There are plenty of issues that can be planned for when developing electronic products. Many times, you can account for factors like noise, temperature, and insulation. However, one of the most essential elements to consider is the environment the product will be in.
Environmental interference and its effects on electronic products are important to consider for the long-term success of a device. However, it can be challenging to decide the best way to prevent the elements from affecting your products. You might wonder: what are the best materials for the job? How do you determine which materials to use on certain products?
In this blog, the electronics experts at Mueller will guide you through the different kinds of environmental interference, what materials can be used to prevent them from harming products, and when to apply those materials. With this guide, you will learn everything you need to know to make an informed decision and how to prevent interference in your product best.
Types of Environmental Interference
Environmental interference comes in many forms depending on what situation a product is in. For instance, an indoor product like a computer has much less need for environmental protection than an outdoor product like a fuse box.
Moisture, dust, and debris/dirt are three common types of environmental interference affect products and need to be accounted for. These factors all have the potential to inhibit a product’s functionality in different ways.
Moisture can be devastating to electronic products, causing a myriad of issues. Water particles can cause certain components to rust away if exposed, and they can also cause other parts to short-circuit. Moisture damage can occur as a result of rain, humidity, or dew, making it an almost constant source of interference. Some products affected by moisture interference are lighting fixtures, electrical panels, power meters, and air conditioning units.
Dust is a less immediate threat than moisture, as it can take time to see the effects of dust buildup on a product. However, it still can pose serious threats in the long run. An accumulation of dust can lead to overheating, increased conductivity, and lack of contact between components, among other issues. Some products affected by dust interference are servers, laptops, and computers.
Debris / Dirt
Debris and dirt are similar to dust in how they affect electronic products. Contrary to popular belief, dirt poses just as much of a threat to products indoors as it does to those outdoors. Buildups of dirt and pieces of debris can cause issues with the heating and cooling of an electronic device, as well as scratching or damaging internal components. Some products affected by dirt and debris interference are servers, radios, and computers.
That’s a pretty long list of issues. Luckily, there are just as many solutions to solve for those sources of interference and ensure the ongoing functionality of your electronic products.
The Best Materials for Environmental Protection
For the most part, different types of interference require different materials for prevention. Fortunately, there is an almost endless selection of materials that are best suited for virtually any situation.
The most common materials used for environmental interference prevention are:
- Open-Cell Foams
- Closed-Cell Foams
It is important to note that some of these materials, like silicone, neoprene, and nitrile, can be implemented as a solids or closed-cell sponges and foams depending on the application.
Though neoprene and nitrile are both types of synthetic rubber, they don’t have the same properties. While both act as seals, nitriles are generally less resistant to light and dust than neoprene, while neoprene is more resistant to water than nitrile materials.
Foams are versatile materials and very useful for limiting dust accumulation. Open-cell foams allow air to pass through while catching dust particles and debris before they reach a product’s interior. However, they generally have very low moisture resistance. Meanwhile, closed-cell foams have stronger resistance to moisture than open-cell foams do.
Silicone, in both solid and sponge form, is used as a barrier for environmental interference for high and low-temperature situations. In its solid form, it has high moisture resistance, while its sponge form is better suited for dust, dirt, and debris.
Deciding What Materials to Use
Now that we’ve established some of the most common environmental interference blockers, it’s time to determine which material is best for certain products and situations.
According to our expert, Steve Williams, material choice is based on several factors, including the use of the product, whether it is a fixed or open-and-close enclosure, and its environment. Keeping these in mind, along with what we’ve discussed so far, let’s take a look and see when to use certain materials.
Generally speaking, solid nitrile and open-cell foam materials are best suited for indoor use. Foam excels when it’s blocking dust and debris, which can be a big problem with indoor equipment that doesn’t see a lot of handling. It is also very well-suited for electronic products like fuse boxes where panels or doors are being opened and closed frequently. Nitrile materials are a great low-cost solution for O-rings and other rubber gaskets designed to lock out moisture and air from electronic devices with grooves.
Indoor applications will also utilize polyurethane ester/ether, poron, or sponge for general dust protection, as well as also reticulated foam for filtration in order to keep products free of debris while still maintaining air flow.
As for outdoor applications, the most common materials for those devices are silicone and neoprene, in both solid and closed-cell foam or sponge form. These materials are the most resistant to moisture, which is easily among the most common sources of environmental interference outdoors. Both silicone and neoprene have high water and air resistance, making them perfect for outdoor products.
While very prominent for indoor applications, dust or debris can become issues for outdoor products as well. In these instances, closed-cell foam can also be used to prevent that type of interference while also maintaining some semblance of moisture resistance.
Outdoor applications can also be affected by UV interference if they are in direct sunlight. If you need a material with strong UV resistance, you should use a closed-cell EPDM sponge, which will not degrade when exposed to these rays.
When deciding what materials are best for preventing environmental interference, it is essential to remember that your choice will be entirely dependent on the situation your product is in. In that regard, there is no definitive best material for prevention and containment.
As we mentioned before, potential environmental interference is one of the most important factors to take into consideration when crafting a device. However, by understanding the different types of environmental interference, the materials used to contain them, and the ways to apply those materials, you can assess any situation with confidence. By using this guide, you will be able to make the most informed decision when it comes to designing your electronic products.