May 30, 2005


Lead-free Solder: Strategy for Eco-design

* This article is under copyright protection.

Manabu Akaike
Universal Design Intelligence Inc.

Considering How to Preserve the Environment

Since Japan passed the Electric Appliance Recycling Law in April 2001, every household appliance and home electronics manufacturer has been reexamining the use of pollutant-containing materials including products that are not specifically covered by the law, and many are working hard to establish recycling technology and incorporate recycling planning at the product design stage.

Certification under ISO14001 Environmental Management standards, which recognize the overall corporate and management stance toward environmental protection from manufacture to customer service, has quickly become a must for corporations hoping to compete on a global level. For them, the development of products that are environmentally responsible is now the obvious choice.

Sony is promoting environmental responsibilities in its activities in all the regions it has a presence, from Japan and America to Europe, Asia and China, setting the goal of doubling its environmental efficiency rate by the year 2010. Environmental efficiency measures the ratio of Sony's economic activities, or total sales, to the impact its has on the environment.

For example, Sony has constructed a system for recycling polystyrene foam that uses limonene, an ingredient extracted from orange peel. It has also developed a coagulant that can be used in water purification systems, that is made out of the plastic and polystyrene that it uses in about half its products. Besides promoting the recycling of resources such as using the ABS resin from 8mm film and its AlBO pet robot to make water absorbent material, Sony is also working to convert to the use of low environmental impact materials and emphasizing product design that would eliminate entirely the use of pollutant chemicals.

Sony Invests Billions of Yen in Environmentally Responsible Manufacturing

The soldering on every aspect of Sony's DCR-TRV 30 digital camcorder, released in March 2001, is 99.7% lead-free, including all supplied accessories. Sony also introduced materials that have been stripped of certain substances regarded as harmful to the environment such as mercury, halogen, PVC and hexavalent chromium. In terms of packaging, instead of styrene foam for cushioning purposes, it uses corrugated paper. For the outer packaging it uses recycled magazine paper, and for the color printing on the box it uses soy or other plant based inks. This camcorder achieves environmental responsibility in twelve separate categories.

Sony cannot hope to achieve 100% lead-free soldering just by cleaning up its own house, however. Sony had to work hard to bring accessory and component makers on board toward the realization of a 99.7% lead-free product, supported by its unstinting research into potential problems with the composition of lead-free solder, or other secular changes.

If a company wishes to introduce the use of lead-free solder, it will have to convert to reflow-type furnace equipment, due to the difference in melting temperature. Sony has already invested several billion yen into making the switch to this type of equipment.

Today the EU is working on policy that would eliminate the use of lead and hexavalent chromium in electric related products by the year 2008. Obviously the problem of cost is a major one, including considerable investment in plant and equipment, and any single error that might occur during the complex process of changing materials and manufacturing methods has the potential to adversely impact product quality.

"Though there is currently no regulatory system in place, at some point it will become necessary. Though the initial investment is significant, it is proportionate if you take into consideration the entire life cycle of the product, from manufacture to disposal. And I believe the fact that we have done it with one of our most visible and successful products makes it even more meaningful," says Sony's head of environmental planning.

Hopefully the promotion of the use of lead-free solder will extend beyond this industry, setting a spark that will light a fire under the automobile industry and others.

Note: This article was written in the first half of 2001. The situation may have changed since then.

JAPAN CLOSE-UP, February 2003, published by PHP

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