As car manufacturers increasingly incorporate delicate and complex electronics into their cars, the role of silicone in protecting these components is ever more vital. Silicone has proven effective in many applications in the automotive industry and when it comes to protecting automotive electronics, it continues to live up to expectations.
In our ever connected digital world, electronics are popping up in many of our day to day objects. Modern cars are no exception as car manufacturers are increasingly turning to electronics to introduce new technological advancements into the driving experience. These electronics are designed to be smaller and more powerful and must be able to withstand environmental aggressions such as heat, moisture, dirt, chemical agents and mechanical stress. The secret to protecting the integrity of these components is to effectively seal or encapsulate them. Silicone can do just this as it possesses excellent dielectric strength, flexibility, thermal properties, UV resistance and durability.
Silicone: to encapsulate and to protect
When it comes to electrical performance, silicone offers powerful solutions across the board. It can be designed to be electrically conductive or non-conductive. Its dielectric properties effectively insulate electronics, protecting them from both environmental factors such as moisture, dirt and condensation and mechanical factors such as vibrations. Even when exposed to a wide range of temperature changes, silicone will maintain a stable dielectric performance. On the other hand, silicones can also offer electrical conductivity to facilitate electrical connections between components.
What’s more, the different electronic components in an automobile respond differently to heat and will not expand in the same way or to the same extent. When silicone is used for encapsulation, components are free to expand and react to heat each in their own way thanks to the elasticity and flexibility silicone provides. Thus, encapsulating components in silicone can actually alleviate the stress generated during expansion.
Silicones are soft elastomers and it is this softness that allows them to absorb and relieve stress caused by changes in temperature.
Aside from stress, another danger to electronics, especially those located near the engine, is exposure to very high temperatures and the risk of catching fire. Luckily, silicone offers excellent thermal properties and when used in the potting technique, it effectively radiates heat away from delicate electronics. It is one of the only materials that can resist a wide range of temperatures while maintaining its flexibility. Although silicone possesses flame retardancy and does not ignite easily, it can catch fire. Once ignited however, it produces very little black smoke or noxious fumes as it has limited toxicity, thus making the environments where it is used safer.
Sensor-technology is also enhanced thanks to the use of silicone. For example, rain sensors located on the windshields of cars detect the presence of rain in order to automatically turn windshield wipers on. These are also the same sensors that control headlamps. Continuously exposed to UV radiation, these sensors risk becoming damaged. Thanks to its optical transparency and heat-resistance, silicone is an effective material for encapsulating these sensors as it do not lose its transparency under UV exposure while allowing them to still perform their job.
Lastly, silicone offers excellent durability and resilience that no other organic material can provide. It is capable of maintaining performance over the course of many years under extreme thermal conditions and mechanical pressure.
Silicone solutions for the most demanding automotive needs
Car manufacturers require reliable, durable and demanding solutions for their production processes. Vehicles contain many components that are susceptible to catching fire and burning and these need to be protected. Moreover, vehicles also contain many different types of fluids and so the materials car makers use must be resistant to water, oil, coolants and lubricants. Car makers also incorporate a wide range of different materials in their vehicles and need to be able to adhere plastic to metal for example, especially when it comes to connecting cables to electronic parts. One solution does exist for fulfilling all these demands, and that is silicone.
Here at Elkem Silicones, we offer precise technical solutions for all your needs. We adapt rheological behavior to process needs which gives us an in-depth understanding of how materials flow around the electronics components. When applying the science of fluid mechanics to silicone and the way it fills spaces, we need to carefully prevent air bubbles from forming as this could lead to moisture penetration in systems. Our tests are performed under extreme conditions and over long periods of time. For example, we test our solutions over a period of 7 months of use, which represents 5,000 operating hours, at a temperature of 200ºC. Backed by extensive experience in the silicone sector, we can provide our clients with detailed advice and recommendations for finding solutions to their most challenging needs.
Silicones offer a wide range of solutions for protecting and encapsulating electronics in the automotive sector. At Elkem Silicones, we have a team of silicone professionals who can advise you on how to make the most of our silicone products to ensure the integrity of your automotive components— and not just electronics! Together we can work towards improving automobile performance with silicone.
Photo credits: Flickr / Kai Friis