Choosing the Right Materials for Electronic Products
Electronics are likely a massive source of business for your company. With that in mind, you must be confident that the products you’re producing are built to last and get the job done. At Mueller, we’re here to make sure that your electronics do just that.
To create functioning and effective electronic products, you need to start with the right materials, because your material choice will end up dictating the longevity, quality, and effectiveness of your product. With this resource guide, the experts at Mueller give you all the information you need to understand the best materials for your electronic products better.
- Deciding on the Right Materials
Using Acrylic and Rubber-Based Adhesives in Electronics
When it comes to electronics, you will want to be creating long-lasting products. Adhesives are the foundation for any long-running product, but choosing the correct type is not always an easy decision to make.
With adhesives, the two types that see the most widespread use in the electronics industry are rubber-based and acrylic-based. While they both help keep products together, there are some important differences between the two.
Rubber-based adhesives have:
- High initial tack
- A soft and malleable structure
- The ability to wet out and fill gaps quickly
Acrylic-based adhesives have:
- Long-lasting lifespans
- High heat resistance
- High resistance to environmental issues
To get a better idea of how the two adhesives function, let’s look at an example of how both can be applied, starting with rubber-based adhesives.
Let’s say you’re producing an electronic device with a component that needs to be attached to a base further down the assembly line. To ensure the two pieces can be screwed together, they need to arrive at that station together. To accomplish this, you would use a rubber-based adhesive to attach the two pieces, since it quickly adheres to the components before they’re attached with screws. This process capitalizes on a rubber-based adhesive’s high initial tack.
Acrylic-based adhesives are used in more long-term situations. Say you’re producing an outdoor air conditioning unit and are looking to attach an interior panel to the frame. Since they remain effective for long periods of time, as well as having high resistance to the environment, you would use an acrylic-based adhesive in this situation.
Understanding the difference between these two adhesives can mean the difference between a functioning and faulty product. If you still have questions about the differences between rubber-based and acrylic-based adhesives, check out our article on the subject. Remember, a product can be made out of the highest quality materials known to man, but it won’t matter if it doesn’t hold together. Making the right choice is crucial.
High and Low Compression Set Gasket Materials
After you’ve decided how your product’s components will be held together, it’s time to make another important decision: what type of gasket material you’ll be using. When considering gasket materials, you have to decide what level of compression set your product will need. Different materials have different levels of compression set, so choosing the right level and material for your product is vital.
When a material has a low compression set, that means it retains very little of the deformation that occurs when pressure is applied to it. If a material has a high compression set, the material is permanently deformed as a result of that pressure.
For example, if you were to put a piece of foam under your desk and leave it there for one month before removing it, the amount of indentation on the foam after removing it would be its compression set. The more indented, the higher the compression set. The less indented, the lower the compression set. The material determines the level of compression set.
A product’s compression set can determine its effectiveness and longevity. If an electronic product is incorrectly sealed as a result of using the wrong type of material, issues can develop as time goes on.
Since they retain minimal deformation, materials with low compression set are best suited for items that see constant handling. If a product has a door or panel that is being opened and closed repeatedly, a low compression set material like open-cell foam is preferable. Since the material can be compressed when the product is closed in order to seal out interference but then regain its shape when open, it would be more suited to this function than a material with a high compression set. In this instance, a high compression set material would not be able to seal the door or panel when closed properly.
Gaskets with high compression sets are mostly suited for electronic products where two separate components are attached. These material types are well-suited for use in conjunction with adhesives and are generally used internally for products. High compression set materials like closed-cell foam and PVC plastic also have high environmental resistance, meaning the majority of these gasket types can be used indoors and outdoors, giving this material type a wide variety of uses.
Understanding what compression set level a material should have can prevent those problems.
Open-Cell and Closed-Cell Foam as Gaskets in Electronic Products
Now that you’re familiar with high and low compression sets, it’s time to take a closer look at two of the most popular gasket materials around.
Open-cell and closed-cell foams are two of the most widely used foam gasket materials, each with their own distinctive qualities.
Open-cell foam has:
- Low compression set
- Dust and debris sealing ability
- High flexibility
Closed-cell foam has:
- High compression set
- High water resistance
- A sturdy and rigid form
Open-cell and closed-cell foams do have some similar functions as well, but it’s their specific qualities that set them apart and require further examination and comparison.
