Active investigation continues on various alloys used to replace lead for soldering in electronics components. Use of lead has dropped since the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive took effect in July, 2006. Historically, interconnections in electronic components have been made using tin/lead solder formulations. Those materials melt at 183C, while the thermoset and thermoplastics used in electronics have temperature limits up to 235C. The glass transition temperature of FR-4, a common PCB material, is between 140-175C. The resin softens as temperatures rise. New lead-free alternates such as SAC become liquid at 217C. Other lead-free solders have even higher melting points, causing failures of laminates and thermoplastics. Materials suppliers are struggling to adapt, says James Hall of ITM Consulting, who gave an interesting overview of the issue during a conference session at National Manufacturing Week in Rosemont, IL. “Just increasing cross-linking in the modified epoxies used in laminates is not the way to go,” he says. Cross-linking increases the brittleness of the laminates, creating problems when the boards are drilled. Specialty thermoplastics, such as modified nylons, are also experiencing problems because of the high solder temperatures. Explorations continue on new plastics as well as new solder formulations, including significant use of dopants such as nickel and germanium that provide specific property enhancements for various reasons.
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
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