Endress Hauser has stopped the use of lead from its electronic components primarily printed circuit board manufacturing in its ongoing products portfolio, voluntarily complying with a recent European directive aimed at protecting human health from the effects of this harmful heavy metal.
Good corporate citizenship is a key priority for Endress+Hauser, which has now reduced its future lead consumption to only a few kilograms per year thus achieving a saving of 1.5 tons per year. “We are facing up to our responsibilities as a company and reducing the burden on the environment,’” commented Klaus Endress, global CEO.
Since July 2006 the EU’s Restriction of Certain Hazardous Substances (RoHS) guideline has required the European electronics industry to find lead-free alternatives for soldering.
As a manufacturer of measuring equipment, Endress+ Hauser is exempt from these requirements. Nonetheless, explained Klaus Endress, “We want to meet the requirements of the RoHS guideline voluntarily for the sake of the environment and our health.”
Endress+Hauser has invested millions of dollars over two years in preparing for this major conversion. The project team built on over a decade of experience with lead-free alloys, which it first developed for the Liquiphant level limit switch back in the 1990s.
Working together with the Technical University of Munich and the Swiss system makers Kirsten Soldering AG, the Endress+Hauser team developed an alternative silver solder, soldering paste and soldering unit.
Preventing whiskers that are fine, needle-shaped crystals that can cause short-circuits proved a challenge; however, the major problem was the need for higher soldering temperatures. Since temperatures that are high will damage the component, the temperature window for the soldering process is narrow.
The conversion to lead-free engineering across the wide Endress+Hauser range has been complex, requiring the adaptation of a host of manufacturing processes, tools, machines, components, supply chain factors, logistics and IT processes.
The new technology has been introduced step by step across the portfolio, with two million lead-free components having already been manufactured. The few exceptions are being phased out, and all new products are developed in accordance with the EU guidelines.