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Tin Whiskers — Fact Or Fiction?

timothy posted more than 6 years ago | from the shave-before-dates dept.

Upgrades 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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459 comments

Will my tin foil hats (5, Funny)

LM741N (258038) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802667)

grow whiskers. That would be a major bummer. But then lead would be pretty heavy.

Re:Will my tin foil hats (2, Funny)

Skylinux (942824) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802715)

that's why I can't get mine off anymore, the damn whiskers grew inwards ..... I thought the pain and the itching was just bad hygiene.

Re:Will my tin foil hats (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23802845)

A few years ago, while browsing around the library downtown, I had to take a piss. As I entered the john, a big beautiful all-American football hero type, about twenty five, came out of one of the booths. I stood at the urinal looking at him out of the corner of my eye as he washed his hands. He didn't once look at me. He was "straight" and married -- and in any case I was sure I wouldn't have a chance with him.

As soon as he left, I darted into the booth he'd vacated, hoping there might be a lingering smell of shit and even a seat still warm from his sturdy young ass. I found not only the smell but the shit itself. He'd forgotten to flush. And what a treasure he had left behind. Three or four beautiful specimens floated in the bowl. It apparently had been a fairly dry, constipated shit, for all were fat, stiff, and ruggedly textured. The real prize was a great feast of turd -- a nine inch gastrointestinal triumph as thick as a man's wrist. I knelt before the bowl, inhaling the rich brown fragrance and wondered if I should obey the impulse building up inside me. I'd always been a heavy rimmer and had lapped up more than one little clump of shit, but that had been just an inevitable part of eating ass and not an end in itself.

Of course I'd had jerkoff fantasies of devouring great loads of it (what rimmer hasn't?), but I had never done it. Now, here I was, confronted with the most beautiful five-pound turd I'd ever feasted my eyes on, a sausage fit to star in any fantasy and one I knew to have been hatched from the asshole of the world's handsomest young stud.

Why not? I plucked it from the bowl, holding it with both hands to keep it from breaking.

I lifted it to my nose. It smelled like rich, ripe limburger (horrid, but thrilling), yet had the consistency of cheddar. What is cheese anyway but milk turning to shit without the benefit of a digestive tract? I gave it a lick and found that it tasted better then it smelled. I've found since then that shit nearly almost does. I hesitated no longer. I shoved the fucking thing as far into my mouth as I could get it and sucked on it like a big brown cock, beating my meat like a madman. I wanted to completely engulf it and bit off a large chunk, flooding my mouth with the intense, bittersweet flavor. To my delight I found that while the water in the bowl had chilled the outside of the turd, it was still warm inside. As I chewed I discovered that it was filled with hard little bits of something I soon identified as peanuts. He hadn't chewed them carefully and they'd passed through his body virtually unchanged. I ate it greedily, sending lump after peanutty lump sliding scratchily down my throat. My only regret was the donor of this feast wasn't there to wash it down with his piss. I soon reached a terrific climax. I caught my cum in the cupped palm of my hand and drank it down. Believe me, there is no more delightful combination of flavors than the hot sweetness of cum with the rich bitterness of shit. Afterwards I was sorry that I hadn't made it last longer. But then I realized that I still had a lot of fun in store for me. There was still a clutch of virile turds left in the bowl. I tenderly fished them out, rolled them into my hankercheif, and stashed them in my briefcase.

In the week to come I found all kinds of ways to eat the shit without bolting it right down. Once eaten it's gone forever unless you want to filch it third hand out of your own asshole -- not an unreasonable recourse in moments of desperation or simple boredom.

I stored the turds in the refrigerator when I was not using them but within a week they were all gone.

The last one I held in my mouth without chewing, letting it slowly dissolve. I had liquid shit trickling down my throat for nearly four hours. I must have had six orgasms in the process. I often think of that lovely young guy dropping solid gold out of his sweet, pink asshole every day, never knowing what joy it could, and at least once did,bring to a grateful shiteater.

