Over the years we’ve come across many hydrophobic coating technologies aimed at electronics, but sadly, none of those were made directly available to consumers. The closest one was Nokia’s nanocoating demonstration we saw last October, though the company recently said to us that it’s still “currently a research project,” and it never mentioned plans to offer a service to treat existing devices. On the other hand, Californian startup Liquipel recently opened its first Hong Kong retail store, making it the second Liquipel service center globally after the one located at the Santa Ana headquarters. Folks in the area can simply call up to make an appointment, and then head over with their phones or tablets to get the nanocoating treatment. So how does this funky technology work? How does it cover both the inside and the outside of gadgets? And is Liquipel’s offering any better than its rivals? Read on to find out.
In between Liquipel’s launch of its first Hong Kong store (in Kowloon Bay) last month and its first Kuala Lumpur store this week, we sat down with the company’s co-founder and co-president Kevin Bacon (no, not that Kevin Bacon) to hear about the fascinating treatment process. First of all, the devices are placed on racks inside a large “Liquibot,” then a near-vacuum environment is created inside the chamber, followed by the injection of a liquid repellent formulation which becomes a gas under the low pressure. By using strategically placed valves, the machine’s able to manipulate the flow of the gas, which is why Liquipel can treat fully assembled devices (though Liquipel’s Hong Kong store is also happy to treat devices pre-disassembled by customers, provided that they are aware of warranty issues).
After letting the gas flow around for a while, the Liquibot then generates a plasma in order to polymerize and bind the gas molecules onto the devices, both externally and internally. The resulting coating — which is about 1,000 times thinner than a human hair — creates a microscopic air gap between the target material and liquids, thus producing the super hydrophobic property. To ensure consistency, Liquipel places a piece of tissue in each run as a control, and afterwards it is tested with a corrosive oil, and obviously, all is good if the tissue stays in one piece. The process takes about 30 to 45 minutes plus extra for cleaning, so customers can usually pick up their devices within an hour or two.”