Research from Zion Market Research (opens in new tab) has shown that the demand for water resistant nano coating technologies from the electronics industry is going to significantly increase between now and 2020. Overall, the global market for nano coating technologies is estimated to grow in value to $6.85 billion by 2020, and this is by no small part due to the fact that there are so many different use cases that nano coating devices offers to manufacturers and users.
Furthermore, in the smartphone market alone IDC analysts (opens in new tab) predicted exactly what we are now seeing: ‘a seismic shift’ in the use, research and development of nano coating technologies. They also highlight that “water-resistant handsets are the fastest-growing segment in the smartphone category”.
But it doesn’t stop here, and it’s clear to see that water resistant nano coatings have countless applications beyond the smartphone category. Every connected device that makes up the Internet of Things (IoT) - sensors, connected home devices, workplace monitors, smart city and transportation technology - will have similar requirements in terms of a resistance to liquid ingress.
The risks of liquid ingress in the age of IoT
As we find ourselves in an age where billions of new IoT devices play a part in everyday work and personal lives – even if they are not always visible to the average citizen – the protection of these from liquids becomes crucial. All of these technologies are going to need to be reliable, durable and given the extremes of weather regularly experienced, water-resistant. As a result, every single sensor powering machine to machine (M2M) connectivity across all industries is going to benefit from technological advancements in water-resistant nano coating.
The connectivity of all of these different data points is fundamental to the IoT age, but if any networked devices become damaged due to water ingress, then they may be unable to transmit data and rendered useless. This is somewhat of a bigger risk for those that are used in outdoor environments, where they are not only subject to the elements, but also require the minimum level of maintenance and servicing in order to be cost effective to those who run and use them. If this is not the case, then the process of replacing or repairing them can be very damaging to ROI of these devices, and will also negate their usefulness.
Rain, snow and humidity are but some of the environmental threats to the performance of IoT technologies. Yet this is exactly where nano coating technologies come in, as they are able to provide a cost-effective ubiquitous solution to prevent damage from liquid ingress.
Nano coating technology and how it works
Nano coating is different from other, more physical water resistant solutions, where seals or gaskets are built into devices to prevent liquid from entering with a mechanically engineered barrier, for instance. In contrast, nano coating is a low-pressure deposition process that covers the complete device, both inside and out. During this process, the device or sensor and its components are coated both with a nano-scale monomer, which chemically bonds to whichever surface it is laid upon. This is not only more cost effective than using mechanical solutions, but also allows for greater design freedom.
Many IoT devices that are manufactured for use outside and in extreme weather conditions where aesthetics are of low importance will feature a more ruggedised design than, say, consumer electronics. However, the addition of nano coating technologies on such devices means that they have dual layer protection.
The result is that even when any physical barriers are compromised, these devices can continue to withstand liquid ingress and are protected from corrosion, increasing not only their resilience and functionality for a longer period of time, but also their cost effectiveness. It is also an unfortunate side effect of gaskets and seals that while they are very good at keeping water out, when one fails – and they do, more often you’d think – the physical barriers that remain fully operational will hold water inside a device, increasingly the likelihood of catastrophic damage. Hydrophic coatings keep the water away from the PCB, even when it can’t drain out of a device satisfactorily.
With this level of protection, OEMs could even build in early warning systems that alert those monitoring and maintaining them to when the mechanical layer of defence has been compromised. This can be facilitated by the emergence of electronic Liquid Contact Indicators (LCIs). LCI tape has now been used for a long time to denote water damage once a device has been opened up. But in the IoT, more sophisticated sensors could better detect and alert users in real-time to water ingress, enabling them to arrange for repairs while the device is still protected by the hydrophobic coating, and before circuit boards and other critical components start to rust or fail completely.
Continuous uptime facilitated by better and more reliable connectivity and supported by hardware that can properly withstand the elements wherever they are used, is the only way to truly realise the value of the IoT.
Many IoT and connected device manufacturers are now adopting this technology with ease and with little impact to their existing design and production processes. In fact where it has superseded physical barriers, it has been shown to enable more flexibility in product design and engineering. Nano coating has proven to be both an extremely cost-effective way to speed up the delivery of water resistant devices and is a technology that can be applied in multiple use case scenarios.
These technologies are crucial for driving the ‘always on’ connectivity that will define the IoT age.
Whether it is up-specing higher end consumer smartphones and other personal gadgets, through to being rapidly and efficiently applied to lower-end IoT devices in high volumes to provide all-weather protection, nano coating is splash proofing our IoT future.
Ady Moores, CEO, P2i (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa