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Welcome to our blog, where you can keep up-to-date with the latest P2i news and developments. We will post articles regarding news, events we attend, speaker presentations as well as explaining the nanotechnology industry.

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Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Hydrophobic coatings: spray or plasma?

Over the past few weeks there has been a lot of excitement regarding hydrophobic coatings in a can. In fact, many people ask us whether they can buy a spray-can of our coating to treat their household items. I asked the scientists at P2i for some extra info on the difference between spray-can coating and the plasma tech they use:

How do hydrophobic coatings work?
Hydrophobic coatings create a layer on top of a surface to repel water and other liquids. Because of the low surface energy created by the coating, water beads into droplets and can therefor easily roll away from the surface. 

Why doesn't P2i offer a spray coating?
There are two big differences between P2i’s plasma coating and spray-can coatings: the size of the layering and the durability. When you spray a substance out of a can onto a surface you are going to create a layer which is microns thick. Now on an online video this looks very impressive, but if you could feel the product yourself, you would immediately notice a difference. A coating which is microns thick is at a size that the human body can detect through touch (with a waxy texture or feel), and at a size that is visible, causing discoloration or a white substance you can physically see.
When you look at the types of products P2i applies its technology to, it becomes clear why spray application is not an option. For example on delicate electronics, P2i’s nano-coating is so thin that it doesn't change the thermal properties of the device. This means that it is not in danger of overheating smartphones or tablets. And at a thousand times thinner than a human hair you wouldn't even know it’s there!

How is it applied?



P2i’s coating is applied in a process called “plasma enhanced vapor deposition”. The process involves three steps.
Step One: the item is placed into a chamber which is brought down to very low pressure.
Step Two: Plasma activates the surfaces of the device making them ready to bond to the monomer which is applied as a vapor
Step Three: Further plasma polymerizes the monomer forming a nano-coating layer over and within the product. The chamber is brought back up to room pressure and the item removed.

So there are a few key pieces to this puzzle which ensures a more durable performance than a spray coating. Firstly, because the product is applied in a vacuum it means the vapor can get through to every nook and cranny. In fact the coating can reach nearly anywhere air can go. This means there are no weak points to attract moisture or allow corrosion damage. Secondly, the plasma activation of the surfaces ensures that the coating is chemically bonded to the product, becoming part of its physical make-up, not simply sitting on the surface where it can wipe or rub off. Finally, the plasma polymerization means the coating is applied evenly across the surfaces and so doesn't end up with clumping or disproportionately thicker and thinner points.

Where is it used?  
     


P2i works with the likes of Motorola to apply the splash-proof coating on to tablets and smartphones to give greater liquid protection, while Plantronics use it on their headsets to protect against sweat and moisture damage. Because P2i works directly with brands and manufacturers to apply the technology during production, it is essential that the coating performs to high standards and is durable for everyday use.


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

With the introduction of the Galaxy S4 Active and Experia ZR we ask: “How waterproof are consumer electronics?”

Smartphones are under a lot of pressure to live up to the expectations of consumers’ daily lives - meeting the environmental challenges as we seamlessly integrate between work, social and home life. 

On top of this the miniaturisation of systems based on integrated circuits and close component spacing, means devices are more susceptible to water damage such as electrochemical migration.

With all the noise around the Galaxy S4 Active and Experia ZR we reflect on a post from October 2012 where we answered the question, “How waterproof are consumer electronics?"   

- October 2012 - 

If you are a keen follower of consumer technology, then you will be aware that there has been a steady emergence over the past year of smartphones and tablets offered complete with 'waterproof' protection. But just how waterproof are these electronics?

Gadgets form an essential part of our everyday lives and there are few places left where our smartphones and tablets do not accompany us. More and more people are taking their electronics into potentially hazardous locations, for example the bathroom or even worse, saunas!

What you may not realize is that even if the device is left in a 'safe' spot, these environments still pose a risk. Water takes many forms such as vapour, mist and steam, all of which can penetrate inside devices. If there is no barrier against ingress, then the vapour or steam can reach internal components, resulting in corrosion and phone malfunctions.

This principle is more commonly understood when dealing with water in its normal form, liquid. Should a device fall into, or be splashed with liquid, without a protective barrier in place, the liquid can penetrate deep inside the device, resulting in electrochemical migration:
  • Electrochemical migration is the movement of metal ions between conductors which results in devices short circuiting and failing.
Our everyday lives have resulted in a greater need for electronics that can withstand the effects of liquids in all their forms. This in turn has seen the latest smartphones and tablets being offered with a repellent or waterproof protection.

