Ruggedization Takes Electronics to Places Where They Couldn’t Go Before

  • Celestica  |
  • 2019-06-24

Electronics manufacturers are creating products that play critical roles in the realization of ambitious goals such as bringing electricity and high-speed wireless internet access to underserved regions of the world, constructing smart cities, and transitioning to renewable energy sources. Many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) face the challenge of how to ruggedize delicate electrical components so that they can operate in harsh weather conditions or extreme environments like outer space and inside the human body. And that’s where Celestica comes in. We work with our OEM customers to ruggedize their products and ensure strong performance over the long-term and help them unlock new market segments.

Ruggedization encompasses a variety of processes and technologies used for electronics assembly cleaning, underfill, conformal coating, and plotting. As Celestica’s Corporate Advanced Process Development Leader Jason Keeping summarizes, “everything required to make electronics last in harsh environmental conditions.”

Time Is Not on Your Side
Time is the biggest factor that sets ruggedization apart from other manufacturing processes. It takes about 15 minutes to solder a component onto a circuit board. The process of applying conformal coating material to that same circuit board and waiting for it to cure requires up to 30 hours. Applying molding compounds adds another 24 hours, so it will be two or three days before you discover errors or defects that require rework. 

OEMs must also account for the fact that corrosive elements can vary from one environment to another, so relying on one product design often leads to unexpected failures in the field. A product may perform flawlessly indoors but suffer serious damage if installed outdoors.

Keeping recalls the case of an OEM asking Celestica to determine why a product deployed in South East Asia was failing due to sulfur corrosion, despite the fact it had passed the standard testing benchmarks. They discovered the answer down on the farm. Make that on many farms.  “South East Asia has the world’s second-largest global farm animal population, and one of the resulting byproducts is very strong sulfur contaminants,” says Keeping. “Our tests revealed the concentrations of sulfur where the product was located were higher than the maximum testing benchmarks established by the industry. We solved the issue by custom-designing the ruggedization technology and application process to protect the product from this particular environment.”

Celestica leverages the latest ruggedization techniques to enable our customers to deploy their products to any region of the world. For example, the vapor deposition process has proven very effective in making products highly resistant to the corrosive effects of organic solvents, inorganic reagents and acids. Unlike traditional liquid conformal coatings, it uses Parylene, a vapor coating performed in a vacuum to create a thin, conformal film that is ideal for products like medical devices implanted inside a patient due to the body’s high acidity levels.

For more than a decade, Celestica has spearheaded efforts to develop new ruggedization standards, or update existing ones. For example, in 2008 we led the creation of test vehicles to address conformal coating operations during surface-mount technology (SMT) assembly processes. These test vehicles provide OEMs worldwide with guidelines for assessing the effectiveness of their processes for cleaning, masking and inspection/rework requirements, and what impact they may be having on the conformal coating application process. This information enables OEMs to consistently achieve acceptable first pass conformal coating process yields and cost-effective cycle times.

Celestica’s technical experts also serve on a number of industry associations and working groups. For instance, Keeping is the president of Surface Mount Technology Association (SMTA) Ontario and chairman of the IPC 5-30 Segment, which covers most of the technologies and standards for cleaning and coating. 

Our ruggedization expertise helps our customers significantly shorten their product development cycles and reduce the potential costs of failures in the field. No matter which processes and materials we use for a particular product, there is one universal truth: ruggedization must be a key consideration in the design phase. 

“An innovative prototype only becomes an innovative product if it is thoroughly tested during its development,” adds Keeping. “Incorporating ruggedization early into the design process will inevitably save significant amounts of time and cost over the entire product lifecycle.”