Lead vs. Lead Free Solder

Leaded solder has been the go-to substance used in electronic manufacturing and rework for years. However, in the last few decades there has been a growing concern for health and environmental implications from products manufactured with lead. As a result, The European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS) prohibited the further use of lead in electronics after July 2006 (EPA, 2005). There is no law prohibiting the use of leaded solder in electronics in the United States, however, some manufacturers require that lead free solder is used on their electronic devices.

Lead Free Solder
Lead Free Solder

Contrary to the above information, the Aerospace Corporation produced a presentation pertaining to the use of leaded solder. Drawing on research produced by NASA, The Aerospace Corporation claims there is no substantial evidence that the lead used in electronics manufacturing is hazardous to humans or the environment (Kostic, 2011). The reality is that when is comes to electronic rework, the amount of lead used is so minuscule that is does not pose a hazardous threat to health.

Typically, leaded solder is a mixture of tin and lead. A benefit of using this type of solder is its flowing ability as it heats up at a much lower temperature than lead-free solder, thus posing less of a thermal threat to the component. In addition, after the solder cools it takes on a shinier appearance than lead-free solder, therefore it is easier to spot problems such as oxidation (which would dull the appearance). Finally, leaded solder is a cheaper alternative to lead-free and is overall easier to use.

With the increased use of lead-free solder, there has been speculation over the phenomenon of tin whiskers which are small, hair like conductive filaments that grow from metals like tin and silver, among others. These can pose damaging threats to electronics as the filaments can form a bridge between components and cause electrical failure (Sampson et al., 2009). The possibility of tin whiskers is less likely to occur using leaded solder, however, this is dependent on the amount of lead in the solder.

AER Technologies offers both lead and lead-free soldering. For customers preferring lead-free components, AER has designated lead-free soldering stations to avoid the risk of contamination. Give us a call today for your lead or lead-free soldering needs at (714) 446- 6083.

References

EPA. (2005). Solders in Electronics: A Life- Cycle Assessment Summary. United States
Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from:
http://ecoinfo.cnrs.fr/ACV/ACV/lca-solder.pdf

Kostic, A. (2011). Lead-free Electronics Reliability- An Update. The Aerospace
Corporation. Retrieved from: http://nepp.nasa.gov/whisker/reference/tech_papers
/2011-kostic-pb-free.pdf

Sampson, M., Leidecker, H., Brusse, J., & Kim, J. (2009). Basic Information Regarding
Tin Whiskers. NASA. Retrieved from: http://nepp.nasa.gov/whisker/background

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