Why is it harder to mask and de-mask Parylene on a circuit board assembly compared to traditional liquid conformal coatings?

There are four key reasons why Parylene masking and de-masking is more difficult compared to liquid conformal coatings.

These are:

  1. Parylene is a vapour. When you are masking against a gas rather than a liquid then there is more of a challenge. So you need to provide a much better barrier with the masking process compared to the liquid coatings.
  2. Parylene is immersion. Most liquid conformal coatings are sprayed and so the capillary is less compared to immersion in a limitless supply of material.
  3. Stripping Parylene is hard. It is much harder to remove unwanted Parylene material on components that should not have been coated. Parylene is chemically inert (therefore harder to strip off or remove) and more difficult to see (no UV trace in most Parylene coatings). Mistakes can be more costly.
  4. The Parylene can bond more to the masking materials. When the Parylene is deposited on the masking materials and circuit board it can bind the two together and it can take significant effort and care to remove the masking materials without damaging the board or the Parylene coating integrity.

Need to find out more?

Click Parylene coating to protect electronic circuit boards to find out 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.

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.

Five important facts about silicone conformal coatings

  1. Silicone (SR) conformal coatings are inorganic materials. They are polymers in which atoms of silicon and oxygen alternate in a chain. They differ to the organic polymers like the acrylics and urethanes.
  2. The silicone coatings normally have a very wide temperature range of operation compared to the other conformal coatings. Typical range can be -55°C to +200°C (-67°F to +392°F). Like the organic coatings (acrylics and urethanes) they have good moisture protection. They also have good chemical resistance to polar solvents.
  3. SR coatings are generally applied at 2-3 times the thickness dry film compared to organic coatings. This is reflected in the IPC standards on the recommended conformal coating thickness. This increase in material use can lead to increased costs but also better water repellency properties.
  4. Curing of silicones occurs through several different mechanisms, depending on the conformal coating, including RTV (Room Temperature Vulcanisation), Heat, UV, Moisture / Condensation and Catalysed Cure.
  5. In production they can be difficult materials to use due to the cure mechanism being difficult to control. Good housekeeping can minimise these effects. SR coatings can also require different coating equipment or options compared to the organic coatings. This should be considered as part of the holistic approach to conformal coating selection.

The different conformal coating material properties

Conformal coatings can be considered in many different ways.

This includes the different families of materials, their individual properties and the chemistries of these coatings.

The different ways we can examine conformal coatings include:

  • Classification
  • Physical Properties
  • Electrical Properties
  • Chemistry

There is a vast range of options and considerations available.

Click conformal coating material properties to gain a deeper knowledge of conformal coatings.


Need to find out more?

Click silicone conformal coatings 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.

What is Molecular Vapour Deposition (MVD)?

Nexus has been examining a novel coating technique that may be able to meet all of the environmental demands for circuit board protection and actually be cost-effective.

This process is Molecular Vapour Deposition (MVD) and is brand new 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.

This method uses multiple layers of ultra-thin coatings with differing properties to build a completely protective coating.

The final coating built up is much thinner than the other traditional coatings including Parylene. However, its protective performance has been found to be superior to them all in most categories of testing so far.

Further, the really exciting part about this technology is the cost of processing.

Since the coating is extremely thin then it has been found that no masking is required.

This is because when components like connectors are joined together then the ultrathin coating does not prevent electrical connection. Even better, the physical protection is not compromised.

This means that the cost of process is purely the cost of application of the material and nothing else.

Since the process is relatively low cost then this does offer a very interesting alternative to the traditional coating materials.

Does MVD sound complex?

Actually, although the technology and chemistry can be a little complex the process itself is fairly simple.

Once the process is set up in the machine the operator just loads, switches the machine on and unloads on completion.

This is a far cry from the sophisticated processes of robotic selective coating or the challenges of Parylene. Further, the process is actually very stable and in reality is tried and test in other industries.

So what does a MVD film look like?

The film is built up of alternating layers of ALD and CVD thin coating layers. The ALD is a ceramic-based material providing the insulating properties and the CVD film provides the barrier protection.

Once the required film thickness is achieved then a final hydrophobic layer is applied that combines with the ALD and CVD layers to provide a highly effective barrier.

