European Threat Perspective

Keeping smart security devices safe from harm

Author : Dr Stephen Coulson, Chief Science Officer & Founder, P2i

28 July 2021

The smart home security segment continues to grow, with worldwide shipments of devices reaching 801.5 million units in 2020 – an increase of 4.5 percent over 2019 – and predicted to surpass 1.4 billion in 2025, with a CAGR of 12.2 percent.

With its expansion, a wide range of different devices is rapidly entering the market, from networked access control to management systems for buildings and premises. This includes digitally connected and controlled devices for burglary prevention and other security threats, plus motion sensors, door locks, security cameras, and surveillance services with a connection to a broader smart home. In addition, hazard prevention devices like water or smoke sensors are now becoming part of the smart home ecosystem.
With security paramount for consumers, smart home technologies are increasingly becoming the go-to solution to ensure that homes are secured, and are becoming more attractive to consumers due to their ease of use, both in terms of installation and management. Not only do these solutions allow peace of mind, but can additionally speed up a mitigating response to minimise potential damage to a home’s structure or fittings, such as a water leak.
The liquid protection challenge for smart devices

As more consumers adopt outdoor smart security devices, such as camera-enabled doorbell systems, more electrical devices are now frequently exposed to the elements such as rain, so their reliability to function greatly depends on their ability to withstand damp, wet, or dusty conditions. Wind-driven rain can be a particular concern due to its ability to make direct contact with a device. And it’s not just outdoor systems that are at risk, with indoor surveillance systems also prone to damage from steam and humidity that may travel from kitchens and bathrooms.
The location of a home can also play a significant role, with saltwater from coastal locations able to cause more rapid degradation, while sulphur pollution in urban areas can also have an impact. For manufacturers, one of their main challenges, therefore, is ensuring that the electronic components of devices are fully protected and have a high level of reliability and repeatability in the face of the worst external conditions. Standards and regulations with security products are also evolving, such as the GA374-2019 standard in China which outlines testing procedures for burglary resistant locks. These now include environmental testing such as resistance to high temperatures, humidity and salt fog testing, to ensure the smart lock is corrosion resistant.
Methods to protection 

Outdoor electrical devices are typically protected via seals that are built into the casing, providing a physical barrier. The issue with these, however, is that they are prone to perishing over extended periods of time, and their inconsistency means that field failure return rates can be high. Water that enters the device that then freezes in low temperatures is likely to degrade the housing even further. With products now increasingly under lengthy warranty periods, any cost of damage to a smart device will have to be covered by the manufacturer, and additional expenditure will need to be made on bringing the product back to the R&D stage to rectify the issue in design.
The second method that other manufacturers have explored is the use of conformal coats that are applied to the printed circuit board. However, the issue with these is the lack of reliability and repeatability, and many are therefore searching for a solution that provides protection via strong adherence to the printed circuit board array, achieving maximum underfill of components and allowing reworks to take place on the assembly line without having to send the product to landfill.
A smart protection method for smart devices
Despite the challenges presented by current methods of liquid protection, the good news for smart device manufacturers is that there is an alternative approach on the market. Nano-coatings operate at the molecular level and are covalently bonded, which enables them chemically to become one with the materials to which they attach themselves. Their ability to underfill all product components also provides a complete hermetic seal. Over a period of time, rainwater will inevitably penetrate an electronic security device located outdoors. Nano-coatings ensure that when this happens, the internal components of the device are protected and continued function is ensured.
A smart future
As manufacturers and consumers warm to the concept of device protection from the inside-out – as opposed to the outside-in with nano-coatings – designers will have greater room for manoeuvre when it comes to aesthetically pleasing designs. There will also be the opportunity for fewer and more sustainable materials in the manufacturing process, helping to support recyclability. Moving forward, manufacturers will be able to build circularity of design into their products while incorporating nano-coatings, making them an appealing addition. For the consumer, the lack of standard exteriors to fit designs means that they’ll benefit from the flexibility and high-quality protection that nano-coatings provide to smart devices.

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