Yes, but you forgot the most important detail (5, Funny)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803083)

Did he have tin whiskers?

If you are going to troll, at least be on-topic.

Re:Will my tin foil hats (5, Funny)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803149)

Not only will they grow whiskers if they are pure, but if you wear them outside in cold weather they may catch tin disease.

Re:Will my tin foil hats (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23803245)

Not likely as most modern tinfoil hat are actually made of aluminum foil available at grocery stores.

obvious answer (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23802679)

> but can we trust Wikipedia?

No. lol

Re:obvious answer (1)

yomegaman (516565) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802811)

OK, then maybe the question should be, who is less trustworthy, Wikipedia or Cringely?

Re:obvious answer (5, Insightful)

Ottair (1270536) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802967)

I used to buy into Wikipedia's stated ethos until I realized that any one person can (and all too frequently do) hijack articles to push and protect their point of view and once that happens you can forget about the "Five Pillars" and objectivity.

I wouldn't go that far (5, Interesting)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803129)

Several times editors on both sides of an issue have been banned for edit-warring and aggressively reverting changes they don't agree with. Usually this happens over controversial political and religious articles. This process usually takes months and is preceded by other means, including attempts to resolve the dispute peaceably, administratively-protecting the article, and other mean.

Also, when a philosophical-minority or fringe group tries to take over a highly-watched article, administrators eventually silence them if they insist on using unreliable sources or not keeping the article in "proper balance," where "proper balance" reflects the real-world opinions on the subject. Pseudoscience, alternative-history, and similar-subject proponents tend to get banned if they aren't careful.

Low-traffic articles nobody cares about are very vulnerable to this kind of abuse though.

Re:I wouldn't go that far (4, Interesting)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803427)

Yeah, that stops it. Unless, of course, one of the administrators takes over an article and enforces his point of view, which I have seen.

I had an administrator remove factual, documented information from an article because it didn't jive with the rest of the obviously biased article.

On Wikipedia, the truth is what the Admins says is the truth.

Re:obvious answer (1, Offtopic)

NetSettler (460623) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803193)

I used to buy into Wikipedia's stated ethos until I realized that any one person can ... hijack articles to push and protect their point of view and once that happens you can forget about the "Five Pillars" and objectivity.

Well, trust is not a binary thing. You can trust someone for one thing and not another. And even if you do trust, you can have trust at a wide variety of different levels.

I'm not a big fan of Wikipedia in some ways either, not so much because it lies, but because it doesn't want the truth. If I know something true, and I'm the only person in the world, it doesn't want it. But if I know something false, and I write it up, then it's referenceable, and it becomes closer to something Wikipedia does want. I can understand both of those at some level, but I think Wikipedia should care a lot more than it does about creating new mechanisms to let in real truth (perhaps creating a mechanism by which individual knowledge can be vetted) and keep out falsehoods (perhaps creating mechanisms for peer review of referenced documents). The fact that it doesn't is, of course, why other competitors have come up. I guess on that point, you have to score one for the marketplace for at least creating the idea and allowing competition to crank out alternatives.

But as to what to trust in Wikipedia, their strength is that the things they say are supposed to be things that can be backed up by reference. Where you see a strong claim and no reference, find a way to flag that fact and maybe the person who put it in will add a reference. Where you see a reference, follow the chain back to the original source. That source may ultimately be believable or not, of course. In some sense, by its choice of paradigm, Wikipedia is just a complicated, statically-enumerated set of search engine results. It gets you started, but it isn't the whole of the thing you want.

If I knew more about phenomenology [stanford.edu] , I'd probably say that's just the nature of the Universe, and that Wikipedia can no more escape it than anyone can escape the Three Laws of Thermodynamics [wikiquote.org] . That is, no one ever really knows anything about the Universe other than what they're told, and what they can work out in terms of internal consistency checks on what they're told. But all I know of that is what I've seen mentioned in Dark Star [imdb.com] . So I'll let you do your own research there. Whether to direct you to Wikipedia or the movie though, to study more of phenomenology... I dunno, that's a hard choice. Probably I'd say just see the movie. It's worth more than the 6.5 stars IMDB gives it. One could just imagine what Bomb #20 might have to say on the matter of Wikipedia...

