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Turn Environmental Awareness into Gain

TTEMS UK

The impact mankind has had on our planet can make for uncomfortable reading. Changes put in place now will undoubtedly pay our children back tenfold, but what if being environmentally responsible could pay you back in a year, rather than decades? This article follows one electronics company's commitment to the environment through the installation of two solder dross recovery systems. The addition to their manufacturing process resulted in a 59% reduction in recycled dross and a 50% reduction in solder usage.

Global electronics group TT electronics plc supplies manufacturers in automotive, aerospace, defense, telecommunications, computing, and industrial electronics markets. Headquartered in the U.K., the company is a global EMS provider and ranked 25th largest EMS operation in the world. They emphasize quality, investment in leading-edge technologies, and new product development. The EMS division of TT electronics plc, TT electronics integrated manufacturing services, has five manufacturing sites.

In 2008 and the foreseeable future, the issue of a company's impact on the environment should be high on every corporate agenda. This is true for TT electronics, which realized their expanding footprint on the world's electronics manufacturing stage should be coupled with environmental awareness. TT electronics integrated manufacturing services in Rogerstone, South Wales, U.K. is ISO-14001 accredited and as such has an impetus to continually research ways to drive down the amount of waste produced in all areas of the facility. The location decided to look at environmentally friendly solutions for the removal of solder dross from their wave soldering process.

TT felt it that this was one area of the production process that could be further streamlined. In addition, the global price of solder is hitting all-time highs; therefore, any means to reduce the amount used will also reduce costs.

At the Rogerstone facility, solder dross and molten solder were removed from the wave pot surface and later shipped from site for recycling. However, a system that could automate the process would make it more efficient, reduce waste, save on costs, and eliminate the necessity for an outside recycling company. The facility specified two solder dross recovery systems, one for a lead-based solder line and one for a lead-free line.

The company prefaced investment in dross recovery systems with a process of researching companies. There are only a few companies who provide this type of solution. One of the electronics manufacturer's other locations had carried out similar road testing of equipment some years earlier. TT electronics has trialed various systems over several years. Based on this information, the Rogerstone facility tested equipment to see if it could meet their current requirements, while reviewing other options. A system was installed on-site for a trial period. TT electronics bases its reputation on quality from their production process. Therefore, investing in manufacturing equipment to join a process with exacting standards takes careful consideration.

Choosing the Correct Solder Dross Recovery System

The system was proven against criteria such as solder dross recovery efficiency and safety for operators. Installation and training also were considered. Two different-sized systems were chosen for the leaded and lead-free lines. The lead-based line received a 20-lb.-capacity recovery system, while the lead-free line uses a system with 10-lb. capacity for dross,* reflecting the division of leaded and lead-free production at the facility. An efficient filter system reduces the risk of dust particles being formed; an important factor for the working environment. Solder and line quality were maintained.

TT electronics chose a smaller, lighter version of the solder recovery system — the 10-lb.-capacity system — to reduce cost and footprint while recognizing return on the investment. To see an advantage from switching to in-house solder dross recovery, including the capital investment in machines, the chosen systems should convert waste dross to solder quickly, and improve the wave solder machine process. Solder dross recovery provides a cleaner wave with less maintenance, less downtime, and a reduction in shorts on finished PCBs. Some systems will allow users to discontinue labor-intensive practices, such as the use of messy wave oils and/or dross reduction powders. Costly processing helpers, like the use of nitrogen inertion, can be reduced or eliminated.

The majority of electronics manufacturers in the industry that require dedrossing improvements are small- to medium-sized companies, typically using one to three wave solder machines, and regularly dedrossing or using nitrogen to reduce dross.

Conclusion

Although the machine performance and cost savings influenced the decision-making process for TT electronics, the result was also part of a strategic move to provide a consistent, company-wide solution for their solder dross recovery. The same equipment is installed at other TT electronics facilities in the U.K. and abroad, reiterating the company's market interest in environmental responsibility. Adding in-house dross recovery is important for the facility's ISO-14001 accreditation. Manufacturers can play their own part in our environmental clean up, while at the same time they will be rewarded with reduced waste as well as cost savings.

In real terms TT electronics has seen a reduction in their solder dross by 59% and a reduction of 50% in their solder usage. These statistics underline the return on the investment TT electronics has seen from the project. Installing a solder dross recovery system suited to your operations will provide payback, immediate and long-term.

*EVS 3000 and EVS 1000 systems, respectively.

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