U.S. Congress Approves Funds for R&D on Lead-Free Electronics in Aerospace, Defense and High-Performance Applications


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The U.S. Congress on Monday approved $10 million for research into the issues surrounding lead-free electronics in mission-critical applications.

IPC, the global association of electronics manufacturers, and its allies had called for these funds to be included in the Fiscal 2021 defense appropriations bill. That bill cleared the U.S. House and Senate last night as part of an omnibus legislative package. President Trump is expected to sign it.

Over the last 15 years, the commercial electronics industry has largely phased out its use of lead (Pb) in electronic components and circuit assemblies, driven by government regulations and concerns about lead’s harmful effects on human health and the environment. However, the aerospace, defense and high-performance (ADHP) sectors have been reluctant to migrate to lead-free electronics because there is inadequate data on the reliability of lead-free components in ADHP applications.

The gap between commercial and defense electronics is growing wider as lead-free becomes more established in commercial technologies, and as governments – particularly in Europe – have implemented more stringent rules on the use of lead. Today’s defense electronics are now 15 to 20 years behind the commercial market in terms of the underlying materials used, undermining supply chain resiliency and technological superiority. 

“This vote is a win for U.S. taxpayers, defense readiness, and the electronics industry supply chain,” said Chris Mitchell, IPC vice president of global government relations.

“The migration of the commercial industry to lead-free electronics has created supply-chain concerns for the ADHP sectors that can only be overcome through public-private R&D,” he added. “These funds will support a collaborative research effort that will help ensure that mission-critical systems have full access to cutting-edge electronics from a robust global supply chain.”

“Together with our partners in the Pb-Free Electronics Risk Management (PERM) Council, IPC will continue to advocate for a proactive, long-term approach to this issue,” Mitchell added. 

IPC President and CEO John Mitchell recently delved into these issues in an article in Defense News titled, “Protecting America’s military prowess requires an embrace of lead-free electronics.”

Industry experts believe a five-year, $40 million investment in a public-private R&D program would yield more than $100 million in U.S. defense savings per year and improve military readiness and overall innovation. The Congress provided $5 million for such R&D in FY 2020.

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