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Plasma Ruggedized Solutions

Coating Services Provider Ruggedizes Electronic Products

Conformal Coating

Various processes are employed to protect circuits and assemblies from harsh environments

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Telecommunications components must work perfectly 24/7, even if the outdoor environment they're placed in is dirty, moist, salty, or corrosive. Plasma Ruggedized Solutions, a protective coating company headquartered in Silicon Valley, has staked its reputation for the past 20 years on maintaining these high standards. Coating circuit boards with protective coatings is a specialty that the company offers for a variety of electronic devices used in the military and aerospace, alternative energy, medical, automotive, semiconductor, and telecom industries.

Paula Vandenberg, technical sales manager for Plasma Ruggedized Solutions, says it's important for the company to start working with a client's engineers at the design level. If the coating process is omitted from the design stage, she says, it will undoubtedly surface later on with issues that keep it from being more cost-effective.

"Whether it's a telecom component or any other electronic equipment, an engineer has to identify how they're going to protect the product from the environment," Vandenberg explains. "A mechanical engineer is going to build some kind of housing or box to house the electronic components, and some kind of O-ring gasket might be used. We can help clients figure out the best way to ruggedize the product."

One application has Plasma Ruggedized applying protective coatings to circuit boards for data storage equipment for the telecom industry. The company is seeing this application more often because OEMs need to ruggedize and protect their outdoor equipment from the elements, according to Vandenberg. "These coatings are perfect for telecom parts because they are often exposed to the elements," says Vandenberg. "Some agencies regulate that you use both a secure housing and coatings for specific types of equipment."

Plasma Ruggedized offers several materials and processes to combat the elements for electronics device companies. Four primary coating materials are used on a regular basis--acrylics, polyurethanes, silicones, and epoxies--that are either sprayed on or applied by dipping. The company's processes include conformal coating, parylene vacuum deposition, potting and encapsulation, ball grid array underfill, and plasma etchback.

"When we're talking about telecom, fiber optics, wireless, or microwave technology, there needs to be a conformal coating to protect the equipment against corrosion," Vandenberg explains. "You have to take into account that the coating chemistry can be an insulator, so it can affect frequency ranges. This is why it's important to talk to a client's engineers during the design stage. Our engineers can help them design using protective coatings. We usually apply these materials to a circuit board that is fully populated and tested."

The conformal coating chemistry seals the board and all of its components to protect the solder joints and any metal or exposed areas. However, some applications and environments require a higher level of protection, according to Vandenberg. "One reason is to assure that the coating has gone behind the back of the component lead," she explains. In this instance, Plasma Ruggedized will use the parylene vacuum deposition process.

Plasma Ruggedized Solutions ( also offers an outsourced lab service that allows companies to test their circuit boards. Among the tests that it performs is a cross- sectional lab analysis for boards at either the fabrication or component assembly stage. Customers use the test to validate that quality and workmanship is up to specifications; Plasma Ruggedized will test and troubleshoot boards to find possible root causes for failure. "Some people will come to us with a fully-populated board, one that has experienced field service problems," Vandenberg points out. "We can do tests to figure out what the problems are and why they occurred."

Another test that the company performs is an environmental stress test, or EST, which is done when a client wants to know that its board will perform properly in a certain environment that includes specific thermal and dielectric properties.

In its more than 20 years in the coating and potting industry, Plasma Ruggedized Solutions has worked through a number of variables and issues that came up because coating or potting was not reviewed and evaluated at the design stage, according to Vandenberg. "Most coating or potting requirements have been spec'd in as an afterthought," she notes. "So we've been trying to reach out to the engineers to offer our support in helping to make the best decision on how to proceed with protecting their product."

This technical information has been contributed by
Plasma Ruggedized Solutions

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