Jim, thanks for this unintended consequences story about one of the many unintended effects of ROHS. I was covering chip packaging and substrate materials at the time, so I got to write a lot about the lead solder replacement issue, various alternative materials and their upsides and downsides. I'm glad those days are over and the transition has been made.
Hi, Ann Enjoy reading your comments often. In the Aerospace/Defense industry, many of us wish RoHS would go away. Its multiple effects on the longevity of critical systems will plague us for years to come. Not everything is a "throw-away" product like we are used to in the consumer arena...... We certainly wouldn't still be receiving signals from Voyagers 1 & 2 if they would have had to be RoHS compliant......
Yes, it's the same old story. The environmentalists find a bogeyman and demand it's immediate removal and/or replacement. Government regulations, written by lawyers instead of engineers, are the result. Then the manufacturers scramble to find acceptable replacements. The replacements are always claimed to be "just as good" as the original component. Unforunately, more often than not, "just as good" is "never, never, NEVER just as good!" as the original (just like the lady in the commercial says!). Examples include replacing oil-based paints and stains with water-based equivalents to remove Volitile Organic Compounds (VOC's), or replacing lead paints with paints containing mercury compounds, or replacing high-fat foods with low-fat and non-fat equivalents.
This also raises an interesting problem, namely, what if many years from now, the replacements also have hidden problems that must be dealt with? Remember when Urea Formaldihyde Foam insulation was touted as a replacement for fiberglass building insulation, or Aluminum electrical wire was suggested as a replacement for copper wire, or PVC pipe was suggested as a replacement for copper water supply lines? In all three cases, class-action lawsuits resulted in ten's of millions of dollars in judgements against the manufacturers when the products failed, making homeowners sick and/or causing thousands of dollars in damage to their homes. These problems often don't show up until the products have been on the market for years, if not decades, and can't be discovered by testing, no matter how hard you try (unless you want to test the product for 30 or 40 years before releasing it, which is impractical).
Great points, ratkinsonjr. All good examples (except PVC plumbing, which I love). Environmental Lobbyists are a strong-willed and powerful group wielding far-reaching power over public opinion; -- opinion which is easily misled by "partial" data points. And the biggest problem, is the 'public-opinion' of those folks seated in legislative seats, who don't fully understand the far-reaching ramifications of their decisions. It's frustrating.
PVC pipe is great for Drain, Waste and Vent (DWV) applications, but I'm not sure about using it for supply-line applications, where the water is under pressure. In fact, it may be illegal for use on supply lines in my home state of Massachusetts, although it is legal (and widely used) for DWV applications here.
That said, it will be a continuing problem as long as the people writing the rules don't have any knowledge in the field they are regulating, which is another way of saying it will be a problem as long as we have politicians (forever). ;-)
I love PVC in my home (in So. Florida) because it doesn't sweat as much and it's SO much easier to work with in home repair. On the continuing problem of politicians – well, I think you and I are solidly on the same page. (Wouldn't this nation be a better place if an engineering degree was a prerequisite for running for Public Office-?) When I see something ridiculous being implemented, I often comment to people, " ... that decision was made by overweight men sitting in red velvet chairs, far removed the reality of this place". People tend to 'get' that.
To your point, when I spent time working with General Dynamics after the height of this RoHS cross-over period, I was very surprised to learn that many Aerospace, Defense and Military projects did NOT follow the RoHS initiative. Considering it was Government and Political posturing that allowed the initiative in the first place, (caving in to "Green" lobbyists) it seemed very hypocritical to me that it was "mandated" upon private industry, but not adopted by many Government branches. Again, to your point; we understand why that happened – Leaded makes a better solder – but unfair to push onto others what you're not willing to adopt yourself.
Marky Mark, I'm familiar with that feeling in mil/aero. I covered its effects on that sector extensively for a few years. But many of us, myself included, feel it's better in the long run for the health of everyone and everything. I.e., the greater good. The big challenge is finding the right replacement materials and processes.
Unless you are happily traveling at 65 MPH and suddenly, a damn RoHS solder decides to fail and causes your car to become uncontrollable...:)
The thing is: It would have been MUCH better to regulate electronic garbage disposal, than to emit stupidly conceived laws to ban lead in solders! I have had my dose of frustration and economic loss thanks to that initiative, even when I have salvaged quite a few consumer and industrial electronics previously disabled by that stupid measure (RoHS). Many devices will fail for years to come thaks to dumb European politicians, creating much more electronic garbage.
The greater risk, is that the world is turning towards dumb politicians imposing bad decisions on the rest of the people and too ignorant (but phanatic) people embracing so called "green" attitudes that in the end produce more harm than good.
Case in point: absolutely dumb traffic measures that reduce the number of automobile lanes in order to assign exclusive lanes (extra wide ones) to "ecologic" buses (that aren't, since those are still diesel burning polluting ones), that provoque unusually serious traffic jams while raising many times the air pollution due to cars traveling at less than 2.0 MPH averages!, while the exclusively for Bus lane remains empty over 99% of the time.
Another: "A day without using your car" programs. In the end, people resorted to buy a second (and in many cases a third) automobile to avoid being stranded one or two days every week; causing a much more higher overall emissions because people bought second hand vehicles that were much more polluting than their main car, which was prevented from running that particular day! (Both examples are in practice in Mexico City, FYI)
Unless society and knowledgeable people (like engineers, of course) step in and demand more common sense, politicians and phanatic "green" people will do more harm than good.
To say that we have transitioned to lead free is an assumption. The military has started a very expensive research program to find a "new" solder. Aerospace and medical still have not found an alternative.
Does anyone remember when Physio Control was shut down by the FDA for almost 2 years when one of their defibrillator killed the operator? It almost ruined them. That was not even tin slivers. Fortunately, medical is still exempt.
