Military Technology Could Protect Mobile Phones from Moisture Damage

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A technology originally developed to protect soldiers from chemical attack is set to become the latest weapon of electronics companies by preventing moisture ingress from high humidity rain or accidental immersion in water. With the rapid growth in small electronic devices such as mobile phones that are required to work both indoors and outdoors the risk of water ingress and damage to these high value items has grown enormously.

Their small size also means that conventional means of waterproofing such as gaskets or O-rings are not viable. ion-mask, as the product is known - modifies the surface of virtually any material, applying a protective enhancement, just nanometres thick, over the entire surface of the object by means of an ionised gas or "plasma". From mobile phones to PDAs, the treatment not only coats the external surfaces but also the inside without damaging precision electronics.

Invisible to the naked eye, ion-mask causes water to bounce off treated surfaces like beads of mercury by decreasing the surface energy of the component materials, and, by applying a coating just nanometres thick, other properties such as colour, texture and feel are completely unaffected. Electrical items that would normally have moderate levels of water protection can be taken straight from the production line or even high street store and treated retrospectively - with no change to the look, feel or electronic performance of the product and the level of water protection is greatly enhanced.

Ion-mask is not a "barrier technology" that can alter the performance of delicate items such as microphones or is susceptible to pin-holes or make re-work almost impossible. Apart from increasing the protection of smaller items, ion-mask can also be used to ensure that larger, more complex items that can accommodate gaskets and o-rings are given an additional level of protection and provide further assurance of performance to high performance items.

"ion- mask is extremely effective against the problem of moisture ingress as it can be applied to the most intricate electronic objects without damaging the precious circuitry," explains P2i's Business Development Director, Ian Robins. "The process is particularly well suited to high value applications such as MP3 players, which are required to perform outdoors in all weather conditions, or other small, lightweight electronic items which may be inadvertently worn in the shower or while swimming. Having demonstrated the technology to a number of leading manufacturers, many have been amazed and are considering ion-mask enhancement to improve the performance of their products," added Dr Robins.

P2i was established in 2004 to commercialise super liquid-repellent treatments developed by the UK's Ministry of Defence.

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