Conformal Coating for PCBs
Conformal coating is an important – and very necessary – application used in the manufacturing and repair of printed circuit boards (PCBs). Unfortunately, the process poses significant health risks to the workers who manufacture or repair PCBs if proper IAQ protective measures are not in place.
Described as a protective film, lightweight material, or thin polymeric substance, conformal coating protects PCBs from harmful elements by acting as a layer between the circuitry and the material.
To appreciate the importance of conformal coatings is to understand the vital role PCBs play in everyday life. Printed circuit boards are not only a means to connect electronic components but are also essential in almost every business and trade and are used by all of us every day.
Items Powered by PCBs
- Medical devices such as heart rate monitors and imaging machines.
- Automotive components such as navigation systems and sensors.
- Consumer electronics – smartphones, laptops, and radios.
- Aerospace equipment like power supplies and communication monitoring.
These are but a few examples of the range of industries in which PCBs play a part. In every single PCB, conformal coating “conforms” to the circuitry, protecting from heat, humidity, light, moisture, and any other elements that may do harm. That protective barrier provides insulation against corrosion and extreme temperatures.
Conformal Coating Fumes
During the application process – or, in the case of PCB repair, the removal process – potentially toxic emissions can enter a worker’s breathing space.
Emissions will vary depending on the type of coating. Many products contain potentially harmful chemicals such as parylene, acrylic, polyurethane, silicone, and epoxies.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as toluene, butane, heptane, xylene, and ethylbenzene are known to cause illness and exist in multiple conformal coating varieties.
The application methods are varied. Conformal coatings can be applied by:
- Dip coating
- Transfer coating
Health Risks from Fume Inhalation
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the presence of VOCs in the workplace can cause harm if not eliminated or contained.
Various health effects associated with VOC exposure: (1)
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
- Headache, dizziness
- Memory impairment, visual problems
- Nausea, vomiting
- Nosebleed, allergic skin reaction
- Difficulty breathing
- Damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system
- Dizziness, loss of coordination
As with any pollutant, the extent and nature of one’s reaction will depend on many factors including level of exposure and length of time exposed.
Who is at Risk?
Consider the billions of PCBs in the world. Every single printed circuit board is manufactured using conformal coatings. To do this requires countless laborers who all chance occupational risk from simply doing their job.
As in any industrial setting, proper ventilation and using personal protective equipment are essential to prevent particle and fume emissions from harming workers. But often, it is not enough protection.
The critical last step in maintaining a clean and safe environment is removing indoor air pollution before it can enter a worker’s breathing space. This is where air cleaners that perform source capture prove vital.
AIRSInc has provided superior products for our customers’ air cleaning needs for over 35 years. We serve our clientele concerned with health risks from conformal coatings by providing IAQ products such as our signature Extract-All® brand. (2)
Call us today for a free air quality assessment with one of our skilled and experienced indoor environmental specialists.