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Pinback
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RoHs Compliance and Longevity, an insider's view

I would like to share some information that is well known among electronic equipment manufacturers, but may not be as well known to consumers. This is in regards to RoHs compliance in electronics manufacturing and it's effects on the lifespan of electronic equipment. I have gained this information through 10 years experience in the electronics manufacturing field, specificaly the assembly of consumer, military, and medical grade circuit boards containing both through-hole and surface-mount components. Since I've only recently returned to the HiFi literature field, I don't know if this issue has been covered to death already here, but if not, then contnue reading.

Background: (skip this if you know the basics)
RoHs compliance began in Europe and deals with the removal of lead from the manufacturing process. This is in response to a mandate to reduce lead in the environment. This has been standard in European manufacturing for several years now, and U.S. companies who wish to sell goods in the European market must follow suit. In the current global economy, this translates to an almost certain guarantee that any hifi gear you may have bought in recent years, or are considering for future purchase, will be lead-free.

Implementation: What's changed?
New lead-free solders have been developed to replace the standard lead solders. Individual electronic components, ie resistors, capacitors, etc., also have been modified to contain lead-free metals. These changes affect manufacturing by requiring the use of higher temperatures in both the reflow and wave solder processes.

Effects: Why should I care?
During their journey through the lead-free soldering processes, electronic components are exposed to higher levels of heat stress than in standard lead soldering. This may lead to shorter component lifespan. Also, some lead-free soldered circuit boards only a few years old have been found to contain degradation (cracking) in the solder joints.

I would suggest that buyers keep these issues in mind if considering making an extravagant "once-in-a-lifetime" purchase. Unless you are of retirement age, your lifetime may be signicantly longer than that of your HiFi.

Diclaimer: Before responding with hateful responses, please consider the fact that I stated these effects either 'may' occur or have occured in 'some' cases.

FYI This information is freely available in the electronics manufacturing press.

Bob B
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Right On

You won't get a hateful response from me. I have been an electronics manufacturing engineer for many decades and have never seen anything so misguided as RoHS, specifically the lead-free solder portion. This is what you get when politicians and tree-huggers trump scientists. In addition to the reliability issues, many of the lead-free alloys are worse for the environment (also well documented in the industry.) Even though I work in a (for now) exempt industry (military and avionics) we are still impacted because of component availability. The tin whiskers threat makes me sweat at night. Recycling is the key, not throwing away a hundred years of soldering technology seemingly overnight. Have you seen the REACH regulations? Oy vey.

tmsorosk
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Right Arm

Agree with Bob B ... It's same old story with politicians . There more concerned that they LOOK like there doing something , rather than actually doing it , in this case making an environmental improvement . What do they care , in a few years they'll be retired with a fat pension and house in a tropical location .
Time to go put on a CD . Tim

Pinback
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Thanks for the posts, more people need to know

I left the medical electronics segment before RoHs came about. I wonder how it has affected that field? THAT could keep me awake at night thinking about it. Oh, and if people knew the classs of mentally challenged people building this stuff (myself excluded. Of couse:) they would be afraid to ever BE in a hospital!

soulful.terrain
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As a guitarist..

....the RoHs eliminated Germanium Transistors. For example: the NKT 275 germanium transistor that was spec'd in an original Dallas Arbiter Fuzzface was replaced with the cheap chinese transistor to comply with RoHs requirements.

You can absolutely hear the difference between an original Dallas Arbiter and the one with the cheap chinese NKT 275 transistor. Conclusion: it sucks.

Mark Evans

John Atkinson
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RoHS Lead-free Solder Problems
Pinback wrote:
I would suggest that buyers keep these issues in mind if considering making an extravagant "once-in-a-lifetime" purchase. Unless you are of retirement age, your lifetime may be significantly longer than that of your HiFi. . . FYI This information is freely available in the electronics manufacturing press.

I wrote about this in 2005, including the problem with lead-free solder "whiskers," in our eNewsletter: www.stereophile.com/images/newsletter/805Bstph.html.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Dr.Strangelove
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RoHs
Pinback wrote:

I left the medical electronics segment before RoHs came about....

In the medical and aeronautical electronics the leaded solder is allowed.

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