This article initially appeared in PS 797 (Apr 19), pp. 50-51
In today’s environmentally-conscious world, it makes sense to remove harmful chemicals and products from the workplace. One question that comes up is whether it’s OK for Army units to use lead-free solder in electronic repairs or similar applications. The answer may surprise you: Lead-free solder is not recommended for use in Army electronics repair.
The reason is that lead-free solder is usually higher in tin content. That increases the growth of tin whiskers, which are small, hair-like filaments that pop up on electronic components. Tin whiskers can cause short circuits, leading to wider system failure.
A minimum three percent lead (chemical element Pb) content is required when soldering electronic component leads. This lead requirement is making its way into performance specifications for electronic components, like the General Specification for Integrated Circuits (Microcircuits) Manufacturing (MIL-PRF-38535K) and the General Specification for Semiconductor Devices (MIL-PRF-19500P).
The global push to restrict lead use in electronics manufacturing has made this issue an ongoing challenge for the military. Currently, no single replacement for tin-lead solder is available that meets all the operational and safety requirements of DOD. Tobyhanna Army Depot now uses special scanning technology to make sure the lead content in components is sufficient and meets Army specs.
For more info, including the history and policies behind the lead-free transition, visit the Defense Acquisition University link below:
For technical questions, email Michael Oravitz at: