Conformal Coating vs. Potting and Encapsulation

Printed circuit boards, supposedly the best discoveries of the electronics sector have been ever-evolving thanks to their countless application sectors. It is because of PCBs, and their advancements the electronics sector has grown and is still growing by leaps and bounds. PCBs are used in almost all industries and can be fitted in the smallest of complex components. The design of such PCBs is just as complex, and it needs to be protected from any external damage due to moisture or dust. This protection also enhances the performance of the PCBs. Hence, procedures such as conformal coating or potting and encapsulation are used. This post discusses the details of each of these processes, along with their comparison.

What is Conformal Coating?

Conformal coating is a layer of a dielectric material applied on PCBs to protect them from damage due to the external environment and scratches due to human hands and tools. This material is a non-conductor. In this method, a coat of polymeric fluid is applied on the PCB, which has a thickness ranging from about 25 to 250 micrometers, depending upon the requirement. Materials such as urethanes, acrylics, and silicones are used as conformal coating fluids. So, they do not radically increase the thickness or weight of the PCB as a whole.

What is Potting and Encapsulation?

Potting is also a similar concept and has the same objective. It is also done to protect the PCBs and their components from external damage. The method, however, differs from conformal coating. In this, a pot is used to cover the PCB and a fluid is poured into this pot or thin casing. This becomes the part of the assembled PCB.

Which One is Better: Conformal Coating or Potting and Encapsulation?

Both these processes protect the PCBs from harsh and corrosive external environments; however, deciding on the technique depends on your requirements and application. Both these processes insulate the PCBs and offer mechanical protection although in different ways. Here are a few pointers, which may help you decide the right method of coating your PCBs in your application:

  • Potting and encapsulation offers a tad more protection to your PCBs than conformal coating because of the resin that covers it and becomes a part of it. However, you should figure out if you really require it. It may not be needed for all the applications.
  • Potting and encapsulation is suitable if your PCBs need to go through high-speed and high-volume production and assembly lines. The speed and volume may cause abrasion and scratches, so that extra coating is necessary for these applications.
  • If you require the PCBs to be fitted in small devices, it is essential that their thickness is precise and just as required. In this case, conformal coating would be the right choice. Potting and encapsulation may increase the thickness of the PCB and hence would not be suitable here.
  • In case of lightweight devices, conformal coating works best as potting and encapsulation increases the weight of the PCB and in turn that of the device it is fitted in.
  • Most manufactured components undergo thorough inspection before they go out in the market. In such cases, inspecting encapsulated PCBs may be challenging at times.
  • Many manufacturers making electromechanical products may need reworked PCBs owing to design modifications or changed requirements. Conformal coating is handy in such cases where PCBs need to be reworked upon.
  • All in all, both these process help mitigate shocks, vibration, stains, scratches, and environmental damage.
  • If the device is to be used in harsh external environments, potting and encapsulation would be the right choice for better resistance and electrical performance.
  • Potting and encapsulation is also suitable for two-part systems.
  • The thin-film conformal coating is suitable for portable miniature devices and single part systems, and under standard environmental conditions.

If you are looking for tested and good-quality PCBs or assemblies, it is crucial that you source them from a reputed manufacturer. Accelerated Assemblies offers solutions on prototypes PCB assemblies. They assist you make the right choice and offer end-to-end solutions.