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Environmental concerns and circuit board production have always been linked, but things have changed a lot since the 1960s. Looking back over his long association with IPC, IPC Hall of Fame member Gene Weiner recalled how technology’s evolution, safety issues, and ecological issues have changed.
Some of the most significant changes over the past five decades have come in the regulatory environment. Weiner noted that the industry started out using chemicals so harsh they eventually dissolved some plants’ cast iron drainage pipes.
Many companies voluntarily moved toward greener and safer systems for both economic and safety reasons in addition to mandates by OSHA and European governments. They installed waste treatment systems, recycled water, and improved ventilation. While he feels many regulations make sense, Weiner states that some have been particularly onerous and unnecessarily costly. He commented, “The ban of lead in solder is a good example. Although lead is known to be toxic to mankind there does not seem to be any record or evidence of humankind being harmed by lead in electronic solder.”
Technical advances have been a mainstay of this industry since Weiner worked at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratories in the 1950s. Today’s production processes use materials and techniques specifically designed to economically produce parts with precise features and tolerances. That wasn’t always the case.
“Early copper etchants back in the day were very harsh (chromic acid and ferric chloride). They undercut the copper when dissimilar metal deposits were used as an etch resist. This made it virtually impossible to produce fine lines. We found an obsolete product that removed copper from heat treated steel balls used in typewriters. This castoff material was tried in a 3.5 gallon horizontal etching machine. It was found to be superior to the commonly used etchants and became the mainstay for etching gold plated circuits. Waste treating spent materials also produced a saleable by-product,” he said.
The IPC has also evolved appreciably. When Weiner attended a meeting in the late 1950s, only circuit board manufacturers could be members. IPC opened its meetings up about the time Weiner joined MacDermid. He convinced management to join the new organization.
“At the time, suppliers could join as associate members. They weren’t allowed to vote, but they could pay dues,” Weiner said. “Still, there was plenty of value to be gained by attending meetings. In those days, it wasn’t always easy to learn what customers needed. Suppliers were unsure whether they would sell three pounds of or three tons of material.
IPC provided a place to listen, learn and exchange information. It provided an opportunity to contribute to the development of standards which led to better products at lower costs. “It’s a good thing that we joined; we found many of our projects did not meet the needs of printed circuit board manufacturers. We altered our processes to better fit their needs,” Weiner said.
IPC has since opened its membership dramatically, giving voting rights to members from throughout the supply chain. It also expanded into global market research and technology road map activities. This helped many companies build successful business strategies.
This evolution is continuing as technology becomes more complex, forcing closer interaction between design and manufacturing. If it’s not designed right, how can you build a good product?” Weiner said.
Weiner stated, “IPC has grown from a group that just created standards for bare boards to educating and helping members throughout the interconnect supply chain. I look forward to its renewed vigor, growth, and progress.”