Wednesday, March 31, 2010

High-Reliability and Low Toxicity: Lead-free Marches into the Military Sector

SMT will be giving away copies of a new book on lead-free in high-reliability/mission-critical electronics at our APEX booth 1474.

Integrating environmentally friendly practices into high-reliability and high-security electronics assemblies is not only difficult and complex, but also technically unnecessary. While most electronics are subject to RoHS and similar restrictions on use of hazardous materials, medical, defense, military, and other critical sectors are exempt. For now. Companies face pressure from an increasingly lead-free supply chain on one side, and lessening exemption support on another. The good news is that the high-reliability electronics sector is taking an active, involved approach to environmental friendliness.

As part of the 20th anniversary of the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act, Cobham Sensor Systems - Lowell has been selected by the Toxic Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at the University of Lowell as a "TURA 20th Anniversary Leader" for its environmental leadership. Cobham was recognized for its voluntary involvement in green practices, which are usually considered adversarial to military/high-rel electronics manufacturing. More on Cobham and TURI’s accomplishments — as well as SMT's tour of the reliability and analysis labs where Cobham studies lead-free, hexavalent-chromium- (CrVI-) free, and other approaches to electronics assembly — soon.

In the mean time, visit SMT’s booth 1474 at APEX to pick up a free copy of The Lead Free Electronics Manhattan Project – Phase I from the American Competitiveness Institute, Science and Technology Department of the US Navy, and the Benchmarking and Best Practices Center of Excellence. The Lead Free Electronics Manhattan Project team determined that lead-free electronics used in harsh environments pose technical risks that can lead to degraded reliability and reduced lifetimes, though quantification cannot yet be performed within valid statistical confidences. Further reliability data is needed to unite existing prediction methodologies and provide acceptable modeling accuracy. “Point solution” projects will not adequately address the gaps that exist in the current body of knowledge on lead-free electronics. The goal of the “Manhattan Project” is to ensure viable product design, manufacturing, test, delivery and sustainment at an affordable cost.

The book outlines best practices identified to mitigate the risks associated with lead-free electronics usage in high-reliability, high-performance aerospace and defense systems. The “Manhattan Project” approach is a best practice for addressing pervasive issues facing the manufacturing and customer community. The lead-free electronics best practices were compiled by nationally-recognized subject matter expert scientists and engineers.

Prepared concurrently by the Navy ManTech’s Benchmarking and Best Practices Center of Excellence (B2PCOE), the “Manhattan Project” framework addresses process aspects of dealing with complex, multi-disciplined technical issues. Skilled scientists and engineers collaborated within a real-time, concentrated working environment to synthesize their collective knowledge and experience into a practical set of findings and guidelines.

Phase II of the Pb-Free Electronics Manhattan Project will build on this current baseline and develop a three-year roadmap for the Phase III research and development required to deal with those issues.

Stop by Booth 1474 at IPC APEX EXPO, April 6-8 in Las Vegas, to get a free copy of this new publication, The Lead Free Electronics Manhattan Project – Phase I, as well as SMT issues and subscription update forms.

Meredith Courtemanche, executive editor

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Learn about Halogen-free and the New RoHS

Are halogens currently banned elements in electronics? What will RoHS II look like? Can I achieve the same performance with lead-free materials as I used to with leaded assembly products? These and other questions are answered in SMT’s free Webcast, Lead-Free/RoHS Materials for Printed Circuit Board Manufacturing, available on demand on SMT’s homepage, Edson Ito, Vectra LCP technical marketing manager, Ticona Engineering Polymers; Rob Rowland, supplier engineering manager, RadiSys; and Jeff Bowin, technical service manager, Henkel Electronics Materials present.

Ito focuses on the Vectra liquid crystal polymer (LCP) and its application to lead-free assembly. This halogen-free material offers coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) stability (tight dimensional tolerances) and robustness advantages in the higher-temperature reflow environment of lead-free assembly.

Rowland then summarizes some of the major changes anticipated in the new version of the EU RoHS Directive, currently dubbed within the SMT industry as RoHS II. His presentation, based on his column in the January/February issue of SMT, EU's RoHS 2 on the Horizon, covers terminology changes, exemption expirations, and the complex layout of a single all-inclusive document that replaces the original RoHS Directive and subsequent Decisions

Bowin’s presentation concentrates on sustainability and specifying the right halogen-free solder paste now, meeting current standards and performance requirements, before legislation pushes you into halogen bans unprepared. Halogens are deliberately added to solder pastes and fluxes as activators, in addition to already existing halides and halogens that may be present. Henkel’s solder R&D focuses on creating a paste that prints and solders well (low voiding, good moisture resistance, etc.) with no deliberately added halogens. Reliability, reflow, and slump tests show that the balance of sustainability and performance characteristics can be achieved.

Register now for this free, on-demand Webcast at

Meredith Courtemanche, executive editor

Monday, March 8, 2010

Predicting the Future: The Interrelationship between Technology and Politics

Did you ever want to know the future? Invest in stocks that you knew would soar in value, start a venture at just the right time to take advantage of a new technology (as we did with SMT in 1986), and avoid pitfalls along the way.

I’ve recently been reading about trends — a brief history of the 21st century titled The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman, and The Next 100 Years, which forecasts the geopolitical future of the world and is written by an unrelated George Friedman.

Thomas Friedman talks about how technology has become global and how it has enabled the rise of China and India in manufacturing and services in the electronics supply chain. Bangalore, he points out, is one of the most wired places in the world, and rents and wages are less than one-fifth what they are in Western hemisphere capitals of London or New York. Economics follows technology and technology follows production in areas with an educated population that will work for low wages.

The world is now a global environment for technology and innovation spurred by scientific infrastructure. Where that innovation happens is the fuel that feeds the growth of a rising middle class, T. Friedman contends. If we want to keep innovating in the U.S., then we need to support university research and R&D efforts overall. The World is Flat is filled with Friedman’s findings of a flattened playing field as he visits electronics manufacturing (EMS) firms in India.

George Friedman, on the other hand, is not a journalist like T. Friedman. He is the founder and CEO of STRATFOR (, a private intelligence firm. The major export of the U.S. in our recessionary crisis has been unemployment in China, to where the U.S. outsourced EMS industrial plants. G. Friedman predicts the political rise of Turkey and Poland, the decline of Germany, the instability of China, and the rise of Mexico to one of the major economic powers in the world. “By 2080, I expect there to be a serious confrontation between the United States and an increasingly powerful and assertive Mexico,” he writes.

By 2050, advanced industrial countries will be losing population at a dramatic rate. Birthrates will decline. “The shift will force the world into a greater dependence on technology — particularly robots that will substitute for human labor, and intensified genetic research (not so much for the purpose of extending life but to make people productive longer),” G. Friedman writes.

I highly recommend both books and both authors, if for nothing more than making you look at the world of technology through different eyes. In both books, the ability to innovate and educate are the keys to politics.

Gail Flower, editor-at-large
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