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Lead-Free Electronics - Solder

July 1, 2006, when the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive went into effect, marked the start of the first government sanctioned ban on new electronics products manufactured with solder and finishes containing Lead. The world with respect to electronics interconnect technologies was irrevocably changed. For over 60 years, the electronics industry has relied on Tin-Lead (SnPb) solder as the primary means of interconnection for electronic devices. The reliability of Tin-Lead interconnections is well known having successfully performed for decades in harsh Military environments. RoHS and the other international and domestic legislative mandates to eliminate materials deemed hazardous has forced the electronics industry to adopt new solders and finishes free of Lead. These new materials possess different mechanical properties with unknown reliability when used in Military applications.

While Military electronics have received exclusions from these Lead-free imperatives, the reality is the consumer marketplace drives the electronic industry, not the Military. Electronics companies and their suppliers worldwide are being compelled to change to solders and materials compatible with Lead-free assembly. Military electronics now rely heavily on commercial components and in some cases circuit boards, assemblies, and equipment—the majority of which have been or will be converted to Lead-free. This conversion is creating widespread reliability risks for Military electronics as listed below:

  • A phenomenon known as Tin whiskers becomes a factor due to the absence of Lead in Tin-bearing solder and component finishes. Tin whiskers can cause electrical shorts resulting in system failures. Over 50 publicly documented Tin whisker failures have occurred including at least two satellites and nuclear power plant shutdowns.
  • Current Lead-free solder alloys do not have the mechanical properties of Tin-Lead, which depending on operating conditions can affect solder joint integrity causing premature failures.
  • Processing temperature differentials between Tin-Lead and Lead-free solders of 35°C or more can induce latent defects in the assembled components.
  • No performance history of Lead-free in Military environments exists—this becomes more important given the increasing long lifecycles of Military hardware.
  • No single replacement for Tin-Lead solder is currently available that meets all the operational and safety requirements of DoD.

DoD is being impacted through diminishing sources providing required Tin-Lead finished components and solders and the increased use of COTS components and systems. This shift in manufacturing processes and the decreasing availability of components and solders containing Lead directly impacts configuration management and repair of Military systems. Engineering data for legacy systems was drafted based on the Tin-Lead manufacturing processes of the day and may or may not address component termination finish materials. The resultant intrusion and use of undesired and unspecified Lead-free electronics poses a threat to the reliability of DoD weapon systems and the safety of the Warfighter.

Conversion of the commercial supply chain to Lead-free solders and finishes is being executed. The Lead-free transition will affect the Military if not properly addressed. Managers of DoD programs must be aware of the risks associated with use of Lead-free technology to control/manage the situation. Identifying the risks, and subsequent Risk Management Plans, is facilitated by use of the references below, as well as a Lead-Free Control Plan. Acceptance of this situation and a subsequent proactive approach to control and manage risk will result in the continued safe and reliable operation of Military electronics.

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Reference3/15/2010 2:04 PM
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STWG Lead free Overview.pdf
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Example2/18/2010 7:39 PM