Description of Hybrid ALD_CVD Technology

Label: The film is built up of alternating layers of ALD and CVD thin coating layers. The ALD is a ceramic-based material and the CVD film is an organic layer.

So how well did the MVD coating perform when protecting circuit boards?

Data was recently presented at Apex in Sand Diego looking at live LED circuits from a customer.

The customer LED product was for outdoor application. For testing, the customer used in-house test methods to prove the technology.

The LED circuit was exposed to customer tests for resistance against salt, moisture and temperature.

The test methods included:

  • Initial test submerged in DI water dip for 12 hours
  • Second test submerged in 25% concentration saltwater dip for 17 hours
  • Third test 2 x 6 hour cycles in water ramped from room temperature to 70°C

After each test the boards were tested for failure or problems.

The LED circuit passed on all tests. All results achieved were completed with no masking of components and zero light loss in LED opacity.

The electrical connections were found to be excellent and the coating did not affect the integrity of the connectors.

So what about the cost of process for MVD?

Since the process is masking and de-masking free then the cost per unit is incredibly low. The performance is also superior to nearly all the traditional methods of coating protection.

Further, the protective properties of the MVD coating in nearly all cases is superior to the conventional methods.

So, you get a lower cost coating with a higher technical performance.

So, just how good is the MVD coating as a protective material for electronics?

Generally, with protective coatings for electronics then Parylene is considered the gold standard in most cases.

So, we compared Parylene with the MVD coating material.

Property Parylene MVD
Hardness Soft Hard
Wear resistance/Handling Ease Poor Excellent
Water Vapor Transmission Rate Good Excellent
Temperature Resistance (extended time) 100°C 350°C
Color Gray/white Clear
Adhesion to various materials Poor Excellent
Scalable to large production Poor Excellent
Process Time 8 – 12 hrs 8 – 12 hrs
Hydrophobicity Good Good – Excellent
Cost High Low – Med

What we also identified for the material were some key properties for LEDs.

  • The Water Vapor Transmission Rate (WVTR) is superior to Parylene so the coating is far more waterproof for the LEDs
  • Coating adhesion is superior as it covalently bonds to the substrate. So, the lifetime of the material will be better on the circuit.
  • The hybrid coating is UV stable whereas Parylene in general is not. This is an important criteria for coatings exposed outside on LEDs
  • The coating stayed 100% transparent during testing (no loss of lux). That again is important for LEDs.
  • The coating thickness of the hybrid material is x10 LESS than the Parylene. This aids light transmission and electric connectivity

So, in reality the MVD material could just be what the high volume electronics industry is looking for in protecting their circuits.


Need to find out more?

For further information on Molecular Vapour Deposition (MVD) 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.

 

How thick should I apply my conformal coating?

 

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The measurement of the conformal coating thickness on a printed circuit board (PCB) to ensure internal and international standards are met is now a standard process in production.

There are several methods for measurement of conformal coating thickness including dry and wet film processing. However, the most important factor is how thick should the coating be?

First, you can reference both internal and international standards like IPC A 610 for conformal coating application.  They can help a lot.

These standards will help guide you in the coating thickness required for a particular coating materials since the coating thickness suggested will be dependent on the resin of the conformal coating.

For example, an acrylic or polyurethane based conformal coating has a different coating thickness requirement to silicone-based materials.

Below are the suggested conformal coating thicknesses from the IPC A 610 standard:

  • Acrylic            30-130 μm
  • Urethane        30-130 μm
  • Epoxy             30-130 μm
  • Silicone          50-210 μm
  • Parylene        10-50 μm

Note, that this is the average thickness across the circuit board. It is almost impossible to achieve a homogeneous coating thickness with the liquid conformal coatings due to surface tension issues during drying.

Using this information you can now move forward and look at the application of the conformal coating.


Need to find out more?       

For further information on process control and conformal coating thickness 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.

What is molecular vapour deposition (MVD) and what are its advantages against Parylene?

Molecular Vapour Deposition (MVD) is a vacuum deposition process that provides excellent barrier properties and surface energy control.

The MVD process produces a highly conformal thin film coating, typically less than 100nm.

Where is MVD used?

