Reducing the Impact of Chemical Products in the Electronics Sector
Chemical use within the electronics industry is extensive – what improvements can be made?
Concerns regarding chemical use are on the rise; whether it is a result of REACH and/or other regulations or just simply an increased awareness of operator safety and environmental impact, changes are definitely occurring. Organisations are on the lookout for greener, more user-friendly products and processes, whilst maintaining high levels of performance and production throughput.
Chemical use within the electronics industry covers a wide variety of applications; products include cleaners, coating materials, underfill resins, adhesives, maintenance aids, aerosol and encapsulation products, to name just a few. Each product will use different types of chemical materials and may be hazardous to the operator or harmful to the environment. In some cases, the materials used may not be hazardous at all. It is therefore very important that organisations and operators alike are aware of the products they are using and in cases where hazards are high, ensure appropriate measures are taken to limit the impact of their use.
The first stage of addressing such concerns is to look at the processes where these products are used and question whether improvements can be made. Is extraction used? Can the extraction system be improved? Are all PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) requirements catered for? What happens to our waste? All of these points may throw up further questions as well as providing quick solutions for improvements. Therefore, the next stage and possibly the more viable option, is to look at the chemical products you use to establish whether any safer alternatives can be considered.
One common area of concern is the use of solvents. Solvents are used as cleaning agents, general degreasers, resin/coating remover products, carrier fluids for solids such as coatings, oils, etc. They add versatility to the application; allowing for different viscosity materials to be produced, reducing application times, open up application possibilities and provide effective cleaning in a variety of processes. Solvents can vary in toxicity levels and in some cases certain solvents, although very hazardous, have been the only effective materials available. A typical example of this is with coating/paint and resin removal products.
Until very recently, coating removal products have been based on formulations containing dichloromethane (DCM). DCM based products are classed as non-flammable and are extremely effective at removing all types of conformal coating and encapsulation resin. Products based on DCM have now been banned from use in paint strippers/coating removers in the EU due to its classification as a category 3 carcinogen. Electrolube have carried out extensive research into formulating alternatives to DCM based products, now adding RRS – Resin Remover Solvent and CCRG – Conformal Coating Remover Gel to the range. Both products are fast-acting with comparable performance to traditional DCM based removers but in a much more user-friendly system.
Another area of concern regarding the use of solvents is their classification as VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds; carbon based compounds which vaporise easily at room temperature, or more clearly defined by the EU Solvents Emissions Directive as “any organic compound having at 20°C a vapour pressure of 0.01kPa or more, or having a corresponding volatility under the particular conditions of use.” VOCs contribute towards the formation of ground-level ozone, a major component of smog. In addition, over exposure causes them to act as irritants and in worst cases carcinogens.
As mentioned previously, solvents can be used as the carrier fluid for base resins, such as in the case of conformal coatings where they add versatility to the application processes. Changes have seen other technologies being used to avoid the inclusion of organic solvents and have resulted in the introduction of water-based materials, such as Electrolube WBP; a high-specification, firmly established alternative to solvent based coatings. However, in some cases it is apparent that solvent-based coatings are still needed and where this is the case it is imperative that customers are aware of the solvents used. Many acrylic coatings for example utilise toluene as the carrier solvent. Toluene carries many risk phrases including harmful – danger of serious damage to health via inhalation and possible risk of harm to the unborn child. Electrolube have again addressed this issue with TFA – an IPC and UL approved toluene free acrylic conformal coating, providing all the benefits of traditional acrylic materials whilst removing the hazards associated with toluene.
To summarise, health and safety concerns and environmental awareness are at the forefront of individual, organisational and governmental concerns alike and as a result there are many legislations monitoring the use of chemical products in a variety of sectors. Manufacturers and consumers can reduce their carbon footprints by ensuring processes are efficient and energy consumption is kept at the minimum operating level; careful consideration in product selection and use can also assist in improved efficiency. By being aware of the products used and the advantages of less harmful alternatives, companies can also provide a safer place to work and in some cases enhance the performance of their products. Some of the examples above as well as the introduction of exceptionally low GWP, non-flammable airduster and freezer spray products (EADH and FREH) prove how Electrolube are making significant contributions in all of these areas. By providing high specification electrochemicals that fully consider performance requirements as well as environmental and end-user safety, Electrolube are paving the way to a greener future.
European Technical Support Specialist