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Tin Whiskers — Fact Or Fiction? 459

bLanark writes "Some time ago, most electronics were soldered with old-fashioned lead solder, which has been tried and tested for decades. In 2006, the EU banned lead in solder, and so most manufacturers switched to a lead-free solder. Most made the switch in advance, I guess due to shelf-life of products and ironing out problems working with the new material. Lead is added to solder as it melts at low temperature, but also, it prevents the solder from growing 'whiskers' — crystalline limbs of metal. The effect of whiskers on soldered equipment would include random short-circuits and strange RF-effects. Whiskers can grow fairly quickly and become quite long. Robert Cringley wrote this up this some time ago, but it seems that the world has not been taking notice. I guess cars (probably around 30 processors in a modern car) and almost every appliance would be liable to fail sooner than expected due to tin whiskers. Note that accelerated life-expectancy tests can't simulate the passing of time for whiskers to grow. I've googled, and there is plenty of research into the effects of tin whiskers. I should point out that the Wikipedia page linked to above states that tin whisker problems 'are negligible in modern alloys,' but can we trust Wikipedia? So: was the tin whisker problem overhyped, was it an initial problem that has been solved in the few years since lead-free solder came into use, or is it affecting anyone already?"

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