RoHS, Six Years After


I was at IPC Apex Expo the other week.  San Diego is a great venue for the show, but I always forget how cold it can be (55°-65°F) this time of year.

While at the show, I was interviewed on lead-free reliability and its cost for consumer electronics. These are topics I think about often, so let’s discuss them a bit. First, let’s consider reliability.  RoHS was enacted on July 1, 2006, more than 6 ½ years ago. Each year more than $1 trillion worth of electronics are made, therefore, in this period of time, something over $3 trillion worth of consumer electronics have been manufactured. There have been no “the sky is falling”-type of reliability issues in this time. How can I say this? Well, my office at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth is across the hall from the IT (information Technology) Dept. They purchase all the millions of dollars worth of PCs, printers, displays etc. that Thayer uses. Several years ago (say early 2011) I stopped by when most of the department was in and cheerfully asked if the reliability of the equipment they purchase has gone down since lead-free assembly was enacted. They asked me in unison, “What’s lead-free assembly.” After I explained what lead-free assembly was, they confirmed that they have noticed no changes in reliability. Since RoHS, my family has purchase about 100+ electronic devices, a few have had reliability problems, about as many as in the past. Most were attributed to hard drive fails. Of the scores of friends and colleagues I have, no one has ever commented that they have noticed an increase in electronics fails. So, my conclusion is that consumer product reliability is not “practically” worse if my family and  these many  other folks haven’t noticed it.

I have made an informal study of reliability data of lead-free vis-a-vis tin-lead solders published in papers. A statement from Rockwell Collins’ JCAA/JGF-PP No Lead solder Project: -55C-125C Thermal Cycle Testing Final Report  sums up my overview conclusion nicely: “Test vehicles assembled with lead-free materials (notably tin-silver-copper) exhibited lower reliability under some test conditions.”  Naysayers might be quick to suggest that this statement says that lead-free is no good. However, the statement could be reworded to say: “In considerably more than half of the test conditions, test vehicles assembled with lead-free materials had higher reliability.” Counting the comparisons in the Rockwell-Collins paper shows lead-free better in 51 cases, tin-lead better in 31 cases, and one draw. However, it is disturbing that a small percentage of lead-free assembled test vehicles had much much worse reliability than tin-lead test vehicles. This later information makes me believe that lead-free is not yet ready for mission-critical, high-reliability, long-life products. These small numbers of much poorer reliability assemblies must be understood and corrected before lead-free is ready for mission-critical prime time. The much shorter lifecycle of today’s consumer electronics may also mask this concern.

What about cost? I don’t at all want to minimize the expense that many went through to go lead-free and RoHS compliant. In about 2007, one of our colleagues estimated that it cost the electronics industry $20 billion to become RoHS compliant. I think this number is low, but, from a consumer’s perspective, there has been no cost hardship. The price of a PC continued to go down during and after RoHS implementation, as shown in the figure below. While performing my non-scientific survey of co-workers, family, and friends on reliability, I also asked about cost. All agreed, electronics are cheaper than ever.


Challenges still exist, even in consumer electronics with the Head-in-Pillow, Graping, non wet opens, and other defects.  However, we can all purchase lead-free, RoHS compliant products at a reasonable cost and reliability.



Dr. Ron

The source for the image is :


Best Wishes,

Dr. Ron


Another federal energy investment has gone South — no, make that West.

Lithium ion batteries have been in the news again following Boeing’s highly publicized Dreamliner battery difficulties. China’s Wanxiang Group has received clearance from the US Committee on Foreign Investment to acquire the assets of America’s battery maker A123 for $257 million. The bankrupt A123, which makes batteries for electric cars and grid storage, was the recipient of $130 million of clean energy federal grants. The Wanxiang Group is an auto parts conglomerate.

Shen Tsai-Sheng of one of the world’s largest PCB makers, Unimicron Technology, stated that utilization rates of Unimicron’s HDI board, PCB, and flexible PCB (FPCB) production will fall below 75% of capacity in the first quarter of 2013, down from 85% to 95% in the 4th quarter of 2012.

Huawei sold 10.8 million smart phones in the 4th quarter of 2012 to become the world’s 3rd largest seller. Samsung was first with 63.7 million and Apple was 2nd with 47.8 million. ZTE, another China maker, shipped 9.5 million units in the last quarter of 2012.

