch spraying and dipping.

The holistic approach to conformal coating application methodsĀ 

It is possible to split the different application methods and their suitability in many different ways including:

  • Compatibility with the conformal coating material
  • Design of the circuit board
  • Suitability to low, medium and high volume
  • Manual versus automatic process
  • Type of method of application
  • Level of control required

Each of the various coating methods has different advantages and disadvantages.

This relates to the holistic approach to conformal coating processing. It states that you should consider the conformal coating material itself, the application process and the circuit board together and not as three separate entities.

However, when considering the application methods it is possible to make some assumptions that help in selection.


Need to find out more?

For further information on conformal coating application methods then contact us directly and we can help you.

If you are new to Nexus and our work on conformal coatings then a good place to go is our Start Here page or our free conformal coating eBook.

 

Why use conformal coatings to protect a printed circuit board?

 

There are a lot of different reasons for using a conformal coating material or Parylene to protect a printed circuit board (PCB).

These reasons can include:

  • Barrier protection
  • High insulation protection
  • High moisture and humidity protection
  • Chemical and temperature resistance
  • Ruggedising
  • Improve dielectric properties
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There are a lot of different reasons for using a conformal coating material to protect a circuit board including barrier protection, increased insulation resistance, chemical protection and increased dielectric properties

Barrier protection

A conformal coating can create a barrier against attack during the lifetime of the circuit board.

The coating material can prevent various types of particulate contamination reaching the surface of the circuit board, which can lead to problems such as corrosion.


High insulation protection

Conformal coatings can provide a high degree of insulation protection for the circuit board during its lifetime when applied as a protective lacquer.

The circuit board normally starts with a high level of insulation when it is first manufacture as it is normally clean.

However, with time in the field and its natural environment the circuit can degrade in different ways.

The conformal coating can slow this degradation down.


High moisture and humidity protection

Printed circuit boards can be vulnerable to moisture and humidity whilst in the field during its lifetime.

Most conformal coatings are highly resistant to moisture and humidity and this can lead to a reduction in leakage currents, cross talk, electrochemical migration, dendrite growth and arcing across the circuit board.


Chemical and temperature resistance

Some conformal coatings can be highly resistant to many types of solvents, chemical attack and be heat resistant.

Normally, a circuit board exposed to chemically aggressive environment would be attacked but the conformal coating can slow down the effects or even prevent them.


Ruggedising

Conformal coating can prevent damage from rough handling, installation and reduction of mechanical and thermal stress.


Improved dielectric properties

Just as the conformal coating can protect the circuit from moisture it can also help to increase the dielectric strength on the circuit board between components and lead interconnects.

This enables the design of the PCB to be more compact and small.


Need to find out more?

For further information on using conformal coatings then contact us directly.

If you are new to Nexus and our work on conformal coatings then a good place to go is our Start Here page or our free conformal coating ebook.