Exactly how does one calculate MTBF with ROHS solder, where tin slivers can grow between any 2 points within 0.1 inches of each other? (Yes, really, 0.1 inches a NASA documented photo of a tin sliver growing across two wire wrap pins).
It is one thing to tell someone else that they have to change a basic known reliable process that affects their future to an unknown process. It is quite another thing when your life hangs in the balance on that unknown process. Try standing in the other persons shoes.
Most people have no understanding of the extreme engineering challenges that are faced by technical professionals or how narrow the design margins really are. Some are barely feasible with know good processes.
Let's say that every day you walk out of your front door and straight out to your car. Well, one day, someone makes the decision that it would be good for the environment if you had to crawl over a 6 foot wall between your front door and the car, both ways. Are you up for that? Can you make the "transition" to walk-free?
Yes, the ROHS mandate has kept a bit of lead out of some landfills, but the reduced quality of the solder joints has put much more material into those landfils. So while the fearful europeans got their wish, it would be quite valuable to see if the claimed result has arrived at all. Is there any less lead or berrilium in the environment? In fact, has the concentration of any of those materials been reduced a detectable amount, much less a worthwhile amount? My belief is that a systemic recycling program could have achieved much better results much more quicly and cost a lot less. Just consider how many fewer phones would be dumped in the waste stream if there were a $20, or perhaps $50, deposit on each one, just like pop cans. And if such a deposit were a national mandate, not a local rule, then nobody could claim that it gave others an unfair advantage.
I am aware that it is a radical concept, but it has worked for pop cans here in Michigan, with only a 10 cent deposit., so it may work elsewhere as well.
This opens the argument I've been making for a while now; that the 'Green Initiatives' --- while nice in theory --- many times do not pan-out, when scrutinized by a rational long-range logistical thinking . The posturing of the environmental lobbyists (in this case, the EU as the leaders) convinced the whole world to change for their cause.
You bring up valid points that the same lobbyists will probably choose NOT to review in any detail; and while you humbly concede your new idea may sound radical, I wonder what the total price tag was for the RoHS initiative globally? It must have run into the 'Billions' --- Talk about Radical.
To me, RoHS solder joints always look cold. The solder has a dull, grainy looking surface when compared to the old leaded variety. I still use leaded solder at home, not just because of the way it looks, but because it flows much easier and appears to have greater cohesion.
I agree with all your observations, and it is far-easier to use; I continue to use it exclusively.
The one good thing that came from the cross-over was that I was often sought-out to determine root-cause failures, and came to quickly recognize those dull-grainy joints you described as leading causes.
Given the fact that lead is the smaller proportion of the 60/40 solder and that the EPA estimates that 80% of the lead in the environment is from batteries, why then go after the smallest 0.47% (EPA) of lead in the most critical systems that our lives, yes our lives, revolve around?
So far, pacemakers, satellites, nuclear reactors, and countless other devices have failed due to lead free ROHS solders.
What was the cost of all this? Who paid for all this? You did!
How bad does it have to get? Does an H-bomb have to go off (once the military if forced to use lead free) and vaporize a city before we wake up?
The really hideous part of this is that the average consumer has no idea that the funny green label on his product means a much lower quality. " Oh, it is lead free, my children can safely chew on the circuit boards" some might say.
And, by the way, this is a representative government, ruled by laws and votes, NOT mandates and directives from a foreign power.
Tin and other lead free solders were originally banned in the 1940's due to the failure of critical wartime radar installations.
The way I see it is that it is just another way for someone to get their hands in your pockets.
1. The high volume short warranty manufacturer benefits, it lowers the playing field of the high quality manufacturer to the level of low quality.
2. You will be forced to buy more devices more often benefiting #1 above.
3. Soldering is now a high tech behind the counter process requiring an Xray machine, special fluxes, special overplating, special conformal coat........ The little guy has less chance of competing.
The real answer was recycling. Yokohama Metals and others have found that recycled small electronics is 150 times richer in gold than the best of ores. Plus all the other stragetic materials involved.
Just put a bin on the corner of the shopping center parking lot and enforce strictly illegal dumping. Put a bounty on it, like glass bottles are in some states, that way out of work people could help themselves and the environment.
It is amazing what can happen if people thing things through instead of jumping to conclusions based on flawed information.
Great points, John – I share your frustration. Hypocritical that private industry was "mandated" to adopt this, yet federal programs deemed critical (military and aerospace) were exempt. (I would wager that any remaining H Bombs in existence did not adopt lead-free!)
The one point I take exception to is the thought that it was a way to get into your pockets. The manufacturing industries did not want to do this; it was the environmental lobbyists, who answer only to Mother Earth, and are too pure to be saddled by something as dirty as money.
In a separately threaded comment, I speculated the cost of this initiative to run into the Billions and there are very few up-sides from a cash-flow perspective.
My recollection of the published papers that led to the frenzy that started the ROHS actions is that there was some report made that grossly exaggerated the quantities of lead in discarded computers. They described the number of scrapped computers and the weight of lead in them, and unlike most folks, I worked out the math, given their numbers. They were asserting that there were several pounds of lead in each scrap computer. I had examined a number of the original PCs and clones, which were the computers of the day, and concluded that in no case would there be more than an ounce of lead in any of them. The only data that I was unable to examine at the time is the weight of lead in the glass of one of those "leaded glass" CRTs. Does anybody have any information about what percentage of lead is used in such leaded glass? If they had presumed that the CRTs were made of lead, and had that been correct, the data may have been a bit closer to correct. But my information is that the lead in leaded glass is quite solidly bound there, even if the glass is melted, although not if the glass is vaporised. And who vaporises glass?
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