MVD technology is used to produce coatings such as:

  • Electrical insulation films
  • Liquid and vapor moisture barriers
  • Corrosion and oxidation barriers
  • Lubrication and anti-stiction films
  • Hydrophobic or hydrophilic surfaces
  • Biocompatible surfaces
  • Reactive coatings
The different coating finishes of MVD.png
The molecular vapour deposition (MVD) process can produce both hydrophobic and hydrophilic coatings

How does the MVD process actually work?

The process works by allowing small amounts of gas-phase chemicals introduced into the process chamber and reacted at the surface to form thin films.

Unlike traditional CVD and ALD flow processes, the MVD reaction takes place in a chamber under static pressure resulting in extremely low chemical use.

Samples are typically maintained at temperatures ranging from 30°C to 80°C during deposition.

Where is MVD used in technology applications?

Typical applications include:

  • Non-stick coatings for sophisticated microelectronics and parts found in smartphones, computers, displays, automobile sensors, and hard disks
  • Non-wetting coatings used on inkjet nozzles
  • Surface functionalization for biological assays
  • Anti-fouling and lubrication coatings for parts implanted in the human eye
  • Dielectric films used in virtual reality displays
  • Release layers for nano-imprint lithography
MVD technology coating.png
MVD is used in many different modern day electronics

What are the advantages of MVD

Complete coverage

The MVD process is designed to produce 100% coverage of all exposed surfaces on complex parts.

Conformal coating thickness control

The MVD process manages film thickness and thickness uniformity by dosing exact amounts of precursors and controlling reaction times.

Many other processes like Parylene are dependent upon amount of dimer and will continue to deposit successive polymer layers until it is completely used up causing thickness variation across the chamber.

Cost of process

MVD does appear to be a much faster process compared to Parylene to create like for like protection.

Also, it does not require silane pre-treatment and it only requires small amounts of chemicals. As a result, PCB processing cost could be very low compared to Parylene.

Multiple laminate layers are possible

MVD allows single component layers for basic barrier protection or customized laminate layering for complex requirements.

Most other films including Parylene are single component layers.

Water vapor transmission rate (WVTR) is lower than Parylene

The WVTR < 0.1 g/m2-day for a fast deposition time and < 0.00001 g/m2-day for a longer deposition time.

Parylene WVTR is typically 0.5 g/m2-day

Light transmission

MVD films are optically transparent and do not affect light transmission or reflection due to the relatively low coating thickness.

Electrical insulation

A component in the MVD coating is a flexible ceramic layer that acts to help preserve electrical isolation over time.

This can give a highly insulating coating finish.

Pinhole-free

MVD films are pinhole-free at a nanometer level thickness.

Parylene and some other materials are only pinhole-free at micron levels.

Coating stability

Coatings stable up to 450°C environment.

Ease-of-Use

The MVD system is fully automated and requires only a push of a button to run a process recipe.


If further information on these topics and the key question you can go to our free eBook by clicking molecular vapour deposition (MVD) now.

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


Dr Lee Hitchens, Author of Nexus website and ebook
Dr Lee Hitchens, Author of Nexus

Dr Lee Hitchens is the author of the Nexus conformal coating website and eBook.

Send me an email at lhitchens@nexus3c.com and let me know what you think?

Design Rules for circuits to be conformal coated by Selective Robot

Selectively coating a circuit board with a robot can be a simple process.

However, for too many designers, conformal coating is simply a part number, to be applied to circuit boards.

This failure to appreciate the subtleties of the selective robot application process can result in an un-coatable (at least as specified) assembly process.

Follow our conformal coating design rules and save time, money and pain!

Every company has its own horror stories and folk lore about the challenges faced when conformal coating an assembly to successfully meet the designer’s specification.

It is almost certain that the majority of these ‘nightmare’ scenarios could have been headed off during the design and or prototyping stages of development.

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Trying to coat connectors right up to the base of the component is going to challenge even the best engineers. Apply some conformal coating Design Rules and avoid these problems!

The design rules for conformal coating are straightforward.

Follow them and you can save money and time in your application process.

However, if the rules are not followed, the resultant circuit board design can challenge even the most sophisticated conformal coating system and its operator to achieve the finish desired.

Find out more about Conformal Coating Design Rules for Selective Robot Systems.