Re:obvious answer (3, Funny)

dna_(c)(tm)(r) (618003) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803187)

OK, then maybe the question should be, who is less trustworthy, Wikipedia or Cringely?

Yeah, as long as you're certain the slashdot crowd is dependable, honest and therefore trustworthy...

Fact or Fiction WTF? (0)

Naughty Bob (1004174) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802681)

Where in the summary/linked articles is it suggested that tin whiskers are a fiction?

I'm driven away from main-stream sites by the lack of rigor. The more Slashdot loses its nerdy focus on the technical details, the less reason I have to visit it.

Well here are a few facts... (4, Informative)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802921)

Contrary to what the summary implies, lead (327C)has a far higher melting point than tin(231C).

Any whiskering is far more likely to be a result of board contaminants than just the tin migrating. Modern solders are less forgiving of bad handling practices.Poor flux choice and board cleaning practices are normally to blame for many faults. Changes in board cleaning practices to eliminate various chemicals means that the industry has had to learn how to do things again.

So, while modern practices might be less forgiving, any faults are really just a result of poor processes.

Re:Well here are a few facts... (5, Informative)

computer_guy57 (998179) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803173)

Remember also the phenomenon of melting-point depression: when two substances are combined in an alloy (e.g., lead and tin) the melting point of the alloy can be lower than the melting point of either individually.

Re:Well here are a few facts... (5, Informative)

perbert (241785) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803229)

The Pb-Sn eutectic temperature is around 183 C. That's what the summary is referring to.

Re:Well here are a few facts... (4, Funny)

linzeal (197905) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803419)

People need to learn to solder as well. I can't tell you how many EE seniors I know that can't solder any better than I could when I was 10 and convinced if I hooked 10 D batteries in series I would be able to get a California radio station in Arizona with a boombox. Ah, precious magic smoke.

An attempt to discredit WP with lies, I say. (3, Informative)

game kid (805301) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803153)

More importantly, where in "the Wikipedia page linked to above" did it state "that tin whisker problems 'are negligible in modern alloys'"?

I saw nothing that said that in current version, and it hasn't been edited (minor or otherwise) since June 13th [wikipedia.org] . I certainly cannot find that single-quoted statement.

I am all for scrutinizing Wiki pages, and not using unverifiable statements [wikipedia.org] from them, but I will not support discrediting them on material that was not written on them in the first place.

Re:An attempt to discredit WP with lies, I say. (2, Informative)

kesuki (321456) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803235)

he might mean http://nepp.nasa.gov/whisker/reference/tech_papers/2007-brusse-metal-whiskers.pdf [nasa.gov] page 5 where a '0.5% to 1%' lead coating prevents whiskers. the source is cited on wikipedia.

ROSH laws require less than 0.1% though... i think they need to rethink that on lead, if 1% lead stops whiskering, it's well worth it.

cadmium is also banned, and was the first metal to ever verify whiskering. chromate actually accelerates whiskering, so finding an additive that is better than lead might be hard.

Re:An attempt to discredit WP with lies, I say. (4, Informative)

kesuki (321456) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803385)

i found the page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solder [wikipedia.org]

""Tin Whiskers" were a problem with early electronic solders which were coincidentally lead-free, and lead was initially added in part to eliminate them. These problems are negligible in modern alloys,[citation needed]"

the only metal I've heard of as being whisker free is lead, though, even gold silver and copper can whisker.

Re:Fact or Fiction WTF? (1)

rhartness (993048) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803175)

Where in the summary/linked articles is it suggested that tin whiskers are a fiction?

