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Design News, March 2013

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Cover Story Increasing Electronics Reliability With Conformal Coatings Selecting the right coating at the beginning of the design cycle can give engineers greater reliability and durability in the electronic devices they design. By Kent Larson, Dow corning Electronics Solutions T he increasing value that consumers place on their electronic devices has heightened awareness of those devices' reliability. It has also spurred a greater emphasis on, and demand for, protecting these electronics against possible damage from environmental factors. This demand, in turn, is driving unprecedented growth and breadth in the use of conformal coatings. More types of applications are moving to the use of coatings, and more coatings are being used within a given application segment: for example, more types of smartphones now use coatings. Conformal coatings are designed to electrically insulate circuit boards and isolate their components from damage caused by debris and water. The protection they provide helps prevent conductor corrosion, dendritic growth, and electrical crosstalk. Ultimately, that protection can prevent the device failures that may result from such damage. For example, how much saltwater exposure can your electronic devices withstand? Those who recently lived through a hurricane have been finding out the answer to that question. Unprotected copper traces, wires, and components do not get along very well with saltwater. Corroded electronics are not especially welcome in a weather emergency, nor in our everyday work and life.Yet reliability may never be considered strongly enough until it is really needed, or when it is missed. Although modern electronic devices and components can withstand a lot of abuse, they are not indestructible. Great effort is taken in their design and manufacture to provide suitable durability. However, full testing of durability can typically occur only after a design or build qualification process is already well underway. It is not uncommon that, at the final hour during durability testing, problems may be revealed that require unexpected and unplanned strategies to protect electronics from the environment. The changes that must then result from these new requirements must be made to work around existing designs and man- Design News | march 2013 | www.d esign n ews.com –36–

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