Time to Get the Lead Back In?

Tech Score

Time to Get the Lead Back In?

By TMCnet Special Guest
Jeff Hudgins
  |  August 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the August issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY                                                                       

It’s estimated that the electronics industry has spent well over $30 billion to comply with the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (known as RoHS). The RoHS directive was officially adopted in 2003 and restricts the use of six hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment. The most notable restriction is lead. Electronic manufacturers around the world have redesigned their products to eliminate lead solder from printed circuit boards solder.  

But Verizon and AT&T (News - Alert) may not be convinced that lead-free solder meets the reliability standards of the central office. Last summer both carriers released their new test requirements (VZ.TPR.9307 and AT&T TP-76200) for any electrical equipment that uses lead-free solder. The temperature testing consists of thermal shock, temperature cycling, and over temperature. Other testing includes mechanical shock, destructive testing, and salt fog.

The battery of tests begins to make the NEBS-Level 3 testing look easy. How much will all of this testing cost the equipment manufacturers? Well, it depends upon the number of circuit boards in each platform. Each circuit board must be tested, and any board containing less than 4,000 solder joints must have more than one sample. Initial estimates range from $30,000 to $40,000 to test each board (excluding the cost of the damaged board after testing). And how long will this testing take? Plan another six months into the production release schedule. 

Of course, the investment does not end with the initial qualification. Retesting is required any time the manufacturer changes their bill of materials, manufacturing process, or supply chain.  Since a typical server could have as many as eight circuit boards or more inside, chances are some retesting will be required on a routine basis. And if you plan to sell into both service providers, expect the costs to double since the testing requirements are not the same.

So what’s the final score? The simplest and cheapest way to comply with the new standards is simply to produce equipment with lead-based solder. Unfortunately, manufacturers have spent a tremendous amount of time and money to design out lead, and their willingness to offer a lead-based option is unlikely. Unless the service providers are prepared to start issuing waivers, the cost of lead-free equipment just went up, again.

Jeff Hudgins is vice president of product management at NEI (News - Alert) Inc. (www.nei.com).

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Edited by Stefania Viscusi