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.
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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