Thursday, July 31, 2008

Waterproofing Electrical Devices - Great News

In maritime circles a battle has raged for at least one thousand years; water versus equipment. When electrical components where first brought aboard ship requiring electricity to live in close quarters with its natural enemy, things were even more tense. To date the solution to this problem has been the use of barriers to keep water away from components. From hard cases with synthetic gaskets to plastic amour found in electric cable, protecting a device from the conductive and corrosive properties of water has always been done external to the core components. A waterproof radio for example, combines a protective shell with plastic coating and gaskets to keep water away from sensitive electrical components. This works fairly well provided you maintain the watertight integrity of the unit but it’s expensive to manufacture and maintain not to mention the extra weight and bulk it adds to the device itself. Damage the shell or service the components in harsh conditions and that protection is useless.

Sid Martin, Director of Technology at Northeast Maritime Institute in Fairhaven, MA, North-Eastern USA, has approached the problem from a different perspective. Martin knew that protecting devices from marine environments needed to be done without adding size or complexity to the device. With knowledge gained in the semi-conductor, aerospace and maritime industries Martin set out to protect every surface of a device; at the molecular level.

The results are impressive. During the testing process Northeast Maritime Institute has submerged an IPOD Touch, a Macintosh MacBook, Blackberry Pearl, numerous VHF radios and other equipment without noticeable damage. One such device operated continuously while immersed in water for over 450 hours prior to failure.

The so'called "Golden Shellback" coating protects electronics exposed to water and resists both rain and humidity allowing them to continue working during and after direct exposure. The coating also has the ability to repel oil, synthetic fluid, hazardous material, sand, dust, and water-based substances.

The demo is exciting for anyone working in remote areas of Africa, Asia or Latin America. The challenge will be to get it applied to existing apparatus. (They reckon waterproofing a laptop would be about 70 US dollars, plus shipping). But if you have ever seen the dirt and dust that gets into equipment at radio stations in Africa, this kind of coating applied to any equipment operating in the tropics will probably double the life of the device.

Below are a couple of videos that have covered the demo.

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