Saturday, October 6, 2007

European Union action on lead in computers could complicate "tin whiskers" reliability problem


Jordan Robertson, an Associated Press Technology writer, has a story about tin whiskers on Yahoo! today. The title is “Tiny Tin Whiskers Imperil Electronics.” The link is here or here.

The problem of microscopic frays on tin solder connections has been known for decades, and electronics and computer manufacturers have generally added a slight amount of lead into the alloy to combat that physical property of tin.

Recently the European Union banned this practice. The concern is that computer or electronics parts wind up in landfills or dumps and can contribute to lead poisoning of children. The moral question sounds like a “technology v. people” one, although a reported like John Stossel would probably contest that.

Silver and copper might substitute for lead, but require much higher temperatures. This still sounds like a significant engineering problem.

It is unclear how the European Union ban would affect overseas products intended for sale in the United States. Potentially, it could make computers purchased in the future less stable. Hard drives and other components have become much more dependable (as well has have much higher storage capacity for less money) during the past ten years.

Here is NASA’s link on tin whiskers: http://nepp.nasa.gov/whisker/background/index.htm

Here is an article on lead-free electronics from Advanced Packaging.

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