What makes electronics waterproof?

For an electronic device to be considered waterproof, it has to be either completely sealed and ruggedized (making them bulky), or alternatively it must have barriers in place that stop water from penetrating through. It is this second option that is proving more popular now, as it allows devices to offer protection from water without the need for external casings. In this approach, manufacturers use seals known as gaskets or O-rings to act as barriers, stopping liquids from penetrating inside the device and damaging the internal components.

So are they really waterproof?

This is an interesting question as devices can claim to be waterproof if they have barriers in place to keep water out, but what about the internal components themselves? Are they also protected should liquid manage to get inside?

The answer in the majority of cases is unfortunately NO. Sealing devices off does stop water from getting in but if the barrier is compromised, for example by a device being dropped, then the case, gaskets or O-rings protecting it can become damaged and break. This could allow water to seep  towards the circuit board and internal components, resulting in device failure and loss of data.

It just takes one break in the seal for water to get inside and if this does occur, it may not be noticed as seals are hidden away on the inside. So while we think our device is waterproof, a break in the seal will not become apparent until the phone is malfunctioning and by then it could be too late.

The importance of protecting the internal components

Knowing that waterproof devices are only as good as the seals and barriers that protect them, it is important that protection is also offered to the internal components as well. And this is where liquid repellent nano-coating technology comes in.


A liquid repellent nano-coating differs from a waterproof solution in that it is not a physical barrier, meaning that liquid can still penetrate inside the device. This, however, is not the end of the device's life. The nano-coating, which is applied in vapour form, molecularly bonds to both the inside and outside of the entire device, ensuring that each and every exposed surface is treated. What this means is that, although water can get inside the device, any liquid that does come into contact with components will simply move away from the surface, rather than sticking to it, resulting in reduced corrosion, electrochemical migration and failure.

While a nano-coating is not waterproof (it is not a physical barrier), it does protect from splashes and spills as well as less obvious 'wet' environments such as saunas, bathrooms and high humidity climates.

A waterproof device has many benefits for day to day life but if the barrier fails, the device becomes vulnerable. By applying a liquid repellent nano-coating to the internal components, protection is offered to the most valuable parts of electronic devices, where all our data, numbers and images are stored. Nano-coatings are not a waterproof solution but do offer protection against everyday scenarios and environments, we and our devices find ourselves exposed to.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

P2i Nano-coating: Built-in water protection for smartphones and tablets


With 61 per cent of us using our phones in the bathroom, it is just as well that P2i has developed Dunkable™ - a hydrophobic barrier technology which protects smartphones and tablets from accidental prolonged water exposure.


The technology has come just in time as a new survey* from P2i, world leader in liquid repellent nano-coating technology, shows that more people are taking their smartphones out and about into potentially water hazardous environments. 

Over 70 per cent admitted to taking their phone in the rain, while the number of people with their phones out in pubs or caf├ęs increased 19 percentage points; from 67 per cent in 2012 to 86 per cent in 2013. Not surprisingly, 43 per cent had accidently water damaged their phone. 

P2i is already protecting tens of millions of devices with its splash-proof nano-coating for brands including Motorola and Alcatel One Touch, and is working with pioneering partners to commercialise the Dunkable™ process.

* The research for P2i was carried out by Opinion Matters between: 24 / 04 / 2013 and 03 / 05 / 2013, from a sample of 3786 mobile phone users 18+ across the UK, France, Germany, Spain and the US.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Do you need a liquid repellent nano-coating for your smartphone?


If you've ever dropped your phone in water, don't feel ashamed, you're not alone. 

A recent survey by P2i (details coming out in a press release soon) showed that 43 per cent of us have suffered from accidental water damage. 

We asked people in the UK to tell us the story of how they managed this feat, and created a countdown of our ten favorite responses:

10. Was on a water ride at a theme park 
9. I accidently left it outside then it rained 
8. It dropped into a puddle as I got out of my car  
7. Opening a new bottle of cider caused it to fountain over everything on the table 
6. I knocked a jar of gherkins over it, death by vinegar! 
5. Dropped it into the kitchen sink full of washing up 
4. While I was washing my hair the mobile started ringing and I put it to my ear and water got in it. 
3. I was trying to make it up to my wife for upsetting her so I said I would wash our windows. Out came the bucket of warm water and as I bent over to get the cloth… plop out of my top pocket, my phone fell in the water. To top it off my wife was still mad with me.
2. Packing for a camping trip, I packed some eggs. Long story short; the carton got squashed and liquid egg filled my bag, including the pocket holding my phone.
1. Thinking it was a biscuit, I dunked it into a cup of tea.


