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Implications of Pb-free microelectronics assembly in aerospace applications

  • Author(s): Shapiro, A A
  • Bonner, J K
  • Ogunseitan, O A
  • Saphores, JDM
  • Schoenung, J M
  • et al.

The commercial microelectronics industry is rapidly implementing Pb-free assembly strategies and it should be mostly Pb free within the next decade. This trend is driven by existing and proposed legislation in Europe and in Japan, which has already led a number of firms (including AT&T, IBM, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel) to adopt Pb-free implementation programs. This is another sign that the microelectronics industry has become truly global. Following Moore's law, progress in microelectronics is brisk but not uniform: in many cases, commercial industry is ahead of the aerospace sector in technology. Progress by commercial industry, along with cost, drives the use of commercial off-the-shelf parts for military and space applications. We can thus anticipate that the U.S. aerospace industry, which is not subject to foreign legislation, will, at some point, be forced to use Pb-free components and subsystems as part of their standard business practices. In this, paper, we provide a snapshot of the commercial industry trends and how they may impact electronics in the aerospace environment. Impacts will be felt in the areas of reliability, assembly methods, cost drivers, supply chain selection, and alternative materials selection. In addition, we look at different strategies for implementation. The questions we address include the following: Should companies immediately embark on a program to convert all of their electronics to Ph free? Should they phase it in instead, and if so, over what time frame? Should companies try to comply with industry Pb-free standards? What requirements should flow down to subcontractors and component suppliers? Legislation is pending in a number of states that may affect these decisions and their timing. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, through some university programs, is examining the implementation of Ph free as well. Finally, we present data from a portion of a recent NASA project that focuses on finding suitable alternatives to eutectic Sn-Pb solders and solder pastes and on determining suitable processing operations in assembling printed wiring boards. The world is moving toward implementation of environmentally friendly manufacturing techniques. The aerospace industry will be forced to deal with issues related to Pb-free assembly, either because of the progressive scarcity of eutectic Sn-Pb solder or because of legislation. This paper provides insights into some of the key tradeoffs that should be considered.

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