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Frequently Asked Questions

SC7130-CC and CC7130-PRTC, conformal coatings from AI Technology, Inc., have been proven to far outperform conventional conformal coatings of epoxy, acrylic and silicone. AIT conformal coatings combine hydrophobic characteristics to repel water and molecular capability to block the penetration of moisture and salt fog.

1. What are the primary functions of conformal coating?

  • The primary function of conformal coating is to protect electronic circuit boards to ensure the longest possible life and highest device reliability
  • Conformal coatings protect boards from moisture, water, harmful gases, and other environmental factors that can cause damage and corrosion.
  • They should also prevent ionic migration as it may cause short circuits. This is especially in important in high humidity, salt laden environments.

2. If I have protected my electronics by sealing them in a plastic or metal box, but the electronics are used outdoor, do I still need conformal coating?

  • Having a sealed electrical box is good for rain. Moisture can still pass through plastic boxes and rubber gaskets.
  • In fact, sealed boxes do not “breathe” and thus trapped moisture cannot escape and will condense to become sitting water inside the box at night or during colder weather. Condensation with potentially contaminating ionics from the air is one of the most potent corrosive ingredient.

3. How thick should the conformal coatings be to optimize protection?

  • Traditional conformal coatings such as epoxy, polyurethane, acrylic and silicone have thickness recommendations of 50 to 75 microns. These 3 types of coating are generally hydrophilic and more susceptible to moisture penetration so an application even thicker than 75 microns may be desirable. However, because of their relatively high Tg (~ 30-90°C), thickness beyond 75 microns will induce excessive stress on components mounted on the PWB and may dramatically shorten the life of the device.
  • CC7130-PRTC and SC7130-CC are effective from 12.5-50 micron thickness. Thicker coating is not necessary but will not have any negative effect.
  • AIT conformal coatings SC7130-CC and CC7130-PRTC are super hydrophobic. When the conformal coatings are hydrophobic the thickness requirements are not as important. In addition, they block moisture from penetrating that may otherwise carry with it corrosive elements such as sodium, chloride, sulfur dioxide, etc.

4. Why is silicone, one of the most hydrophobic species of plastic, not necessarily the best choice for conformal coatings?

  • Silicone coatings are generally hydrophobic, but they tend to have a large free space volume allowing for fast moisture penetration. Any defects in coating will results in “pot-holes”: water retention areas that may cause corrosion over time.
  • Silicone is known to allow 10 times or greater moisture penetration than typical acrylic conformal coatings. Corrosive elements such as sulfur dioxide, sodium and chloride ions can be carried along with moisture onto the surfaces that the conformal coating supposed to protect. High moisture permeability is a significant issue for silicone conformal coatings.
  • Silicone conformal coatings have a low surface energy nature that contributes to their hydrophobic nature. However, this same low surface energy nature, along with the molecular form of the monomers in film format, can cause migration to undesirable areas. This can lead to bonding and soldering problems if rework or repairs are needed.

Water condensation can cause corrosion and failure of electronics if printed wiring boards are not protected with conformal coating. CC7130-PRTC and SC7130-CC  protect electronic devices in high humidity, salt-fog, and industrial pollution environments.

5. Is there an advantage offered by conformal coatings that are physically stronger and harder?

  • Conformal coatings are not intended as physical protection media.
  • General mechanical strength is not required. As long as the conformal coating remains intact at low and high temperature, low and high humidity, and resists water and common chemicals and solvents, they will be able to perform.
  • Typically, high strength or hardness means high modulus of elasticity. These stronger coatings, such as epoxy and acrylic, may impart excessive interface stresses. These stresses can cause component malfunctions or coating delamination from the circuit board, rendering them ineffective.

6. What are dielectric constant and loss? How are they relevant to conformal coating?

  • Dielectric constant is a measurement of response to an electric field. A dielectric constant higher than 3.0 means molecular response to an alternating field and current. In conformal coating, this may affect the circuit speed. It is not a desirable characteristic for high frequency devices.
  • Dielectric loss is the loss of energy that goes into heating a dielectric material in an alternating field. This represents the internal molecular friction of the conformal coating. Dielectric loss greater than 0.1 will generally indicate some heat inside the molecules; this is not a good property to have in a conformal coating.

7. What is dielectric strength and what is its relevance in conformal coating?

  • Dielectric strength is a measurement of insulation strength. In conformal coating, generally, the higher the better.
  • However, circuit boards are designed to provide electrical insulation under normal operation. As long as the conformal coatings do not negatively affect the dielectric strength in air, they generally will be adequate.
  • Generally, the greater the hydrophobiccity and the lower the extractible ionic impurities the better: this helps prevent attracting water that may enable ionic impurities to become mobile and potentially negatively affect the dielectric strength.

8. What are the different methods of applying conformal coatings and their relative advantages and disadvantages?

  • Brush coating, spray coating, and dip coating are industrial standards.
  • Brush coating is used for smaller volume production. It has the advantage of precision application to  the intended areas. The cost of labor is higher.
  • Spray coating is used for larger volume production and usually faster. Like in painting, masking is required to prevent applying the coating onto surfaces where it isn’t wanted.  The masking process costs time and money.
  • Dip coating is used for even larger volume production and is generally the fastest method. Again, masking will be required.
  • Vacuum deposition is used to apply coatings such as Parylene and ultra-thin oxide coatings. The process is complicated, time consuming, and expensive and yields a small batch size. As such, this method is a limitation in commercial electronics and usually confined to small volume, high cost production.
  • SC7130-CC and CC7130-PRTC are optimized for the industrial standard spray-dip-brush methods but with Parylene performance at 12.5 to 50 microns thickness.

