PCB Potting vs. Conformal Coating

Because electrical systems and devices are vulnerable to damage from various natural and manmade sources, it is necessary to protect PCBs in order to maintain performance and longevity. There are various contaminants and operating conditions that electronics may encounter – vibration, impact, corrosion, rain, humidity, sweat, dirt, debris, and extreme temperatures are some common examples.

Two methods of PCB protection are conformal coating and potting. It is essential that OEMs understand these two options in order to select the right method of protection for each application. Both of these techniques utilize polymers to protect PCBs, providing some electrical insulation and thermal and chemical resistance; however, the method of application and the level of protection provided varies. The following compares PCB potting vs conformal coating and provides guidance on when each method should be used.

At RiverSide Integrated Solutions (RIS), we have the experience and equipment to protect electronics that are used in everyday applications as well as high-stress situations where foreign elements like electromagnetic fields, vibrations, or manufacturing particulates can cause degradation and poor functionality. With our expertise and extensive ruggedized electronics capabilities, your assemblies can withstand even the harshest conditions. Our team can provide protective options, including potting and conformal coating, that best apply to the operating environment of your device. Watch this short video to learn more about our PCB potting and conformal coating techniques.

What is Conformal Coating?

Conformal coating, is a form of PCB protection in which a film is applied to a fully assembled circuit board. This layer acts as a shield to protect the PCB against dust, dirt, and other chemicals as well as moisture that can lead to corrosion. Conformal coating can be applied via several different techniques with spraying being the most common as it is suitable for higher volumes of PCBs and known for its consistency. Conformal coating layers are typically thin and the thickness can vary depending on the level of protection required.

As electronics become more complex, the use of conformal coating has become more prevalent. Once you have determined conformal coating is necessary for your PCBs, it is important to select the right type of coating. At RIS, we offer a variety of coating options including silicone, acrylic, and urethane that work well for a wide range of electronics applications.

One of the key benefits of conformal coating is that it contributes minimal weight gain to electronic devices. This method is also relatively inexpensive and easier to apply. The primary disadvantage of conformal coating is the level of PCB protection provided may not be enough to withstand severe operating conditions.

Looking for a contract manufacturer that offers a range of PCB protection options?

Contact RIS today to learn more about our PCBA methods including PCB potting and conformal coating.

What is Potting?

PCB potting, or encapsulation, surrounds the PCB with a shell of protection instead of a layer of coating. A pot or casing is constructed over the PCB to encase the device, and liquid resin is poured into the casing. The resin fills the pot, covering and sealing the PCB entirely. Potting is a two-step process, which often takes longer than conformal coating. Additionally, the casing is thicker than conformal coating, adding weight to the PCB. There is some overlap in the chemistry of the polymers used in conformal coating and potting, with silicone, epoxy, and urethane being the most common compounds used in PCB potting.

The cons are that potting is typically more expensive than conformal coating and it adds weight to the PCB. Also, there is no rework or repair option once the PCB is potted. However, the additional thickness provides increased protection; thus, the key advantage of PCB potting is its excellent protection, especially against heat, chemicals, water, and shock and vibration damage.

Which Protection is Better: Potting or Conformal Coating?

Naturally, OEMs often ask: which method of PCB protection is better? The answer is that both methods are good choices and are suitable for certain applications – so it depends on which method is best for your specific device. There are several factors that should be considered when determining whether to use PCB potting or conformal coating for a given application. These considerations will help determine the level of protection required for your PCB.

  • What is the PCB design, components, and layout?
  • What is the cost and intended use of the device?
  • What operating conditions and environment elements are expected?
  • What level of protection will the housing provide, if any?

As a general rule of thumb, conformal coatings are a great choice for applications that expect mild operating conditions, require flexibility, and have weight or thickness limitations. For example, conformal coating is common with mobile and handheld electronics, such as phones. Conversely, PCB potting provides additional protection and is, thus, an excellent option for applications that expect more extreme conditions that necessitate a higher level of resistance to vibration, impact, abrasion, chemicals, moisture, and temperature.

RIS PCBA Expertise

RIS is an advanced contract manufacturer providing robust solutions in circuit board assembly, electromechanical & mechanical assembly, kitting, supply chain management, fulfillment, and distribution. We operate 3 state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities within the U.S, and as your one-stop-shop we have the capabilities, capacity, quality assurance standards, and resources to provide you with support for all of your manufacturing needs.

At RIS, PCB assembly is one of our core competencies. We provide reliable, seamlessly-assembled printed circuit board systems built with extreme precision. Our skilled engineers, technicians, and assemblers work to expertly put together a complete PCBA. When you choose RIS for your PCBA projects, you can expect the hands-on customer care of a small manufacturing operation and the capabilities characteristic of a much larger company with our complete electronics manufacturing services for OEMs in any industry. Our electronics assembly expertise includes:

  • Surface Mount Technology (Fine-pitch, BGA (1 mm), µBGA (.4 mm), 01005, X-Ray, automated rework, and automated optical inspection (AOI))
  • Magazine to Magazine handling
  • Smart Shelving floor stock inventory control
  • X-ray reel counting
  • Lead-through auto-insertion (Axial, Radial, DIP, and Zierick Terminals)
  • Wave Solder and Selective Solder Machines (No-clean & aqueous flux processes) RoHS and Tin/Lead capabilities
  • Special Application Equipment (Robotic dispensing systems)
  • Conformal coating (Silicone, Acrylic, Urethane)
  • Potting (Epoxy, Urethane, and Silicone)
  • Low-pressure molding technology
  • Comprehensive product test

Contact us today at (507) 523-3220 to see how we can help with your PCB assembly needs, or click here for a quote.

PCB Potting vs. Conformal Coating
Article Name
PCB Potting vs. Conformal Coating
PCB potting vs. conformal coating: two methods of PCB protection that offer varying levels of protection from harsh operating conditions.
Publisher Name
RiverSide Integrated Solutions
Publisher Logo