Foam gaskets work well in electronic products since they have very low conductivity and excel at blocking certain environmental factors from affecting your product, some more than others. Open-cell foam excels at blocking dust and debris due to its openness; its cells are large enough to allow air to pass through while being small enough to keep out dust particles. Meanwhile, closed-cell foams are more adept at blocking water since the cells aren’t ruptured. Open-cell foam has all cells ruptured, meaning the water could pass through.
They also both work to keep different components separate. As discussed earlier, open-cell foam is excellent for products that require constant handling, like doors and panels on products. Closed-cell foam is best for keeping components separate without any give. For example, if you are using open-cell foam as a gasket between two heavy pieces of sheet metal, it will compress immediately and be rendered almost useless. On the other hand, closed-cell foam will maintain a level of resistance, making it the clear choice.
Generally, closed-cell foam is going to be used in products that require a strong and sturdy gasket, while open-cell foam is best suited for products that see constant handling. By figuring out which foam type is best for your product and then utilizing it, you can increase the product’s lifespan and make sure it continues to function correctly without interference.
Materials for Dissipating Heat in Electronics
Once gaskets are taken care of, it’s important to shift focus to another important aspect of any electronic product: heat. With many products having so many moving parts, overheating is a real issue. Luckily, some materials can minimize or even negate the effects of heat on a product.
There are three common material types used for heat dissipation: thermal grease, pads, and tape.
Thermal grease is:
- Extremely conductive
- Easy to apply
Thermal pads are:
- Highly conductive
- Adaptable and malleable
Thermal tape is:
- Great for mounting
- Time-saving during assembly
Once you understand what the three primary materials are, it’s essential to determine which is the best fit for your product. All three have shared qualities, but thermal tape does function differently from grease and pads, which mainly compete with one another.
Thermal grease is most commonly used in low-cost electronics, as well as any products with a controller, such as lawnmowers, leaf-blowers, or chainsaws. These products don’t see constant use and need a dissipating material that won’t degrade, making grease the best choice.
Thermal pads are most commonly used in products like smartphones, computers, laptops, and other products with high heat environments. Gap pads provide devices with the dissipation they need without the risk of degrading or moving within the product. Thermal pads have comparable conductivity to grease, but are much more consistent, making them the smart choice for high-end products, or those with a long lifespan.
Lastly, thermal tapes are most commonly used with LED lighting strips, as well as other mounted appliances, since they have the highest tack and ability to hold components together. Thermal tape and pads both have a certain degree of tack, but the tape has much stronger adhesion at the cost of less conductivity, making them ideal for products with low thermal output.
If you still have questions about thermal dissipation materials, how they affect your electronic product, as well as how they compare to one another, read this article on the topic. Fully understanding which material is the best fit for your product will allow you to effectively dissipate heat and ensure that your product continues to function as intended.
Electromagnetic Shielding Materials in Electronic Products
Since we’ve addressed the issue of overheating, it’s time to start protecting from other sources of interference. The first significant type of interference to account for is one that comes from other electronic devices: electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs). EMFs can interfere with your product and cause issues, but by choosing the right shielding materials, you can protect against them.
There are two material categories for blocking EMFs: blocking and conductive materials.
Blocking materials stop interference from entering a product entirely. These materials are entirely opaque and act as a barrier.
Conductive materials can channel and redirect interference away from components. These materials generally work to reduce internal interference.
Once you have determined which category of material you need, you can then decide what type of material you want.
Blocking materials are mainly used to keep exterior interference out of electronics. One of the most prominent blocking materials in the industry is fabric-covered foam, which is an open or closed-cell foam covered in fabric made of nylon or polyester with copper wire or twine threaded in to block EMFs. This material’s fabric openings are small enough that EMI frequencies cannot get through, making it a very capable blocker. There are also certain types of metals that work well as blockers, including steel, copper, and aluminum. A full guide to those metals can be found here.
Conductive materials are used to redirect interference away from a component, making them mostly used internally on a product. One of the most common conductive materials is oriented wire. This material is generally used to connect two surfaces within a product with an electrical path to channel and cut down on EMI frequencies. Another is a silicone that has been filled with metal particles to make it more conductive. This material is generally used in high-end products due to the cost of precious metals.
