Saturday, January 7, 2017

Electronics and computerized machines fail early due to Lead-Free Solder and RoHS techniques

Have you ever wondered why electronics and computers from the 90's and early 2000's seem to last forever? But now, you are lucky to get 3 years from just about anything computerized. Now-days, just about any machine (including vehicles, boats, and airplanes) have some kind of logic-board or PCB installed. From coffee-makers to TVs, computers, and spacecraft ... and everything in-between.

So now we know why. It's not just a conspiracy theory. Are the machines you purchased any less valuable or important that the ones that NASA's and the US-Military bought?

Lead-Free Solder - A Train Wreck in the Making

The advisory concludes with this guidance: “Though there are many alternative solder alloys available to replace traditional tin-lead, none of them has passed the reliability testing required of aerospace-quality hardware.”

Killed (Not Saved) By A Whisker - Why Our Electronic Gizmos Inevitably Die

The military and NASA were especially concerned, so they generally operate under waivers allowing lead solder in the gear on which our space program or national security supposedly depend.

Military Suppliers Confront the RoHS Challenge

The two main reliability concerns with lead-free processes are solder joint reliability and tin whiskering ... Most discrete parts and parts with leads can withstand the temperatures of both leaded and lead-free processes, but BGAs can be a problem.

Hazardous Materials Statement - Amphenol Aerospace (PDF)

Due to stringent customer and Mil-Spec requirements, AIAO will not pursue 100% transition to Pb-free products ... MS and other mil-specification part-numbers requiring leaded solder will not be made available in lead-free or RoHS compliant versions until the applicable MilSpec is revised to incorporate this change.

I think this inferior unleaded solder is killing more electronics than we realize. Reliability and longevity seems to have fallen from around 95% to around 60% ... on just about everything. I used to think it was just poorly executed Lead-Free solder techniques, the additional solder-heat weakening the soldered components, and more recently ... a large industry shift to BGA components. While I'm sure all this is still true, now we know the main reason. It only takes one bad/cold solder connection or weak PCB multi-layer-via to render a machine inoperable. Your thoughts?