Nanotechnology is an industry that has recently begun to offer breakthrough solutions to the world. The incorporation of nanomaterials into thin films, coatings and surfaces leads to new functionalities, completely innovative characteristics and the possibility to achieve multi-functional coatings and smart coatings. The use of nanomaterials also results in performance enhancements in wear, corrosion-wear, fatigue and corrosion resistant coatings.
The term nanocoating refers to nanoscale (i.e. with a thickness of a few tens to a few hundreds of nanometers) thin-films that are applied to surfaces in order create or improve a material’s functionalities. Properties such as antifouling and antibacterial properties, product longevity, thermal insulation, gloss retention, friction reduction, dirt and water repellency, hardness, corrosion resistance, flame retardancy, ultraviolet radiation stability, improved energy efficiency, anti-graffiti, self-cleaning, moisture absorbing, and chemical and mechanical properties are improved significantly using nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes, graphene and nanoparticulate metal oxides.
Nanomaterials incorporated into coatings and applied onto surfaces improve outdoor durability, wear resistance and toughness properties as well as meeting stringent regulatory and safety requirements. Nanocoatings provide resistance to fluctuations in temperature, as a result, they are popular in products that are impacted by temperature changes and harsh climatic conditions such as aircrafts, ceramic tiles, glass windows, automobiles, etc.
By 2025, it is estimated that the global market value for nanocoatings will climb to $17.2 billion, an all-time high. This market is all-encompassing, offering diverse applications, including anti-fouling, fingerprint resistance, water repellency for clothing, and even bacteria growth prevention to curb infectious spread.
But the growth of protective coatings for electronics is unparalleled, as billions of electronic devices (41.6B by 2025, to be specific) deploy into diverse and challenging environments. These devices require protection against threats, including rain, sweat, submersion, pollution and more. As traditional protection methods can fall short for these new, miniaturized, edge electronics, protective nanocoatings offer promising safeguarding solutions and massive growth potential.
Nano Coatings vs Traditional Conformal Coatings
Nano conformal films have already proven useful as scratch-resistant coatings, created by combining aluminum silicate nanoparticles to scratch-resistant polymer coatings. The resultant product better resists surface chipping and scratching for an extensive list of current products, ranging from automobiles to eyeglass lenses.
Like traditional coatings, nanocoatings and thin-film alternatives are deposited on a surface to improve protection. The difference is that a protective nanocoating can be as thin as a few nanometers, typically starting at 300 nm. This profile minimizes unit weight and mass, which proves useful for compact devices. Though super thin, their protection from ice, wear, pollutants, heat and corrosion surpass traditional coatings. Alternative benefits can include suitable dielectric and thermal management properties and hydrophobic and oleophobic characteristics. The protection can be tailored to circumstances by selecting and combining various materials. Nanocoatings and thin films are functionalized to solve specific business challenges; an efficient, competitive solution.
A conformal coating is applied to an assembly requiring protection; this coating covers and seals the device’s working components, delivering reliable protection against intrusive elements. Nano coatings are emerging as viable alternatives to traditional conformal coatings for protecting PCBs. This is especially true for mobile electronics, including biomedical devices. In addition to hydrophobicity, nano coatings repel oils (oleophobicity), with low viscosity and solids’ content.
Nanocoatings in the electronic devices
Nanotechnology is making a significant impact on the electronic devices market , driven by consumer electronics requirements and the need to enhance the speed and performance of computing components while reducing their size. Nanocoatings are used in a broad range of electronic devices & optics applications. The development of future flexible and transparent electronic devices market relies on novel materials, which are mechanically flexible, lightweight and low-cost, in addition to being electrically conductive and optically transparent.
Films and coatings incorporating silver nanowires, graphene, carbon nanotubes, quantum dots include transparent electrodes for touchscreens, liquid crystal displays, e-paper and OLED devices, and thin film photovoltaics. Transparent conductive films have been incorporated into sensors on touchscreen technologies and as protective coatings in the consumer electronic devices market. Nanocoatings are also being used to boost the efficiency with which heat can be removed from semiconductors and other devices and add anti-static and electromagnetic shielding properties.
Like traditional conformal coatings, nano coatings protect PCBs through their ultra hydrophobic properties, which repel liquid water and block moisture, preventing its capacity for transporting corrosive ions onto boards’ surfaces. Some of nano’s specialized uses go beyond the normal applications attributed to conformal coatings for aerospace, automotive, consumer, defense and medical purposes, particularly those aligned with MEMS/nano products.
Because they are nanotechnology-based, nano coverings are better suited for MEMS/nano applications than most conformal coatings. They are stronger, lighter-weight, and far more amenable to the confined special requirements of microscopic technologies. This makes them a better choice for much biomedical technology, particularly for devices implanted within the human body, which must operate continually, and in many case without fail, to assure the patient’s health.
