Why is Outgassing Critical in Optics and Electronics Applications?

Article re-posted with permission from Parker Hannifin Sealing & Shielding Team.

Original content can be found on Parker’s Website and was written by Dorothy Kern, applications engineering manager, Parker O-Ring & Engineered Seals Division.

electronic boardFor some applications, a critical component of selecting a seal material is a phenomenon known as “outgassing”. However, even within the elastomer community, outgassing is not something that is commonly considered. Which begs the questions: what is outgassing and why is it important?

Outgassing is usually most relevant in vacuum applications, where the vacuum causes the elastomer to release constituent material. The constituent material could include water vapor, plasticizers, oils, byproducts of the cure reaction, or other additives used in the seal material. Outgassing becomes a problem if a thin film of those chemicals condenses and is deposited on nearby surfaces. Such a film poses major challenges in highly sensitive applications, such as optics or electronics, where cleanliness is of utmost importance. A seal material with low outgassing  is essential because it shows the seal material does not emit volatile constituents under vacuum conditions.

Weight loss of compounds in vacuum

Outgassing is most often characterized by weight loss of the seal material. The ASTM test method E595 is one way to quantify outgassing by measuring Total Mass Loss (TML %), Collected Volatile Condensable Materials (CVCM %) and a reported value for Water Vapor Regain (WVR %).  Measurements are taken following a 24 hour exposure to vacuum of 5×10-5 torr at a temperature of 257°F.

Taken together, these three parameters tell a complete story. The TML is reported as the percent of the specimen’s initial weight that is lost during the test; under standard criteria, the result must be less than 1.00% mass loss. Obviously, minimizing TML is a good thing, but it is not the only important factor. Collected volatile condensable material (CVCM) is the amount of outgassed matter from a specimen that condenses onto a collector during the maintained time and temperature. CVCM is of particular concern because any material that readily condenses in the test is likely to condense on and contaminate nearby surfaces during use. To pass the standard CVCM requirement, the amount collected relative to the initial mass of the specimen must be less than 0.10%. The final measurement, WVR, is the mass of the water vapor absorbed by the specimen after a 24-hour stabilization at 23°C in a 50% relative humidity atmosphere. There is seldom a pass/fail limit for WVR; instead this result is merely reported. In many applications, the small amount of water vapor lost by a seal may not be of concern, particularly if the application already includes a means of controlling moisture. Further, any WVR is presumed to be equal to the portion of original TML that was water vapor. The difference between TML and WVR is therefore presumed to be volatile organic material that has evaporated out of the material (only some of which condenses in the CVCM test), so minimizing the difference between TML and WVR is also of considerable importance.

To illustrate, we can look at the most recent outgassing data completed on a few popular low temperature fluorocarbon materials. Table 1 contains the results from a 3rd party laboratory to measure the outgassing properties of VM125-75 and VX065-75. Both had undetectable amounts of CVCM and very small differences between TML and WVR.  VX065-75 in particular displayed remarkably little outgassing as well as a low WVR.

There are a few additional resources detailing seal materials that are known for having low weight loss. The O-Ring Handbook ORD 5700, Table 3-19 (page 65 of the pdf), has a few legacy materials with weight loss percent after a two-week exposure to 1 x 10-6 torr vacuum level, at room temperature. Additionally, non-Parker resources such as the NASA website contain an interesting summary of a much broader range of materials.

For more information about outgassing or electronics applications, contact the Gallagher Fluid Seals engineering department.