Electronics Manufacturers get serious about halogen free - a report from the INTEL-IPC-Symposium on 15 + 16 January 2008 in Scottsdale, Arizona

In mid January, INTEL corporation organized a "halogen free symposium" together with the electronics organisation IPC in Scottsdale, Arizona, USA. By halogen free they meant replacement materials for halogenated (mostly brominated) flame retardants as well as PVC. The seminar was fully booked with 250 attendees, many more applicants had to be turned away.

To the surprise of many in the audience, the major electronics manufacturers present, Hewlett-Packard, DELL, Apple and Lenovo (the former PC-branch of IBM) as well as the leading chip and component manufacturer INTEL made announcements to no longer allow brominated flame retardants or PVC in new products by the end of 2009. Therefore, there was not really a discussion about whether this approach was sensible (and affordable), but the focus was only on how to manage the change. Of course, the question of how the extra cost for alternative solutions will be borne was raised time and again, particularly by suppliers. The OEMs replied that even though there is price premium on the component level (e.g. currently for printed circuit boards + 20%, for connectors + 30%), on the level of the finished article this means only a marginal increase. Furthermore, if all OEMs go halogen free at the same time, economies of scale for halogen free materials can be realized. The same happened with the transition to lead free components, when all suppliers substituted most of their inventory to lead free.

Another important finding was that particularly for printed circuit boards there can be technical advantages for halogen free systems, because they can have better electrical properties than the traditional brominated ones. This is of interest for high-end applications. No fundamental reliability issues were found in the appropriate tests that were carried out.