Evolving Microcontamination Testing Methods

Hard drives affected by microcontaminationHard drive manufacturers have been pushing the limits of technology since the medium of data storage was invented. It’s amazing that while storage capacity has increased exponentially, the size of the storage vessel has decreased significantly.  State of the art devices now store as much as 6 and 8 Terabytes (TB), and hard drives in the next decade could store as much as 60 TB. Technologically advanced hard drives like these require state of the art microcontamination and hard drive testing.

The testing process in hard drive research and development has long benefitted from analytical testing methods which measure the cleanliness of the components comprising the hard drive. Clean environments, precious metals, and now, sealed helium casings are all part of the development of hard drives. However, once a new hard drive has been developed and manufactured, it should also be tested for microcontamination before being shipped to consumers. While research and development conditions may be very clean, contaminants are often introduced during the manufacturing process. Testing for contaminants will ensure that your product process is as clean as possible.

Microcontamination occurs when microscopic particles impair the functionality of a hard drive or other sensitive electronic product. Microcontamination can cause abrasion, corrosion, short circuits or failure in hard drives. Microcontaminants can be categorized as ionics, particulates, organics or gasses.

Types of Microcontamination Testing for Hard Drives

  1. Outgassing testing is one way to help hard drive manufacturers evaluate their products and components from suppliers so they can avoid problems due to microcontamination. Outgassing testing identifies microcontaminants that undergo phase transitions from a solid to a gas in heated environments. 

For example, in a sealed and heated environment like a computer hard drive, an adhesive can release plasticizers or other low molecular weight materials. These materials can reform in another location of a hard drive where they may cause shorts, crashes and other malfunctions. Outgassing testing methods, such as headspace analysis, are required to prevent potential failure and to ensure product quality and effectiveness.

  1. FTIR analysis can help identify and quantify extractable organics like silicone, phthalates, amides, and hydrocarbons that can cause problems with the hard drive reading and writing processes. FTIR analysis measures the range of wavelengths in the infrared region that are absorbed by a material. This is accomplished through the application of infrared radiation (IR) to samples of a material. The sample’s absorbance of the infrared light’s energy at various wavelengths is measured to determine the material’s molecular composition and structure.
  1. Ion Chromatography is a material testing technique that can be used to identify ionic contamination on hard drives and hard drive components. Ionic contamination usually occurs due to human handling during the manufacturing or assembly of a hard drive. Materials such as latex gloves, cotton swabs, and surfactants may contain ionic species such as chlorides and sulfates. . Ionic contamination causes corrosion of the pole material in the head and the media of the hard drive, which can cause hard drive failure. Ion chromatography can be used to identify ionic contaminants, and determine how the contamination occurred.

New methods of hard drive testing for microcontamination will no doubt evolve with the marketplace. Innovatech Labs has been conducting microcontamination testing for decades, and helped write microcontamination standards with the IDEMA.

Contact us today to learn more about our microcontamination testing services for hard drives and hard drive components.

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