Sustainability in the electronics world includes finding new raw materials for fabrication that aren’t toxic to the environment and being recyclable for continual reuse. Another side of sustainability applies to the assembly processes used in the manufacturing of printed circuit boards. Circuit board assembly requires the use of solder, a material that melts to form a solid metal joint between the pins of electronic components and the metal landing pads on the board. Solder, however, has traditionally contained high levels of lead and other hazardous materials making it unsafe for humans and the environment.
Printed circuit boards can now be manufactured using green technology lead-free solder to protect against these hazardous materials. Not only is this a more environmentally friendly option, but it also complies with the restriction of hazardous substances (RoHS) regulations mandated for electronics sold in Europe. Here are more details on these sustainable electronics materials and processes in use by local PCB contract manufacturers.
The Benefits of Sustainable Electronics Materials in PCB Manufacturing
There are many materials used in electronics manufacturing that are considered toxic for human contact and the environment. These materials include solder as well as protective coatings, plastics, paints, and much more. As electronics are discarded and recycled, these materials can find their way back into the environment and sometimes even harm the workers who come into direct contact with them during recycling operations. To better protect both the environment and the recycling workers, many safety restrictions have been put in place governing the use of these hazardous materials, including RoHS.
In addition to restricting the use of hazardous materials in electronics manufacturing, the RoHS directive has also catalyzed the creation of new and safer replacement materials. In electronics manufacturing alone, RoHS has been responsible for the invention of lead-free solders to replace traditional solders that contain unacceptable amounts of lead. These new lead-free solders have also necessitated developing new or refined manufacturing processes to use these new materials. These changes have substantially lowered the number of toxic materials that go back into the environment during electronics recycling.
What is the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive in PCB Assembly?
The RoHS directive covers all items with an electrical or electronic component unless specifically excluded and sold in the European Union. Even if these items are manufactured in other countries, they still have to meet the directive’s requirements. These items include household appliances, electronics, electric tools, telecommunications equipment, toys, and many other devices. The directive drastically restricts the amount of the following ten substances used in manufacturing:
- Cadmium (Cd): < 100 ppm
- Lead (Pb): < 1000 ppm
- Mercury (Hg): < 1000 ppm
- Hexavalent Chromium: (Cr VI) < 1000 ppm
- Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBB): < 1000 ppm
- Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE): < 1000 ppm
- Bis(2-Ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP): < 1000 ppm
- Benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP): < 1000 ppm
- Dibutyl phthalate (DBP): < 1000 ppm
- Diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP): < 1000 ppm
While many of these substances appear in various forms for manufacturing electronics, the most prominent to PCB designers is lead. RoHS-compliant circuit boards are assembled using lead-free solder, plating processes, and RoHS-compliant components to withstand the higher temperatures required by lead-free solder. An experienced PCB contract manufacturer that understands all of the RoHS requirements and working with lead-free assembly techniques is essential.
Working with the Experts in Green Technology Electronics Manufacturing
When you need to have a circuit board built with sustainable electronics materials, make sure that you enlist a PCB contract manufacturer that understands what you need. There is a lot more to PCB assembly under RoHS regulations than just changing solder types. Your PCB CM needs to be fully prepared with the following:
- Fully understand the requirements of the RoHS regulations
- Sourcing all of their materials and components from RoHS compliant vendors
- Working with PCB fabricators that are also RoHS compliant
- Facilities set up to isolate lead-free assembly processes from standard processes that still use lead
- Documented procedures in place to demonstrate the purity of their lead-free manufacturing processes
We understand the RoHS directive at VSE and successfully built lead-free circuit boards for our customers for years. Over time the RoHS regulations have changed and updated to include new requirements, and we refined our processes to keep pace with them. We fully train our staff in handling RoHS compliant materials. Additionally, our facilities are designed with clearly marked areas for lead-free manufacturing processes to ensure your project’s purity.