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News

Pulsed-plasma deposition nano-coating protects consumer electronic devices from water immersion

Siemens Industry UK : 14 May, 2014  (Application Story)
P2i is an entrepreneurial business which has successfully developed an innovative liquid protection process for consumer electronics and industrial markets. It has now teamed up with Siemens Industry to enhance the security, operational efficiency and scalability of its Dunkable nano-coating systems.
P2i specialises in liquid-repellent nano-coating technology. It was established in 2004 to commercialise liquid repellent treatments developed by the UK’s Ministry of Defence. Now on a commercial scale, P2i’s patented process has been successfully applied to a wide range of products in a wide range of markets, including electronics, lifestyle, filtration & energy, life sciences and military.
 
Dunkable is an ultra-thin barrier coating designed to protect smartphones and other consumer electronic devices from immersion damage, without impacting the look, feel or functionality of the device. P2i has already experienced global commercial success with its Splash-proof nano-coating.
 
Various electronic devices currently benefitting from the protection of P2i’s technology include Siemens’ hearing aids, various smartphones, tablets, Bluetooth headsets and earphones. Later this year, P2i will be launching the new Dunkable technology onto smartphones.
 
P2i has an extensive patent portfolio protecting the coatings, application processes and equipment. Both the Splash-proof and Dunkable technology use pulsed-plasma enhanced deposition processing to permeate the coating throughout the device, attaching the coating to all surfaces. As such, P2i has developed a range of bespoke machines designed to apply the coatings within a controlled, vacuumed environment. When designing the new Dunkable systems, P2i sought to build on the existing levels of operational efficiency, security and scalability, and so began work with Siemens Industry to further enhance these attributes.
 
With integrated Siemens control technology, the Dunkable machines will deliver increased reliability and repeatability benefits, as well as laying a standardised foundation for future scalability potential as the technology and machines evolve.
 
P2i’s patented technology employs a special pulsed ionised gas (plasma), which is created within a vacuum chamber, to attach a nanometre-thin polymer layer over the entire surface of a product.
 
Also known as the fourth state of matter, a plasma is a gas that has been energised to a point where it becomes a mixture of ionized, neutral, and activated molecules. Plasmas are not rare, they are present in space and fusion reactors and can be found in flames and neon lighting. The plasma we use is a specific combination of energized molecules that create the liquid repellent nano-coating surface. P2i’s plasma chambers today range in size from 8 to 2000 litres. We install our plasma chambers into our customer’s manufacturing facilities to meet their required annual through-put demands. The specific speed will depend on factors such as annual volumes and the size and the nature of the product. For some applications, a single process duration for multiple products can be as short as three minutes.
 
During the plasma process, the monomer that is ionised chemically attaches to the surface of the product and so becomes part of the material. This way the treatment will last as long as the material it attaches to. 
 
The process has to be carried out in one of P2i’s stand-alone nano-coating machines. Facilities supplying the process produce no significant emissions - it is a solvent-free process that uses very small amounts of a pure protective monomer in an enclosed chamber.. A very small amount of monomer is used and any excess material is filtered-out by the equipment.
 
Negligible waste is produced and minimal energy is used. The price of the process depends on the end application requirements, the volume of product to be processed, the processing speed, and the size of the equipment used to deliver the process. 
 
The coating is molecularly bound to the product surface at a nanoscopic level, which means it becomes inseparable from it and is as durable as the material it protects. Because the coating is one thousand times thinner than a human hair, it is invisible to sight or touch. The process dramatically lowers the product’s surface energy so that when liquids come into contact with it they form beads and simply run off.
 
Chris Palmer, Supply Chain Manager, P2i, explains: “We are looking to enrich our diagnostic capability, boosting remote monitoring, and enabling the flexibility to add more functionality to the machines at a later stage, in an easier way. It was also important for Siemens to be able to guarantee a high level of security for our intellectual property. We wanted to find a partner that could also offer worldwide support.”
 
Simon Aldridge, Principal Software Engineer, P2i, comments: “Siemens fieldbus technology based on Profibus and Profinet, as well as the highly efficient S7 1500 PLCs and HMIs is showing great success in customer trials. By providing increased functionality, enhanced security and enabling remote diagnostic reviews to be undertaken, P2i can provide advanced service and support. In many ways, by introducing Siemens technology, we have set a standardised approach to the future core control package on the machines, meaning we can add further functionality with little disruption and minimal time and expenditure.”
 
John Hawkes, Account Development Manager from Siemens Industry added: “P2i is a perfect example of the type of innovative UK company helping to strengthen the nation’s manufacturing base. Not only has it developed an exciting technology sought by the vast mobile phone sector, it has commercialised the idea through its bespoke nano-coating application process.” 
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