Will the “bounce” last? China’s economy has bounced back. A return to accelerating growth in the fourth quarter 2012 breaks seven straight quarters of declining growth and draws a line under concerns that the world’s second largest economy is heading for a hard landing.
To engineer the rebound, China’s government turned again to boosting credit and investment spending. But beneath the surface, there were also signs a rebalancing toward consumption may be underway.

ASL had its second best year in 2012 and forecasts sales at least as good in 2013. The number one IC lithograph projection printer supplier in the world, headquartered in Holland, has about 80% of the market for advanced exposure equipment (including for 300mm wafers).

An interesting note from the massive CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas this month was the seemingly widespread appearance of nanotechnology coatings to “moisture proof” just about anything.

Updated PWB charts showing use of build up boards and thin PWBs by application in Japan are now available. These have been created and maintained annually by Masamitsu (Matt) Aoki. Several have been published in the Printed Circuit Journal of Japan. Write to us if you would like a copy.

Back to the Future. The “Assembly Processes for Lead Free and Tin-Lead” free BUZZ session at the IPC Apex event in San Diego Feb. 19 chaired by Raymond E. Pritchard Hall of Fame member Don DuPriest has been renamed BZ2 Hall of Famers: Roundtable Discussion. It’s format will be an “open-end” panel discussion by Hall of Fame (HoF) members related to all aspects of the electronic interconnect industry.  The panel, including Bob Neves, Dan Feinberg, Jack Fisher, Vern Solberg, and myself will field questions from the audience ranging from technology, to business, to future changes and requirements, to reshoring. Chairman DuPriest will provide surprise gifts to audience members that ask questions.

New “Kid on the Block.” Taiwan’s MediaTek, which introduced its first chipset in 2011 in a Lenovo phone, has in 18 short months captured 50% of China’s market for smartphone chips. Its chipsets are reported to have greatly reduced the cost and time for manufacturers to introduce new phones to the marketplace.  As a result, the top five producers in China during the third quarter Coolpad, Huawei, Lenovo, Samsung and ZTE. Apple was 6th with just 8% of the market. MediaTek offers guidance on hot to build a phone with its chips. as a result its chips are showing up in new brands in emerging markets in Latin America and India.

Nissan will assemble its new Leaf electric motor in the USA this year for the 2013 Nissan LEAF car to be built in Smyrna, TN. Currently all of Nissan’s electric motors are put together in Japan.

Upcoming Chats

SMT process consultant Phil Zarrow’s moderated chat is today at 2pm Eastern.

You don’t need to make the live session in order to ask a question: questions may be submitted in advance.

Future chats will cover data transfer, PCB cleaning, environmental regulations and MSDS tracking, and on March 2 yours truly will take questions on this year’s Apex trade show.

No Silver Lining

Many people have been infatuated by the price of gold in recent months, but the price of silver has also skyrocketed. In 2000 silver was about $3 per troy oz. In the eight years that followed, its price grew to $15/oz. Today it is trading at over $41/oz! This price is almost an all time high, except for the time when the Hunt brothers tried to corner the silver market in 1980. The aberration of their efforts jolted the silver price to just short of $50/oz., but it settled down to $11 or so after the Hunts came under margin call and other pressures.

Unfortunately, the dramatic price increase today, does not appear to be an aberration. Although we may hope that it will soon drop to more historic levels, we may not have reason to expect that it will.

Although not as dramatic, tin and copper have experienced significant prices increases as well. The price of tin has doubled in the last year to $15/pound and copper has increased from about $3/lb to $4.50.  These metals are obviously key ingredients in critical electronic materials such as solder pastes, solder bar, and solder preforms.

In addition, oil, which is used for most organic electronic materials such as PWB resins, flip chip underfill, and epoxy fluxes, has increased to $110/bbl – approaching its all time high of $145/bbl.

All of these price increases have a significant impact on the electronics materials supply chain. Although we are used to price decreases in the cost of our mobile phones and PCs, at this point in time, the price of the materials that go into these devices will be increasing.

As one materials supply chain executive commented at Apex: “It’s not like we can be clever and somehow work around the price increase of silver and these other materials, we have to pass it on to our customer, or go out of business.