Nano coatings are functional at far finer film layers than competing coatings. They respond well to biomedical concerns of personal safety and environmental protection because they are far more benign than such solvent based wet conformal coatings as acrylic, epoxy, silicone and urethane; curing is generally unnecessary, or minimal, even when applied with an atomized spray applicator.
Nano superiority for these many biomedical functions does not diminish their value as coating for agricultural, automotive, consumer goods/appliances, industrial metals, and marine coatings’ purposes, among many other applications.
Protective Nanocoatings Applications
The consumer electronics market size valued at USD 1 trillion in 2019 is estimated to grow at a CAGR of over 7% between 2020 and 2026. Cell phone damage alone due to liquid exposure is estimated to cost the industry upwards of $97.1B annually. Meanwhile, 90.5 million eReader owners want to view eBooks on the beach, at the pool or with a cup of coffee. Tired of repairs and replacements, waterproofing is table stakes for success with consumers. Waterproofing is only one need for consumer devices. Hearables and wearables, like smartwatches and earbuds, experience adverse operating conditions. Sweat, steam, perfume and cleaning fluids are but a few of the common hazards that jeopardize circuitry.
Smart home security products (cameras, video doorbells, alarms and smart locks), predicted to become a $4.3 billion industry by 2023, is another product line in need of protection. Pollution, moisture, corrosives and chemicals can cause unexpected or immediate failure.
Protective nanocoatings can exceed the industry standards for protection, including the IPC IP ratings, at an economical price. This solution is a competitive candidate for consumer electronics protection.
The medical device industry is exponentially expanding, with growth fostered by an aging population and a desire to manage health proactively. By 2025, the medical device industry will be valued at $612.7 billion worldwide. Currently, one in 11 adults around the globe lives with diabetes. While glucose meters and insulin pumps are helpful devices, they are still vulnerable to splashes and spills. Diagnostic imaging also comprises an impressive market, valued at $40 billion. EEG analyzers face cleaning fluids, body fluids and other liquids daily, requiring protection. Finally, over 900 million people will experience hearing loss by 2050. This population will subject their hearing aids to sweat, moisture, humidity and body oils. Yet, hearing aid components can be as small as a pencil eraser. The healthcare community is actively exploring the robust, low-mass protection of nanocoatings.
In the next four years, the global market size for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will reach $110.6 billion. This market growth necessitates protection from common industrial failure conditions. These environments include corrosives, contaminants, inclement weather, sulfuric gases and petroleum products. In the distributed energy generation (DEG) global market, expected to reach $573.7 billion by 2025, similar concerns exist. Digital logic controllers and other DEG products need to be resilient to avoid downtime and failure rates.
Meanwhile, the IoT market in oil and gas will hit $39.40 billion globally by 2023. To implement connected OT edge in these environments, manufacturers must put reliability first. Protective nanocoatings and thin-film solutions, with excellent corrosion-resistance properties and beneficial thermal and electrical properties, compare well to existing solutions that use operator-dependent processes that are not as repeatable.
The automotive industry is making a paradigm shift towards autonomous products and technologies. By 2030, electronics will account for 50% of a car’s total cost worldwide, creating profitable opportunities. Global revenue for the connected car market will reach $166 billion by 2025. Autonomous vehicles (AV) are at the forefront of change, expected to comprise a quarter of the marketplace by 2040. AVs mandate unprecedented reliability; occupant safety is a paramount concern. Achieving this type of resiliency may seem impossible, given the harsh service environment. Oil, gas, antifreeze, corrosives, temperature extremes, contaminants, pollutants and humidity are all obstacles. Another concern is for automotive “lightweighting,” removing as much mass as possible. Finally, sustainability is growing in importance for the automotive industry. The need for low-weight, low-bulk, sustainable reliability makes protective nanocoatings a promising option.
Forecasts suggest that by 2030, around 50 billion IoT devices will be in use around the world, creating a massive web of interconnected devices spanning everything from smartphones to kitchen appliances. There will be 53.63 million active smart city connections in the European Union alone in the next couple of years. Cameras monitor traffic, while noise sensors alert personnel to the potential of danger.
Smart cities must run dependably with cost contained and constituents safe. That means every component in the network must reliably run too. Many IoT devices that are manufactured for use outside and in extreme weather conditions where aesthetics are of low importance will feature a more ruggedised design than, say, consumer electronics. Everything from utility meters and cell phone towers is mission-critical, but salt fog, humidity, snow and dust storms are genuine threats to these IoT components. Sensors, switches and hubs are also devices that need thin, lightweight protection. Scalability, sustainability and minimal bulk are enticing benefits for protective nanocoatings in the IoT arena.
All of these technologies are going to need to be reliable, durable and given the extremes of weather regularly experienced, water-resistant. As a result, every single sensor powering machine to machine (M2M) connectivity across all industries is going to benefit from technological advancements in water-resistant nano coating.