Mastering the Parylene Coating Process
Posted by Sean Horn
Friday, September 4, 2015 8:00
@ 8:00 AM
Relatively easy to understand, the parylene deposition process can be difficult to implement, particularly with respect to controlling coating-thickness and otherwise ensuring a successful coating cycle.
Because coating type and required surface thickness vary according to substrate material and coating-project, deposition rates fluctuate. Processing can require less than an hour or more than 24 hours, at a deposition rate of about .2/mils-per-hour. While this slower rate of substrate covering generates parylene’s superior conformal coating, compared to other coating options, it also adds to its cost. Mastering the parylene coating process helps assure these production expenditures are diminished.
Parylene’s complex and specialized vapor-phase deposition technique ensures the polymer can be successfully applied as a structurally continuous film, entirely conformal to the characteristics of the selected substrate. To correctly master the process, assure each incoming order possesses all pertinent information affecting parylene application. This will include drawings, specifications, and special instructions that distinguish the order from others, allowing creation of customized solutions for the particular item.
Parylene’s deposition process completely eliminates the wet deposition method used by such other coating materials as epoxy, silicone, or urethane. It begins in a chemical-vacuum chamber, with raw, powdered parylene dimer placed in a loading boat, and inserted into the vaporizer. The dimer is initially heated to between 100º – 150º C, converting the solid-state parylene into a gas at the molecular level. The process requires consistent levels of heat; the temperature must increase steadily, ultimately reaching 680º C, sublimating the vaporous molecules and splitting it into a monomer.
Drawn by vacuum onto the selected substrate one molecule-at-a-time in the coating chamber, the monomer gas reaches the final deposition phase, the cold trap. Here, temperatures are cooled drastically to levels sufficient to remove any residual parylene materials pulled through the coating chamber from the substrate, between -90º and -120º C.
Mastering the parylene process requires detailed attention to these procedures, prior to commencement of deposition and coating:
- Thorough inspection of incoming items to-be-coated, verifying their quantity and condition.
- Preparation procedures enacted as necessary. For instance, cleaning/cleanliness-testing, or similar unique processes, are commenced, followed by masking of connectors and electrical components. Accumulated substrate contaminants diminish adhesion, so assuring appropriate levels of surface cleanliness is integral to parylene coating. Depending on the substrate surface, cleaning may be enacted manually, or through application of batch, inline, or ultrasonic methods. Most materials–glass, metal, plastic, etc.–require treatment with A-174 silane to effect appropriate surface modification before parylene application. Typically, doing so employs either manual-spray, soaking, or vapor-phase technology, applied after the masking operation, A-174 silane’s molecule forms a unique chemical bond with the substrate’s surface, sufficient to improve parylene adhesion.
- Masking is exceptionally labor-intensive. Exceptional care is required to ensure every connector is effectively sealed, so gaseous parylene molecules do not penetrate their surfaces. All tape, or other covering materials, must thoroughly encompass the keep-out regions, without gaps, crevices or other openings, to ensure connector function is retained after coating.
- Further inspection assures masking is in compliance with customers’ specifications.
- The diversity of adhesion promotion methods requires a similarly diverse list of raw materials. Establishing best-adhesion practices is only part of mastering the parylene coating process; once established, strict adherence standards need to be reliably enforced to ensure quality of the conformal coatings. Using industry best practices, such as substrate cleansing and A-174 silane application, appropriately combined with standard, repeatable processes, will ensure strong adhesion for parylene coating. Adhesion promotion methods are typically used prior to the actual coating process, however some can be integrated during the process itself.
The parylene coating is applied through the deposition process described above. Once coating has been deposited, masking materials are removed; extreme caution must be exercised not to damage the thin layer of applied parylene.
An important consideration of appropriate parylene thickness is total required clearance. While an enclosure-PCB has few clearance issues, in many cases even an additional millimeter of parylene coating can be sufficient to generate dysfunctional mechanical abrasion, damaging the parylene surface and reducing its conformal qualities.
Regarding dielectric strength, items whose required levels of dielectricity are higher will need a thicker coat of parylene. Balancing dielectric strength with clearance generally requires quality testing to determine their correct ratio. The end-item customer may not always provide these specifications; learning how to determine dielectric/clearance ratios without this data is integral to mastering the parylene deposition process.
The parylene process must generate a conformal covering explicitly meeting the customer’s precise specifications. If changes are necessary, making them to order and on time are essential elements of mastering the parylene coating processes. A final inspection ensures successful completion of all process phases, and that the final product complies with the customer’s drawings and specifications.