9. How do I mask areas that should not be covered with conformal coating?

  • Applying masking tape prior to coating is a common method. Often the tape is in the shape of dots and stripes as these are more suitable for flat areas. Masking tapes for conformal coating are generally polyester or polyimide carriers with a pressure sensitive adhesive. Even if the adhesive layer is anti-static, the tape as a whole is usually not totally anti-static.
  • In some cases “rubber boots” may be put on the connectors and pins to protect them from being coated. As the boots must fit the connectors precisely, they are all specially customized. The high cost of the mold and molding for these boots makes limits their suitability to high volume applications.
  • AIT provides masking tapes (such as MT-100-S) that use proprietary, intrinsically anti-static flexible carriers. They have the ability to conform to small curvatures and are a superior masking solution for most applications.
  • AIT liquid masking gel MG-150-SG can be applied to pins and connectors. The material self-forms into a boot, bypassing the need for expensive molding. It can be removed by simple peeling and reused.
  • In all cases, whenever possible, the masking should be removed before the conformal coating cures. This will prevent tearing the coating when the masking materials are removed and also allow easier cleanup (and reuse, in case the case of “boots”).

10. Should I apply conformal coating on the edges of my circuit board?

  • Most circuit board edges are cut and are not protected with a coating.
  • Moisture and water can easily migrate between the board solder mask and the board itself.
  • Whenever possible, conformal coating should be applied to the edges of circuit boards to block this migration and ensure the longest life and highest reliability for the board.

11. What are important factors to consider in conformal coating when considering induced stress?

  • Consequences of induced stress from conformal coating, which can be 1000s of psi in stress, can range from hairline conformal coating cracks, to large conformal coating cracks, to coating delamination or even to damage of electronic components.
  • Flexibility is an important factor. Conformal coatings must be able to accommodate differential expansion of the coating and the board.
    • Circuit boards are typically made from fiber-glass reinforced epoxy with a planar CTE in the range of 16 to 20 ppm/ºC.
    • As conformal coatings cannot match this low CTE, flexibility and the ability to stretch are key to preventing induced stress from CTE mismatch
    • Typical conformal coating CTE’s are 55 to 65 ppm/ºC for acrylic and ~35 for Parylene.
  • Glass transition temperature (Tg) is an important factor. A flexible, low Tg coating will reduce stress at low temperatures commonly experienced in outdoor use.

SC7130-CC and CC7130-PRTC are highly flexible, stress-free conformal coatings and the glass transition temperature (Tg) for both is -55°C. These molecularly engineered coatings of fluorinated polymer (SC7130-CC) and modified ethylene (CC7130-PRTC) eliminate the induced stress associated with many coatings. They demonstrate unparalleled performance and reliability in parallel side-by-side testings against other conformal coatings, attributable to the incorporation and combination of moisture and gas blocking properties, hydrophobicity, and molecular flexibility.

The following chart is a summary of various properties that are critical to the performance of conformal coating in protecting the printed circuit boards in electronic devices:

TypePRIMARY AND CRITICAL PROPERTIES FOR PRINTED CIRCUIT BOARD (PWB) CONFORMAL COATING
Material CostsEase of ApplicationCosts of RepairTg (°C)Thickness for Stress ControlMoisture Absorption-Retention (%)Moisture Penetration (gm/m2/day/25µ)Salt Fog ToleranceSulfur Dioxide and Acid Rain PenetrationTemperature Range
AcrylicLowBrush, dispense, spray, (dip-coating is not recommended)Low10   to   6040-60µ (Thicker coating will shorten MTTF)0.3550FairFairUp to 125°C
EpoxiesMediumBrush, dispense, spray, (dip-coating is not recommended)High50   to   9040-60µ (Thicker coating will shorten MTTF)0.5-1.020-37FairFairUp to 150°C
PolyurethanesMediumBrush, dispense, spray, (dip-coating is not recommended)High50   to   9040-60µ (Thicker coating will shorten MTTF)0.25-0.8037-57FairFairUp to 125°C
SiliconeHighBrush, dispense, spray, dip-coatingHigh<-55Not Critical (Flexible and stress-free)0.0170-1872PoorPoorUp to 200°C
ParyleneVery HighVacuumHigh?<5µ?16-217GoodGoodUp to 125°C
CC7130-PRTCMediumSpray-Dip-Brush MethodsLow-55Not Critical (Flexible and stress-free)<0.03<10OutstandingOutstanding125°C
SC7130-CCMediumSpray-Dip-Brush MethodsLow-55Not Critical (Flexible and stress-free)<0.01<10OutstandingOutstanding150°C
http://www.academia.edu/1902960/Coating_materials_for_electronic_applications_polymers_processes_reliability_testing (Source for data of moisture penetration and absorption for acrylics, epoxies, polyurethanes, silicones and Parylene)

CC7130-PRTC and SC7130-CC have been demonstrated to outperform even the most proven conformal coatings, such as Parylene, under the toughest conditions. AIT coatings block moisture laden with corrosive industrial pollutants like sulfur dioxide and the sodium and chloride ions in salt fog, a critical property for extreme environments.

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