Think you have an even better story to tell?
Tweet us @P2iLabs or comment on Facebook at /p2itechnology

Thursday, 25 April 2013

How "wet" is "wet"?

The recent WIRED article regarding the confusion over indicator strips turning pink in humidity has me wondering what we mean by the term “water damage”. Am I putting my phone in danger from water damage when I use it in the bathroom to play the radio while I take a shower? Was it ultimately my own sweat that killed my MP3 player when I used to tuck it into my bra at the gym? And will my e-reader fall prey to the same faults if I keep using it in the kitchen, holding it in one hand whilst stirring the pot of steaming pasta with the other?

We learnt in the recent article, Why does a wet phone die? that electricity in the presence of water can cause electrochemical migration and permanent short circuiting of devices. But surely a bit of steam or sweat is a different matter, even if it is enough to turn an indicator strip pink? Another question for the gang in the P2i Labs, I think.

Can sweat and humidity really cause damage to electronic devices?
When P2i first emerged into the electronics sector, it was on hearing aid devices. These are very expensive, small, pieces of electronics that live behind the ear. A big issue in the hearing aid industry is corrosion damage, as the close proximity to the skin allows for the transferal of sweat and adds to the humidity and amount of moisture in the air around the device. This causes the metals inside the device to have a chemical reaction and begin to oxidize leading to the gradual degradation of the materials. P2i’s nano-coating dramatically reduces this corrosion damage and in just three years P2i went from coating zero to about 60% of the hearing devices produced globally.

How do you know what’s causing the damage?
One of the tests we did with the hearing devices, which we are also doing on smartphones, is known as an ‘accelerated corrosion test’. The idea is that over a period of days, we can mimic what a device is exposed to over its lifetime. The test allows us to introduce phases of increased salt or moisture, followed by dryer times, all the while increasing and decreasing the temperature; again mimicking the phases a device will go through in the real world. The aim of the test is to see how the materials in the phone will “weather” the conditions.

The video below shows the difference between a phone treated with the splash-proof (previously known as Aridion™) nano-coating, compared to an untreated device. The phones are going through the exact same test, and are periodically removed and photographed. 


video

What tends to happen is that as the temperature changes, water which may have entered the phone as innocent humidity, then condenses inside the phone, forming larger droplets. Now, not only do you have the oxidation of the metals, but you’re also in danger of electrochemical migration water damage, without ever getting your phone wet. 

Should I be worried?
Believe it or not, manufacturers are continuously looking for ways to make your phones more reliable. Motorola and Alcatel have already signed up to put the splash-proof coating on a range of devices before you buy them, so you don’t need to worry. We believe that as people continue to integrate the use of the mobile phone into every aspect of their life (including taking their phones in and out of humid conditions) then this trend from manufacturers will only increase. 


   

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

MWC 2013: A look at the Dunkable™ and splash-proof technologies

Author Bio: Matt Powell is the editor for the UK broadband, smartphone and tablet information site Broadband Genie

Mobile World Congress is the largest mobile technology trade show in the world and traditionally it’s been the place where phone companies show off new releases.

However this year HTC and Sony revealed their latest smartphones a few weeks in advance of MWC, while Samsung kept the Galaxy S4 for a separate event in New York. What’s the point, critics said, of spending all this time and money on a huge event if the block-busting hardware has already been unveiled?

But MWC is about more than a few headline superphones. There were hundreds of exhibitors demonstrating all kinds of interesting new mobile technology, and focusing solely on the big players could mean missing out on some really important advancements, like P2i and its water-repelling nanotechnology.

Plenty of mobile phones offer water-proofing, but in most cases this involves wrapping the phone in a thick layer of rubber and sealing up all the ports. This is effective but it’s not usually attractive.

The P2i solution is far more elegant. The firm can take any mobile phone (or indeed almost any solid object) and coat it with a water-repelling coating.



No doubt, this was one of the most impressive demonstrations at Mobile World Congress.

It helped that the P2i stand had an attention grabbing setup: immersed in a tray of water was a Samsung Galaxy S3, powered on and running normally. Even more surprising, the rear cover of the S3 had been removed so the battery was fully exposed.   You can see the full demonstration by P2i on the Broadband Genie blog.

The S3 had been treated with Dunkable™, the latest form of P2i’s technology. This protects handsets to IPx7 standards, which requires devices to survive a metre of water for 30 minutes, though the timer on the S3 suggested it had been underwater for a lot longer than that.

