What is Conformal Coating and Why Would You Use It?

Billions of people worldwide now own and use digital devices that are connected to the internet. Billions of other electronic products are employed in a wide variety of industries for mission-critical purposes.

Digital electronics of all kinds have become so tightly interwoven into the fabric of modern life that doing without them seems unthinkable. Thin conformal coatings are used to protect the delicate parts that allow such devices and many others to function.

Many Reasons to Use Conformal Coatings

Even tiny, inexpensive silicon chips today can contain millions of individual transistors. Leading CPU makers are now able to pack 100 million or more electronic features into a single square millimeter.

That level of complexity and detail comes with some real vulnerabilities. Most digital devices include chips and other parts that are mounted to circuit boards, with each connection amounting to a point of weakness.

Thin, durable coatings made from materials like paraxylene are now commonly used to shield all these soft spots at once. With a carefully applied coating conforming to every feature and detail, a circuit board can be effectively protected from threats like:

  • Moisture. Even a bit of ambient humidity can cause an electronic device to fail in the absence of sufficient protection. Moisture can work its way into electrical connections, causing short circuits that endanger valuable, important components. Over time, moisture will also contribute to corrosion, with enough deterioration preventing the transmission of electrical current.
  • Heat. Many electronic devices are sensitive to heat and will fail if subjected to too much of it. Excessive heat can warp an entire circuit board permanently or stress a soldered joint past the point of no return. Because it takes time to transfer heat, an appropriately designed coating that slows the process can provide temporary protection.
  • Cold. Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are made from resins that become brittle when they get too cold. Many other materials and parts commonly found mounted to PCBs have the same weakness. As with the transfer of heat, slowing the cooling of a PCB by any effective means will contribute to longevity and reliability.
  • Contamination. The average finished PCB includes many exposed joints where components connect to copper traces and each other. Even a stray bit of dust can interfere with these connections, and other types of contamination are still more dangerous. Covering an entire PCB and its parts with a single, continuous coating can keep it safe even in a harsh environment.
  • Physical stress. Some circuit boards are mounted in places where direct physical damage cannot be ruled out. Even a thin coating can be enough to protect against a scratch or impact that could otherwise have disabled an electronic device.

A Coating Made for the Modern Age

The interior of a modern smartphone or computer will often be filled mostly by a single PCB with many attached components. Because they can be applied consistently across an entire circuit board or other product, conformal coatings provide a type of protection that is especially well-suited to many of today’s most popular digital devices.

At the same time, many other types of electronic products found in commercial and industrial settings benefit even more from the same type of treatment. Conformal coatings have therefore been becoming increasingly ubiquitous and important for many years.