Wednesday, August 11, 2010 | Grant Peterson, Vice President, Electronic Controls Design
This issue, around for decades, was mitigated by lead (3 to 5%) in solder. With removal of that lead, tin whiskers returned. These hair-like outgrowths from tin cause failure as they grow, touching nearby components/traces and shorting them out. Until this problem is completely solved, techniques, such as conformal coating, are being implemented to help minimize the problem.
Whatever the cause, the possibility of a crippled space shuttle, a failed pacemaker or an out-of-control automobile cannot be taken lightly. Indeed, the military now requires contract bids to come with a plan that includes lead-free risk management. Thoroughness of the plan can often decide the contract.
Counterfeit Parts and Equipment/Security
Huge gray markets exist in counterfeit parts and, most recently, counterfeit production equipment. These less expensive devices appear to be high quality, but likely don't incorporate previously mentioned safeguards, and are often made of recycled, defective or soon-to-expire items. Frustratingly, they are extremely difficult to spot. U.S. scrap electronic components sent overseas for disposal may easily be hijacked or bought in the black market and expertly relabeled "new"--a worse-case scenario in mission-critical.
Better inspection capabilities, traceability and a willingness to spend for quality rather than bargain for price is required to stop this dangerous trend. Many businesses will jeopardize their ability to do business with the military if they use suppliers without proper documentation and traceability of parts.
We must also do more to protect our intellectual property and prototypes. Patents mean nothing to counterfeiters. We must better guard access to our design and development areas, our databases and every other aspect of R&D and production.
Lead-free problems exist, some of which we noted. Many will be solved only with increased R&D and empirical evidence. Many boil down to better OEM and EMS communication, particularly when assembling mission-critical components and boards offshore, where differences in language, experience and culture exist.|
There is, however, no agreed-upon scientific evidence that the environment will be helped more by full lead-free implementation than mission-critical industries will be hurt by it. While technology should always show concern for the environment, until environmental-friendly technology is proven to go the distance needed for mission-critical applications, we have much work to do. Failure is simply not an option.
1. IPC Executive Summit, Washington D.C., June, 2010.
2. Cavanaugh, David Interview, September 2, 2009, I-Connect007 Mil/Aero Newsletter.
3. ECD Survey, March 2009 at IPC APEX Expo and online. Data on file.
Grant Peterson holds Bachelor of Science in Materials Engineering and MBA degrees from UCLA and has served in various high-level Operations and Sales positions with companies such as the U.S. Navy, Tektronix, TriQuest, Interactive Northwest and BioReaction. Currently, he holds the position of Vice President of Marketing and Sales for ECD, a leading thermal profiling company in Milwaukie, Oregon. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.