As the phone was lifted out, the water droplets just slid off, and once the screen had been dried, it functioned as normal.

Unfortunately, as it’s a new development Dunkable™ is not yet available on any hardware. So what could P2i do for us smartphone users right now?

The answer is its first commercial splash-proof product. This offers protection against splashes and spills, and like Dunkable™, water simply slides off treated surfaces. While you can’t leave a handset immersed for a long period, it can survive everyday incidents that would kill unprotected devices.

The splash-proof coating is already used on recent Motorola RAZR smartphones. Like the RAZR i which I’d been carrying around for the last few months; turns out I was already a splash-proof user and hadn’t even realised.

P2i can make a real difference to both manufacturers and end-users. We get water-resistant phones without the ugly bulk of typical ruggedised handsets, while manufacturers are free to design phones without having to worry about needing to adapt the design to “build in” liquid protection.

The challenge at the moment is getting the technology onto handsets, and in this, P2i could learn from the likes of Corning.  

Gorilla Glass is now the standard for toughened phone displays, and it’s become a selling point. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware that a smartphone with Corning Gorilla Glass means it’s well protected against scratches and falls.

If P2i is able to build its brand awareness to the point where consumers base their buying decisions on its inclusion, they’ll be able to attract more manufacturers and we’ll get to a point where technologies like the splash-proof coating and Dunkable™ are used as a matter of course. Then we won’t need to worry as much when our smartphones take a swim in the toilet bowl.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Why does a wet phone die?

I wouldn't say I am an accident prone person, but statistically I have destroyed a disproportionate number of phones due to water damage. One of the things that struck me, was how sometimes, if you’re quick at getting your phone out of the water and you turn it off, then pray to the phone Gods and keep your fingers crossed, sometimes, just sometimes, it magically comes back on again the next day…(at least until a week or two later when it starts acting ‘funny’).

In order to get a better understanding of what’s going on with a wet phone, I had a chat with the team in the P2i labs.

What happens when your phone gets wet?

There is a magnitude of possible outcomes when your phone gets wet. If you think about the number of entry points for water to get in the phone, then times that by the number of possible angles of entry, force of entry, droplet size (fully submerged, spray, mist, sweat) and type of liquid, you begin to see why the answer is not so black and white!

Perhaps one of the most obvious outcomes is that your phone ‘short circuits’ and powers out. If you think of a circuit board like a series of motorways, in the same way that we drive cars according to the direction and paths provided, the circuit board controls the flow of electrons, ensuring that your device works as specified. However when you add water to the mix, it’s like driving cross country or along sand dunes where there are no roads to act as a guide. As a conductor of electricity the water allows the electrons to flow freely.

With the liquid inside the phone allowing the electricity to flow in unintended directions, the essential voltage differences across the circuit board are interrupted, causing excessive electric current, heat and power outage.

Ok, so if I’m lucky enough to have my phone turn back on, why does it start going ‘funny’ after a couple of days/weeks?   
If you have ever opened a water damaged phone or piece of electronics you may have seen what looks like rust or a perhaps a white powdery substance. In the first instance the water or liquid is interacting with the metal causing a chemical reaction, as you would see with any metals exposed to the elements, like a tin roof. Except unlike the roof, the addition of energy supplied by the phone under power, accelerates the process. This causes degradation and wearing away of the metals inhibiting them from performing effectively. This is particularly evident in devices that are used in environments such as the gym or are kept close to the skin like headphones and hearing aids, where the addition of the salts in our sweat aid in the severity of the chemical reaction.

So what is it that makes a phone die altogether? 
Well this takes us back to the highway analogy. There is a type of corrosion called ‘electrochemical migration’. This is essentially the movement of metal ions from one point on a circuit board to another. This is able to occur because the water allows the free flow of electricity; so where once there were paths for the electricity to flow, allowing controlled differences in electrical charge between different points on the circuit, now  the water allows the metal ions to migrate. Eventually the metal ions will bridge the two points through the formation of a metal dendrite, acting as if a new road was created. Now, even when the water recedes, this new road permanently disrupts the control of electricity on the circuit board and the phone is no longer able to function as intended.
video

Do you have any advice for people who get their phones wet?  
It’s key to stop the electrical flow as soon as possible so first thing is to take the battery out. Then dry any excess visible water – worth noting that you should avoid trying to shake the water out as you may be inadvertently forcing it further into the device. Leave the phone to dry out completely before succumbing to the urge to test it…and unless it’s a Motorola or Alcatel device already treated with P2i’s tech, than feel free to keep your fingers crossed. 

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