On some Design News message boards, we've discussed how great it would be if consumer electronics like smartphones and tablets were rougher and tougher. What if you could actually drop one into the sink by accident, or into your plate of spaghetti sauce, and no harm would be done?
A nanoscale coating that's now being applied to some smartphones will let you do that (though we don't recommend it). Aridion, developed by P2i, is used by Motorola on its RAZR and XOOM phones, and by Alcatel on its One Touch phones. About 30nm thick, or 1,000 times as thin as a human hair, the hydrophobic polymer coating is applied to completed products at the end of the manufacturing process. It coats exterior surfaces, ports, and even interior components, protecting them against liquids and stains, according to a P2i video, which you can watch below.
The coating, based on perfluorinated carbon compounds, is applied via a plasma-enhanced vapor deposition process that lays it down on all of the device's internal and external surfaces. The process takes place under low pressure in a vacuum chamber at room temperature.
The vaporized polymer bonds at the molecular level to materials, reducing corrosion and water damage. The polymer layer reduces surface energy, so instead of being attracted and spreading out on the device's surface, water and other liquids bead up and roll off.
UK-based P2i has developed a waterproof nano-coating that protects smartphones such as the Alcatel One Touch, and Motorola's RAZR and XOOM. We think the company should develop the technology for consumers who want to apply it to the devices they already own. (Source: P2i)
According to P2i, Aridion does not affect conductivity or the functioning of components, and is so thin that it doesn't change the product's look and feel. Since the coating becomes an inseparable part of the material it bonds to, it is as durable as the materials it protects. No solvents are used in the application process, which consumes only tiny amounts of the protective monomer.
The first commercial application for electronics was coating hearing aids. The company says the coating can be applied to a wide variety of materials, including fabrics, polymers, metals, ceramics, glass, leather, and paper, as well as objects made of multiple materials, such as smartphones and tablets.
Another version of the coating, ion-mask, is used on shoes and clothing. The technology was originally developed during UK defense research projects. In that research, the aim was to protect soldiers' clothing from chemical weapons.
The videos on the company's website showing liquid rolling off are pretty impressive. I think P2i should try to figure out how to apply this coating to existing electronic devices, presumably while they're still new. Places like Kinkos could buy one of the chambers and offer a retrofitting service for electronics that haven't already been protected.
I suppose there's a difference between water proof and water resistant. I know there's a difference between fire proof and fire resistant. And it has to do with self extinguishing compared to the inability to catch on fire. In both cases it's intersesting how marketing words sometimes sound similar to what we want, but in the end it's just real close.
I would define immersion as being under water for a few seconds. Dropping it in a bath tub full of water or in the toilet (as one reader described) would be an example. Can this technology withstand that? My guess would be no, because any connection to the outside world would take in water. Right?
Yes, Dave Palmer, I agree. I wasn't suggesting that this process could be marketed as "anti-cancer". I was putting the idea out there. It's a market that's waiting for the right product/attention.
The evidence isn't as weak as those in CE claim though. I'm sure it's not just cell phones placed in bras that has caused increased breast cancer in very young women. What I listended to on Pacifca radio was very compelling and gave good evidence that cell phones aren't entirely benign.
But, is there anything that's completely safe today?
Something that is molecularly bonded can't be peeled off, but ordinary wear takes the surface off anything. How many computer keys have you seen that have become smooth and shiny with age? I am sure that a plastic layer a few nanometers thick is not going to survive any process that takes micrometers off its substrate. Ordinary wear will take this stuff off in very short order. The only things that will remain protected are those that are not subject to wear.
Of course, that is much of the inside of any device.
What does this stuff do to battery contacts and pushbuttons? Is it thin enough to keep its interference to a few milliohms?
I agree with every word of what eafpres wrote. They lost me when they claimed that the coating can never wear off and that it doesn't change the electrical properties of anything. All coatings wear off unless they're extremely hard (e.g. diamaond or SiC), in which case they're hard to deposit, hard to bond, and too brittle for use on even slightly flexible substrates. As for not changing the electrical properties, that means that the coating must "know", based on where it lands, whether it ought to be an insulator or a conductor. That, of course, is impossible.
Furthermore, once moisture gets inside an electronic device, it takes a very long time to get out. That gives it plenty of time to work mischief while it's in there. To really waterproof a camera or cell phone, it's necessary to keep water from getting in. If merely coating the PCBs was sufficient, there are plenty of good conformal coatings that will do that.
My impression is that what happened here is some chemist developed a neat way to put thin hydrophobic coatings on lots of materials, and then let his marketing guy loose with the idea. The marketing guy thought to himself "what's a large market of products that are familiar to the general public that could benefit from waterproofing?", and of course his answer was "cell phones". Unfortunately he knows nothing about electronics or even about manufacturing processes.
This is a great idea - I'm surprised it hasn't come to market sooner. I, for one, could have used this a few years back, when my phone was drowned by the vigorous waves of the Atlantic ocean - blanket too close to the shoreline .... do the math. Of course, it will really be imressive when the technology is made and can be applied to your existing cell phone. Ann, any word from the company on that development?
NIST's new five-year strategic plan for its Material Measurement Laboratory lists additive manufacturing materials development as one of the main areas it will support by developing measurements, data, techniques, and models.
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