The two categories of materials both have their specific functions. If you need a material to shut out interference completely, you should use a blocking material. If you are looking for a way to redirect interference, then a conductive material is the right choice. To protect your product from interference and ensure its functionality, especially in high-end products like military radios, having the right EMI shielding is a necessity.
Materials for Handling Acoustic Issues in Electronics
Once EMI has been addressed, it’s time to take a look at the acoustic and noise issues your product might face. Whether it’s an electrical motor or a cooling fan, acoustic issues can affect both the product’s performance and user experience. However, these issues can be avoided with the right materials.
There are four categories of materials for reducing interference:
Absorbing materials are constructed to soak up sound and stop it from escaping. Barrier materials reflect interference to limit its transference and interfering ability. Dampening materials are put on a sound source, such as a motor, to make it heavier and quieter. Isolation materials are put between the sound source and what it’s installed to, acting as a gasket.
Some of the most prominent materials for dealing with noise sources and acoustic interference are:
- Open-cell foam
- Cellulosic Fibers
Open-cell foam is probably the most widely used material for sound reduction. Open-cell foams are relatively cost-effective sound absorbers that offer a barrier to dust & debris penetration when under compression. As stated earlier, though, these foams do have some environmental limitations, mainly concerning moisture.
On the other hand, polyester, polypropylene, and cellulosic fiber nonwovens are also very versatile sound-reducing materials. They work for both indoor and outdoor electronic products, as they can be resistant to most environmental conditions while providing sound reduction. Fiberglass is a good choice for outdoor electronic products since it excels as an insulator, inherently fire-resistant, and stable under harsh conditions. However, it’s an irritant, making it a poor choice for products that are handled regularly.
By understanding the different types of interference containing materials, you can begin to determine what is best for your product. Protecting from different sources of noise emittance is very important to the usability and overall experience of an electronic product.
Environmental Interference Shielding Materials in Electronics
One of the most critical elements to consider with any electronic product is the environment it will spend most of its time in. Environmental interference can affect products in almost countless ways, but luckily there are just as many ways to counteract the damage that they can do.
There are three major environmental threats that have the most potential for harming electronic products:
With each distinct environmental issue, there is a material that serves to counteract its effects. For moisture resistance, you want to avoid open-cell foams. Instead, use neoprene or solid silicone material, which both have high moisture resistance. To effectively keep dust and debris out of your products, use an open-cell foam or silicone sponge, which both allow air to pass through while having small enough cells to block unwanted particles from entering.
It is also essential to consider the temperature of the environment your product will be in. Rubbers are not well-suited to high-temperature areas, while silicones function well in both low and high-temperature environments. Temperature is especially important to consider for products that will spend most or all of their time outdoors.
By protecting your electronics from water, dust, and debris, you can ensure that these products do not deteriorate, rust, or malfunction, all of which are issues that can occur if left exposed to the elements. Choosing a material is solely dependent on the application and environment the product will be in.
If you’re looking for even more information on environmental interference and what materials are best for shielding your electronic products against them, be sure to take a look at our article on the subject.
By understanding the different ways products can be harmed and what materials can shield against that interference, you will increase your product’s longevity.
Deciding on the Right Materials
There are many factors at play when designing and producing an electronic product. As manufacturers, we all want to produce the best products possible for our consumers.
This guide and resource collection is the first step to ensuring that the electronic products you produce are satisfactory. Electronics can be a complicated market, and by making sure your products consist of the proper materials, you can stand out in this crowded field.
By taking adhesives, gaskets, and multiple types of interference into consideration, you can identify and assess every possible issue your product may face, whether you’re designing smartphones, computers, or radios.
When deciding what materials to choose, ask yourself these questions:
- Will this material hold my product together?
- Will this material effectively seal my product?
- Will this material effectively keep my product from overheating?
- Will this product keep EMFs from interfering with my product?
- Will this material reduce the noise interference my product produces?
- Will this material keep my product safe from environmental factors?
- Is this material the most cost-effective solution for my product?
Using this comprehensive guide, you have the knowledge to answer “yes” to all these questions and create long-lasting and effective electronic products. Remember, strong products begin with the right materials. With the information and resources in this guide, you can determine what material is best suited for your next project and get to work on designing products that meet your standards.
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