It’s 2:16 AM and the presentation that you’ve been working on all week is nearly done. There are only two more slides left to animate and…? Your laptop suddenly freezes, shows a bright blue screen and the unsaved file is lost. The circuitry in the 6 month old computer has failed due to microcontamination. Now, after staying up the rest of the night recreating the presentation, you will have to call the manufacturer’s customer service line to complain and request a replacement laptop. You will likely tell your friends about the devastating failure and your horror story could potentially damage revenue for the computer company.
Contaminants introduced during production or transportation can occur in microscopic quantities and may cause failure at an indeterminate time. To prevent this risk and potential replacement and customer service costs, companies that manufacture products that go into critical environments like hard disk drives use cleanliness testing to identify and quantify contaminants introduced during the production process.
As companies develop products in smaller and smaller formats and with potentially reactive materials, it becomes increasingly important to protect the product’s components from contamination even at the microscopic level. With testing processes that measure contaminants in the parts per million and parts per billion range, manufacturers can identify the exact level and composition of contaminants which may cause costly product failures down the line.
The International Disk Drive Equipment and Materials Association (IDEMA) sets standards to identify risk factors and to ensure organic and inorganic materials are never introduced to sensitive surfaces during critical points in production. The standards outline subjects such as:
- Microcontamination terms and definitions
- Materials used in Hard Disk Drives (HDD)
- Effects of contamination in disk drives
- Test methods for components and production of HDD
- Protocol for testing organic and inorganic contaminants
The IDEMA Standards were innovated by companies working for the US government in the 1970’s, and the cleanliness testing industry has been evolving ever since. With the help of cleanliness testing, manufacturers are better able to comply with government regulations while they improve their products’ functionality.
Cleanliness Testing Methods
Common testing methods to check for contaminants include:
- FTIR analysis – identifies and quantifies extractable organics such as silicone, phthalates and amides
- GC/MS analysis – identifies gasses and residual solvents given off by a product
- Liquid Particle Counting – determines number and size of particles on a product
- Ion Chromatography – determines the type and amount of ionic contamination present, i.e. chlorides, ammonia, etc.
All of these methods of identifying unknown materials can be conducted with extremely small sample sizes. These cleanliness testing methods can help identify contamination issues which occur in transit, after use testing, and in production steps. If you make cleanliness testing a part of the normal production process or every time new vendors/materials are used, you can minimize the damage product failures can cause to your brand and your bottom line, and late night presentation crammers can get a little sleep as well.
As a pioneering authority in the industry, Innovatech Labs was part of the group that developed the IDEMA microcontamination standards that still serve as best practices for the industry. We have also been providing cleanliness testing as a service to HDD manufacturers such as Seagate and their vendors since the mid 1990’s.