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A Comparison of the Effectiveness of Conformal Coatings for Use with IoT Components

July 1, 2016 By: Sean Horn, Diamond MT

Sensors Insights by Sean Horn


The Internet of Things as a Concept and Reality

As a concept, the term Internet of Things (IoT) encompasses smart networks' escalating collaborative power for communicating with each other, connecting electronic processing systems, locally or worldwide. Relying on the Internet's interactive capacities, IoT energizes enhanced smart automation in a growing variety of applications, including those for aerospace/aeronautic communications, embedded systems, industrial equipment, instant-on MCUs, neural networking systems, smart RFID-memory tags, and wearable medical devices.

Wired or wireless, the IoT connects these products and systems to the Internet, each other and their users and, as such, is poised to influence most of the things people do throughout the 21st century. By 2020, Web-connected things will comprise 85% of 29.5 billion Internet global connections. In addition to the somewhat specialized applications mentioned above, IoT systems are already in play for items used on a daily basis, including cameras, personal fitness bands, thermostats, washing machines or weather monitors — virtually anything with an on/off switch and Internet connectivity.

By 2018, sales of IoT-associated products and systems are expected to tally in excess of $100 billion. Internet users' growing expectations of guaranteed IoT functionality as an integral component of most new web-enabled objects and related products are reflected by this forecast of the commodities' dollar-value, representing an increase of 67%, in just three years (from $60 billion, 2015).

Protection of printed circuit boards (PCBs), semiconductors, sensors, and similar electrical components that power the IoT is essential to their ongoing and efficient performance. Maintaining optimal functionality at low levels of power is critical to IoT systems' cost-effective implementation. Equally as important is robust yet flexible adaptability to a wide range of operating conditions. As the IoT expands its uses and influence, microcontrollers, sensors and related assemblies will be increasingly used to drive public infrastructure applications.

For instance, cities will become further connected through the IoT, exemplified by smart electric grids, roads and street lights. In this regard, the trend toward municipal LED lighting helps both cities and citizens, potentially diminishing city energy costs in excess of 30%. Further adding to this trend, evidence suggests these developments:

  • Private industry will experience considerable IoT input, as the industrial Internet develops and implements Internet-driven factory, logistic, and medical systems' applications.
  • Connected homes and passenger cars will become more prevalent, as will wearable systems that connect to the Internet
  • It is vital that chips, sensors and devices powering IoT activities are properly protected. Conformal coatings have proven exceptionally useful protecting these components.
  • Conformal Coatings and Their Uses

Composed from a variety of polymeric materials, conformal coatings primary purpose is safeguarding the function of electronic and mechanical assemblies, circuitry, and related components. By insulating the substrate, they protect PCBs, sensors and associated parts and products from environmental contamination during use, extending their operational life, while improving performance. Without conformal coatings, many of the products we commonly take for granted would not function nearly as well, and would need to be more frequently replaced. In general, the protection conformal coatings afford IoT assemblies and products include: security from:

  • Contamination caused by exposure to extreme temperatures, humidity, and other elements of harsh physical environments.
  • Contact with acids, solvents or, in the case of medical IoT systems, bodily fluids.
  • Conductor electro-migration, corrosion, dendritic growth, or short circuits to electronic assemblies and circuitry.
  • Stress and exposure during operation, insulating the item with a flexible, durable coating to assure ongoing functionality.

To provide appropriate protection, conformal coatings are applied to the substrate surfaces of IoT assemblies in fine layers, typically in the range of a few millimeters at a time until the desired coating-thickness is achieved. Most of the commonly used conformal coatings — acrylic, epoxy, silicone, urethane — are applied by wet techniques, dipping the object into the liquid coating material, or through flow-coating or spraying the object; however, robotic-dispensing and select-coating methods are increasingly used with these materials.

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About the Author: Sean Horn

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