US Electronics Industry is in Real Trouble


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A major crisis faces the electronics industry as companies struggle to meet European requirements for lead-free electronic products in 2006.  An extensive report Lead-Free Electronic Solder,Why?, attacks the political motives behind this effort and makes a strong environmental case against lead-free; the key driver behind this effort.  <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

"Not only is lead-free unnecessary, it is environmentally unsound, driven by political motives rather than good science," states Harvey Miller, electronic packaging industry expert and author of the report.  "Lead-free is driving up costs of manufacturing and affecting product reliability which could spell disaster for an industry deeply shaken by the downturn of 2000."

Although most large OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) have major lead-free programs underway and place a positive spin on those efforts, behind the scenes, they're struggling with potentially huge production cost increases and product reliability issues.  The pushback from some manufacturers has already begun.

In September 2004 IBM produced a White Paper discussing critical failures in joints "soldered" using lead-free solders.  Problems like these are the subject of numerous web conferences over the coming months as companies ranging from Boeing, GE, Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Intel and many others struggle to integrate lead-free technologies their products.

"Solder has been used for decades as the primary attachment for electronic products.  It's reliable.  It's a known quantity," said Miller. "The lead-free alternatives have opened up a whole new can of worms.  It's going to take decades to sort through all the reliability issues. The most frustrating thing is it's not necessary."

Miller's report provides extensive support for the conclusion that lead-free is not good for the environment, for the industry, the consumer, or the country.

You can read the full article Lead-Free Electronic Solder,Why? at http://www.pcb007.com/lead-free.aspx

Background.

On <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />May 15, 2001, the European Parliament accepted and passed on to the Council of Nations a "Proposal for a. ...Directive on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substance in electrical and electronic equipment". It bans use of lead after July 1, 2006. 

0.5% of total world lead is used in electronic solder to connect electronic products.

In January 2000, EPA co-sponsored an 'Experts Workshop' during which numerous scientific experts explained why application of PBT methodology to metals is not consistent with sound science.

There is an abundance of proof that lead in electronic solder has no measurable negative impact at any stage of its life cycle.

  1. OSHA compiled a listing of industries and occupations where exposure to lead (mostly by inhalation) on the job leads to high blood levels[1], May 2000. 82 case studies were described for affected workers in industries ranging from printing to paint to plumbing. There were no cases from the electronics industry. (NOTE: In most of these industries, lead has been eliminated. In others, OSHA regulations mandate safe practices.)
  2. The EPA declared Aspen Colorado a Superfund site in 1986[2]. At some locations, lead concentrations were over 20,000 parts per million, 40 times acceptable. The people potentially affected asked for tests to measure impacts of the high lead soil concentration. "The results ...showed insignificant levels in air, and no levels in water.[3]"

Re people: Lead level averages in the lead- contaminated Aspen area were 2.8 micrograms per deciliter for children and 3.4 for adults, compared to U.S. average ranging from 4 to 6 uG/dL[4].

  1. The Materials and Process Audit for Electronic Solders and Alternatives: A Detailed Case Study[5]

EPA's Design for the Environment analysis application to lead in electronic solder resulted in the following conclusion.

"The results of the impact assessment can be stated simply: the status quo, lead solder, is preferable to substantial substitution of alloys containing significant amounts of bismuth or tin or by epoxies containing significant amounts of silver. When the relatively minor component of overall lead demand attributable to printed wiring board assembly applications is contrasted with the significantly expanded mining and processing the other options would entail, lead-based solders are the least environmentally harmful choice. Thus a systematic analysis has led to what, for many people, is a counterintuitive result."

[1] www.haz-map.com/reports.htm, May 12, 2000

[2] Jeremy Bernstein, REPORT FROM ASPEN, New Yorker, Nov 25, 1991

[3] Hazardous Waste Conference, 1983, T.C. Dunlop

[4] REPORT FROM ASPEN op cit

[5] B. Allenby op cit

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