Friday, February 17, 2017

Vacuum Feedthroughs

Epoxy sealed vacuum feedthrough
Epoxy sealed vacuum feedthrough
There exists a popular idiom which states, "Life does not exist in a vacuum." While the linguistic implications of the popular saying are still up for debate in terms of life in general, in high-tech industries an environment can, indeed, exist in a vacuum. Both creating and subsequently evaluating conditions relating to sub-atmospheric pressure environments has been a longstanding challenge of the science and research. The benchmark for failure is rather absolute due to the fact the conditions of the vacuum can be compromised thanks to the smallest amount of a complicating substance, potentially resulting in substantial monetary or productivity losses. Due to these facts, the monitoring and evaluation of vacuum conditions is paramount to researchers and engineers; the way engineers execute such a balancing act between preserving the environment and tracking the process relies on technologies known as vacuum feedthroughs, which enable the transference of signals to equipment or instrumentation located outside the vacuum environment from inside the vacuum environment.

PCB mounted epoxy sealed vacuum feedthrough
PCB mounted epoxy sealed vacuum feedthrough.
Glass or ceramic vacuum feedthroughs, sometimes known as bulkhead connectors, are commonly used to route power and data into isolated environments. Typically cylindrical, the fitting assemblies allow for connections to be established between the vacuum chamber interior and exterior in a manner that prevents leakage into the chamber. Applications needing quick connections or disconnections on one or both sides of the chamber wall require bulkhead connectors. High quality helps assure complications relating to loss of signal or seal leakage are avoided. With that said, while the bulkheads are able to fulfill the aforementioned requirements of the high-wire act, there are other options available for addressing the same challenge which are potentially more advantageous under different conditions.

For some applications, epoxy sealed vacuum feedthroughs, a comparatively newer technology, provides numerous practical and technical advantages over their glass or ceramic counterparts. In the case of a feedthrough which is going to remain sealed (such as a vacuum chamber utilized for space simulation) the hermetically sealed epoxy wire feedthrough provides a great range of flexibility in design. Additionally, despite their nature as a customized product, as opposed to a regular bulkhead, the installation cost of an epoxy sealed feedthrough on a permanent installation can be advantageous. Some feedthroughs designed to pass wires from atmospheric environments to high vacuum environments are engineered to function in temperatures from -40F to 200F while paired with the industry standard wires and cables. These devices can be a marquee choice for vacuum-oriented process control thanks to their design variance and durability, even under the most challenging of industrial conditions.

Depending on the situation, either bulkheads or epoxy sealed feedthroughs can help engineers and designers combat a longstanding challenge in working with vacuum environments.

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