Lead-free electronics killed by tin?
Lead is a toxic element, and according to the EU directive “Restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment”, better known as RoHS, consumer electronics must do without it and replace it with alloys not dangerous for health and the environment. Tin, the most widely used alternative to lead in component soldering, is certainly less toxic but poses serious risks to the regular operation of the affected device creating a phenomenon known as a metal mustache.
The origins of the phenomenon are still unknown, but the metal filaments up to 10 millimeters long that can be generated by tin soldering can be fatal to component electronics, creating conductive bridges between two areas that shouldn’t come into contact and therefore leading to short circuits, malfunctions or in the worst case to the actual destruction of the object.
A phenomenon that is not limited to the pond alone, and that has already had the opportunity to demonstrate all the possible consequences as recalled by the list of famous disasters curated by NASA and attributable to the aforementioned spontaneous and uncontrollable mustache. Military, medical, aerospace or simply domestic environments, nothing is safe from potential danger which according to ars technica is a real pandemic risk much more than the hoax of the infamous Millennium Bug was.
Lead acted as a calming agent for the phenomenon , since apparently a tin alloy containing the above does not generate whiskers at an appreciable or dangerous level, as well as having a lower melting point which guarantees greater operating stability for electronic devices. A series of qualities that, apart from toxicity, tin alone is not able to offer.
The omelette, in any case, is now done: the EU directive requires since the summer of 2006 that there is no trace of lead in the equipment marketed on the Old Continent, and this has prompted the major producers to embrace possible alternatives . Advanced engineering of electronic circuitry can help mitigate and control the phenomenon, suggests ars, but the problem is real and showcases all the disastrous consequences of industry’s historic use of toxic materials . Only now are we forced to look for alternatives, and finding valid ones could cost a lot in terms of time and money.