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Rapid Finds a Niche: Quick-Turn Automated Conformal Coating
From left: Rapid Coatings' Charvon Sous, process engineer, Harrison Brown, director of business development, and Adam Williams, director of quality.
 

(FL}Successful companies often begin with a single good idea. Sometimes it is a matter of capitalizing on an opportunity that is too good to pass up. Automated conformal coating services provider Rapid Coatings, Inc. found a niche for itself in a segment of the industry that has, for decades, been a manual process.

Even with today's advanced technology, automating the conformal coating process is a challenge. For this reason, automation is almost exclusively limited to companies with very low-mix, high-volume product lines. Rapid Coatings' seminal idea came from four ambitious individuals who challenged themselves to provide a quick-turn, contract conformal coating service for all types of electronics manufacturers.

The Road to Automation
In 2014, the company was founded in Woburn, Massachusetts, with the goal of becoming the go-to conformal coating house for any manufacturer looking for short lead times. The startup was originally equipped with a leading-edge, fully-automated selective conformal coating line from TTnS, a Korean manufacturer of conformal coating equipment.

The intent was to use the TTnS technology to coat and cure boards quickly, with cycle times from 20 minutes to a few hours. The market for quick-turn was there, but automating the process was more of a hurdle. Available software was not designed to support this type of work. Instead, the common practice was to spend as much time as necessary to tweak and perfect the program.

Large-volume manufacturers using this technology found it to be worth their time due to the volume of boards they would be coating with one program. The challenge for Rapid Coatings was locking in a program for a new board and taking it to production quickly, while ensuring the quality of the coating.
TTnS fully-automated selective conformal coating line.
 


As it enters its third year of business, the company is proud to have accomplished this task and then some. The majority of the first year was spent developing the process, becoming familiar with the TTnS equipment and documenting what worked and what did not.

The second year focused on sales growth and on developing a customer base that would learn to trust and rely on Rapid. The company's main priorities are, first and foremost, the quality of the coating, and secondly, on-time delivery.

The company understands that a lot of manufacturers, by the time they reach conformal coating, may already be behind on delivery — precisely the kind of customer they pride themselves on helping out.

Reducing Lead Times
"We established Rapid Coatings to provide automated conformal coating services with reasonable lead times," says Harrison Brown, Rapid's director of business development. "Our management team has extensive electronics manufacturing experience and customer feedback indicated a need for more automated and robust conformal coating processes. Automating using selective coating eliminates the need to handle the PCB during coating and reduces the amount of masking required. This improves our lead times, providing a significant benefit to our customers."

The company provides services to a diverse group of electronics manufacturers, some of which include the military, medical, industrial, and consumer markets. In addition, the services provided and materials used have grown over the past year. Rapid has automated several types of material applications including dispensing masking materials, UV-curable materials, adhesives and underfill materials.

One of the main goals is to reduce the amount of masking required on the boards before they are coated. As this is the most labor-intensive part of the process, the more masking eliminated, the lower the cost and the quicker the turnaround. There are multiple ways of doing this, but a selective coating machine is the most effective.

The company's engineers work closely with the customer to determine what can and cannot be coated, and always provide a first piece for inspection before moving to production. This is critical to ensuring customer satisfaction, as there are many gray areas in the world of conformal coating.

Quality assurance is of utmost importance to Rapid's engineers and automation is very helpful in this area. Repeatability is very important in conformal coating applications, especially at high volumes.

"The automated equipment is putting down the same volume of material, at the same thickness, in the same areas, for every board," says Adam Williams, director of quality at Rapid. "The convection oven utilizes an outgassing process that will help to alleviate bubbles popping up in the coating. Upon inspection, there is far less rework required than if every board had to be fully-masked and sprayed manually."

Young Engineering Talent
The company is not only out to meet conformal coating needs, but to stimulate a culture in the electronics industry that attracts young people to get involved. Rich Breault, president of EMS provider Lightspeed Manufacturing, says, "For years now, young engineering talent has gone to other industries. It is critical for our industry to continue to attract young engineering talent. Rapid's business model of using young talent will lead to robust process development and ensure its future success."

Part of Rapid Coatings' mission is to be a part of bringing those bright minds back to American manufacturing. Rapid is actively involved in the Surface Mount Technology Association (SMTA), hosting chapter meetings and a vendor night at the facility. As the company grows, the team hopes to continue to find ambitious talent to take them to the next level.

The next year for Rapid will be focused on aggressive growth and expansion. Along with continuing along the path toward ISO certification, the company is now bringing in a second conformal coating line, which has selective coating and precision dispensing capabilities. Sven Wedekin, VP and general manager of GPD Global, plans to install a Simple Coat conformal coating and precision dispensing system at Rapid's facility during the second quarter of 2017.

Wedekin highlighted Rapid's dedication to short lead time conformal coating services, which provides a perfect environment for the Simple Coat's features and also fits in well with the company's automated and flexible production goals.

GPD Global has built a significant Northeast customer base over the last twenty years with its lineup of precision fluid dispensers and looks forward to expanding those relationships through an agreement with Rapid Coatings. Rapid will use Simple Coat for customer projects and also serve as an east coast demonstration center for GPD's conformal coating product business.

Rapid Coatings' focus on quality and quick turnaround has put an emphasis on acquiring advanced technology such as automatic dispensing, AOI for conformal coating and researching other tools to standardize the conformal coating process.

With ISO 9001:2015 certification and continual quality improvement, Rapid doesn't intend to reinvent conformal coating, but the company is taking significant strides to give customers confidence that the coating will be of the highest quality.

 

Contact: Rapid Coatings, Inc., 169 Merrimac Street, Woburn, MA 01801 339-227-6490 E-mail: m.brown@rapidcoatingsinc.com Web:
http://www.rapidcoatingsinc.com

 
 
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