Best Practices to Protect the Reliability and Integrity of Electronic Equipment When Disinfecting For COVID-19
Electronics tend to attract a lot of dust, dirt, and grime, especially for high touch electronics. Aside from debris build-up (dust, lint, or oil smudges), bacteria and germs can also accumulate. During this time of the Coronavirus pandemic, the build-up of bacteria is cause for concern. Thus, cleaning and maintaining electronic equipment could make the most significant difference between health and illness from contracting the virus.
While keeping electronic equipment clean and free from germs is essential, an electronics manufacturer also needs to think about the effects of certain disinfectants and their application methods on the integrity of the electronic equipment and assemblies. Some of these disinfection substances could cause circuit failures when the internal electronics are exposed to them. And sometimes, these failures aren’t detected immediately, and may only manifest months after the exposure. This may negatively impact the credibility of electronics manufacturers more than their sales. Product recalls have a way of tarnishing the image of a brand.
For electronics manufacturers whose goal during this pandemic and maybe even going further into the future, is to make sure that COVID-free and reliable products pass through the supply chain (from the employees who produce and assemble them down to the customers purchasing the finished product). The concern now is how to find that sweet spot between keeping electronics virus-free and ensuring they still function correctly after being disinfected.
Overview of the iNEMI Best Practices Guidelines
In response to this need for balancing cleanliness and the integrity of electronic equipment and assemblies, experts coming from iNEMI member organizations have banded together. This team’s goal is to compile a list of guidelines/ best practices into a document that indicates which chemicals/disinfectants, application methods, are capable of keeping electronic equipment COVID-19 free without harming the internal circuits. This team of experts has pulled from various vital industry and government sources to help them assemble this best practices document.
The Best Chemicals For Disinfecting Electronics While Protecting Their Integrity And Reliability
The document mentioned above contains a table, listing US EPA–approved Disinfectants for use against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), their corresponding impact on electronics, and the detailed description of the risks of corrosion. In summary, the best disinfectants to use are alcohols (Isopropyl, IPA, and Ethanol) because they present the lowest risk of corrosion when appropriately applied and in enough concentration. The proper application will be discussed further down this article.
On the other hand, the chemicals to avoid are as follows: Amine/Ammonia, Halogen, Acids (Citric Acid and Carboxylic Acid), Acetates, and high concentrations of Hydrogen Peroxide. These chemicals are categorized as having high risks of corrosion that can seriously damage internal electronics.
In between the low and high impact chemicals, there’s Phenolic and Hexanediol, and low concentrations of Hydrogen Peroxide) – they are categorized as weaker substances. They can have faint but noticeable adverse effects on the circuits depending on the concentration, exposure time, and environmental conditions. They can still be used for disinfecting but with extreme caution. Your best bet? Stick with low-impact chemicals.
Proper Application Method
Use a non-abrasive, lint-free cloth like cotton or polyester microfiber for wiping product exterior surfaces and touchpoints. The non-corrosive, low-impact disinfectant mentioned earlier must continuously be applied onto the cloth at just the point it starts to feel damp. It should never be dripping with the substance. After wiping, allow the surfaces to air dry for some time.
Don’t wipe near or at an opening the product exterior, such as (vent/aperture) that exposes internal circuits. The disinfectant might find its way to the circuitry through the vent/aperture. Never apply the disinfectant on the exposed circuitry. Even the lowest corrosive chemicals might cause reliability issues on the electronic equipment when applied directly to the internal electronics.
Never let the disinfectant accumulate or pool on the external surface of the product. It is therefore better to apply the disinfectant onto the cloth and not directly on the surface. Never use corrosive chemicals (see the previous section) even to wipe the exterior of the electronic product. Slight droplets of the corrosive substances are enough to mess up the internal circuitry when it finds its way inside.
Do not spray or use fogging as a method for applying the disinfectant. The only recommended way is wiping. Aerosolized disinfectants are at high risk of coming into contact with the internal circuitry, which must never happen because they will affect the performance of the product or even cause failure.
The guidelines for disinfecting cable assemblies are just the same as those used for external product surfaces when there is no specific cleaning instruction from the manufacturer. Never wipe the connector contacts because they are prone to corrosion, unlike the cable assemblies/wire harness.
Other Recommended Precautions
Follow your company’s ESD (Electrostatic Discharge) standard protocols to avoid ESD from messing up the electronic assemblies. Some disinfecting procedures/products involve the use of plastic containers and plastic shielding that present ESD hazards.
When using or storing disinfectants, make sure that the area has enough ventilation, and that these chemicals don’t come into contact with other materials likely to cause some chemical reactions (like combustion or fire).
As much as possible, power off the electronic equipment first before disinfecting.
Follow the label instructions of the disinfecting product to ensure the safety of the staff.
Train your workers about the safe handling of disinfecting chemicals, the PPE personal protective equipment to use for protection from the chemical, and avoiding ESD hazards.
By letting your staff take IPC online classes, these guidelines will become second nature to them. IPC courses will cover not only the technical aspects but also the safety elements involved with electronics manufacturing – from cable/wire harnesses to electronic assemblies, to printed circuit boards.
The bottom line is that if electronics are not regularly cleaned and maintained, they will not only run the risk of failing or become damaged, but they can also become the cause for someone to get infected. But when you have staff with IPC certification, you can trust that they know how to handle your products with the utmost care as it moves down the supply chain.
Contact Blackfox for your IPC training needs today!