I'm experiencing a strange failure of electronics after potting which I'm hoping to get some more insight and explanation to. The device is a custom, rugged USB drive in an Aluminium/Titanium body (see www.viud.net for pictures and more details). I'm potting the USB board (a variety of off-the-shelf boards) in Aremco 526N epoxy and curing in the oven. The USB drives are verified to work fine before potting but after potting I'm getting a high failure rate (17% Aluminum body, 78% Titanium body).
Possible explanations for the failures I've considered are:
- Heat - Since I'm curing the devices in the oven I thought that maybe they were getting too hot. The first batch was cured at 90C for 2 hours but after testing I found the oven does get considerably hotter than that. The next batch I did at 55F for 4 hours and confirmed that nothing gets hotter than 80C but the failure rate didn't change.
- Epoxy - The Aremco 526N is not technically advertised as a "potting" epoxy although its electrical properties are better or similar to other potting epoxies I've used with no issues.
- USB Drive - The failures occurred with 4 different USB boards so it is unlikely related to that.
None of these possibilities explain why the Titanium models have a much higher failure rate than the Aluminium. If it was heat related I would expect the Aluminium models to have a higher failure rate anyways (thermal conductivity of the Al is x36 greater than the Ti).
The only possible cause of the failure I have left is related to internal pressure of the epoxy while it is curing in the oven. The epoxy is essentially sealed completely into the body with only a very small escape through/around the USB connector. Since the epoxy around that area likely sets first the rest of the epoxy in the body is likely under some pressure due to thermal expansion. This also explains why the Titanium models fail more than the Aluminium: the Al conducts the heat faster through the body which means the epoxy sets more evenly reducing the internal pressure.
Unfortunately, I have no way of verifying this theory as to open the drives I have to destroy the USB. I also cannot believe there is enough internal pressure from the epoxy to actually damage the circuit board. I can try curing the epoxy at only room temperature but it then takes weeks to set and the epoxy is not as strong.
Any ideas, theories or comments on my issue are more than welcome.