Electronic packaging is a major discipline within the field of electronic engineering, and includes a wide variety of technologies. It refers to enclosures and protective features built into the product itself, and not to shipping containers. It applies both to end products and to components.
Punched and formed sheet metal is one of the oldest types of electronic packaging. It can be mechanically strong, provides electromagnetic shielding when the product requires that feature, and is easily made for prototypes and small production runs with little custom tooling expense. Fairly professional results are possible in a home workshop.
Gasketed metal castings are sometimes used to package electronic equipment for exceptionally severe environments, such as in heavy industry, aboard ship, or deep under water. Aluminum die castings are more common than iron or steel sand castings.
Electronic packages are sometimes made by machining solid blocks of metal, usually aluminum, into complex shapes. They are fairly common in microwave assemblies for aerospace use, where precision transmission lines require complex metal shapes, in combination with hermetically sealed housings. Quantities tend to be small; sometimes only one unit of a custom design is required. Piece part costs are high, but there is little or no cost for custom tooling, and first-piece deliveries can take as little as half a day. The tool of choice is a numerically controlled vertical milling machine, with automatic translation of computer-aided design (CAD) files to toolpath command files.
Molded plastic cases and structural parts can be made by a variety of methods, offering tradeoffs in piece part cost, tooling cost, mechanical and electrical properties, and ease of assembly. Examples are injection molding, transfer molding, vacuum forming, and die cutting. Pl can be post-processed to provide conductive surfaces when confused.
Formally called "encapsulation", potting consists of immersing the part or assembly in a liquid resin, and then curing it. Potting can be done in a pre-molded potting shell, or directly in a mold. Today it is most widely used to protect semiconductor components from moisture and mechanical damage, and to serve as a mechanical structure holding the lead frame and the chip together. In earlier times it was often used to discourage reverse engineering of proprietary products built as printed circuit modules. It is also commonly used in high voltage products to allow live parts to be placed much closer together, so that the product can be smaller; also, to keep dirt and conductive contaminants such as impure water out of sensitive areas. Another use is to protect deep-submergence items such as sonar transducers from collapsing under extreme pressure, by filling all voids. Potting can be rigid or soft. When void-free potting is required, it's common practice to place the product in a vacuum chamber while the resin is still liquid, hold a vacuum for several minutes to draw the air out of internal cavities and the resin itself, then release the vacuum. Atmospheric pressure collapses the voids and forces the liquid resin into all internal spaces. Vacuum potting works best with resins that cure by polymerization, rather than solvent evaporation.
Porosity Sealing or Impregnation
Porosity Sealing or Resin Impregnation is similar to potting, but doesn't use a shell or a mold. Parts are submerged in a polymerizable monomer or solvent-based low viscosity plastic solution. The pressure above the fluid is lowered to a full vacuum. After the vacuum is released, the fluid flows into the part. When the part is withdrawn from the resin bath, it is drained and/or cleaned and then cured. Curing can consist of polymerizing the internal resin or evaporating the solvent, which leaves an insulating dielectric material between different voltage components. Porosity sealing (Resin Impregnation) fills all interior spaces, and may or may not leave a thin coating on the surface, depending on the wash/rinse performance. The main application of vacuum impregnation porosity sealing is in boosting the dielectric strength of transformers, solenoids, lamination stacks or coils, and some high voltage components. It prevents ionization from forming between closely spaced live surfaces and initiating failure.
Liquid filling is sometimes used as an alternative to potting or impregnation. It's usually a dielectric fluid, chosen for chemical compatibility with the other materials present. It's used mostly in very large electrical equipment such as utiliity transformers, to increase voltage breakdown. It can also be used to improve heat transfer, especially if allowed to circulate by natural convection or forced convection through a heat exchanger. Liquid filling can be removed for repair much more easily than potting.
Conformal coating is a thin insulating coating applied by various methods. It provides mechanical and chemical protection of delicate components. It's widely used on mass-produced items such as axial-lead resistors, and sometimes on printed circuit boards. It can be very economical, but somewhat difficult to achieve consistent process quality. See Conformal coating, Parylene.
Glob-top is a variant of conformal coating used in chip-on-board assembly (COB). It consists of a drop of specially formulated resin deposited over a semiconductor chip and its wire bonds, to provide mechanical support and exclude contaminants such as fingerprint residues which could disrupt circuit operation.
Hermetic metal/glass cases
Hermetic metal packaging began life in the vacuum tube industry, where a totally leak-proof housing was essential to operation. This industry developed the glass-seal electrical feedthrough, using alloys such as Kovar to match the coefficient of expansion of the sealing glass so as to minimize mechanical stress on the critical metal-glass bond as the tube warmed up. Some later tubes used metal cases and feedthroughs, and only the insulation around the individual feedthroughs used glass. Today, glass-seal packages are used mostly in critical components and assemblies for aerospace use, where leakage must be prevented even under extreme changes in temperature, pressure, and humidity.
Hermetic ceramic packages
Packages consisting of a lead frame embedded in a vitreous paste layer between flat ceramic top and bottom covers are more convenient than metal/glass packages for some products, but give equivalent performance. Examples are integrated circuit chips in ceramic Dual In-line Package form, or complex hybrid assemblies of chip components on a ceramic base plate. This type of packaging can also be divided into two main types: multilayer ceramic packages (like LTCC and HTCC) and pressed ceramic packages.
Printed circuit assemblies
Printed circuits are primarily a technology for connecting components together, but they also provide mechanical structure. In some products, such as computer accessory boards, they're all the structure there is. This makes them part of the universe of electronic packaging.