Uh... there isn't one because this was an 'Ask Slashdot' post. The intent is that someone wrote in and is asking the slashdot community if this is fact or fiction.
You must be new here...
I only responded to this comment because it's marked +5 Insightful. Come on!

Re:Fact or Fiction WTF? (0, Redundant)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803479)

Where in any of the referenced articles does it suggest that tin whiskers are fiction?

Only affects (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23802687)

those in Oz.

Paging Dr Moggles (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23802719)

My cat gets through tins of Whiskas extremely rapidly. Perhaps scientists can interview him.

lead free solder (5, Informative)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802745)

SnAgCu Rohs solder(with 3% silver and .05% copper) joints don't appear to whisker but they appear dimpled and shitty compared to the smooth, shiny joints of garden-variety tin/lead. At least in the electronics industry, your percenteges and mileage may vary.

Re:lead free solder (4, Informative)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802877)

This makes it a bitch to visually detect bad solder joints also. Not only are they dimpled/mottled, the solder does not wick up onto leads like tin/lead. The leads just sort of mush down into the solder paste. Maybe this is less of a problem with the newer leadless packages, but for older SOIC packages it makes visual detection of defects more difficult.

Re:lead free solder (1)

AllergicToMilk (653529) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803009)

Which is why JTAG gave us IEEE 1149.1

Re:lead free solder (1)

Ptraci (584179) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803139)

Are you seriously expecting all such defects to be found by "bed of nails" testing, or is that not what you are referring to? Please clarify, as I don't want to argue with you if I'm misunderstanding you.

Re:lead free solder (4, Insightful)

kurthr (30155) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803223)

Yes, because all connections, switches, and transistors are tested by a JTAG boundary scan...
LOL! You've never heard of Analog?

Visual inspection is key to debugging crucial and intermittent errors due to things like badly soldered bypass caps and ground bounce. Put that in your JTAG and smoke it.

Re:lead free solder (2, Funny)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803497)

Analog? That is so 1980s

Exception (5, Informative)

pipatron (966506) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802747)

One thing to remember is that safety control and monitoring products like fire alarms, but probably also car electronics, are excepted from the RoHS directive until at least 2012, possibly until 2018, but there's really no fixed date set yet. So yes, your DVD player might die, your car probably won't.

Re:Exception (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23802803)

In the electronics manufacturing lines I deal with, they have some Pb-Free and some non Pb-Free lines. So the article's concern about safety critical devices is incorrect.

Yes, once you convert a line, there's no going back. But you don't have to convert all your equipment at once. You can keep a mix for as long as you see the demand for plain old lead solder.

Real article name (0)

The Anarchist Avenge (1004563) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802751)

bLnark's FUD - Fact or Fiction?

Does it matter? (3, Insightful)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802765)

Cars, televisions, players, music, computers... are there really any electronics intended to last 30 years any more?

Re:Does it matter? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23802899)

I know of $100M electronic devices orbiting 23,500 miles out in space which would indeed live 30 years if the tin whiskers don't kill them first.

Re:Does it matter? (1)

kesuki (321456) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803267)

"$100M electronic devices"

that's why they cost 100 million, they're designed to last 30 years and in space, where they get hit by hard radiation, and where heat is very hard to dissipate.

Re:Does it matter? (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803013)

My car is 16 years old and still in pretty good shape. I guess it will last a few more years. So 20 years are not unrealistic for a car.
Now this model was built way before ROHS, so I'm not worried about whiskers. But for a car built in the last few years it could be an issue.

Re:Does it matter? (1)

mrbluze (1034940) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803341)

So 20 years are not unrealistic for a car.
The mechanics will die before the electronics, I would predict.

Tin Whiskas - Fact (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23802789)

My cat eats a tin a day.

Re:Tin Whiskas - Fact (1)

wart (89140) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802945)

My GSD eats a cat a day.

No lead, but iron! (1)

JackassJedi (1263412) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802793)

Most made the switch in advance, I guess due to shelf-life of products and ironing out problems working with the new material.

So that's what they put in there instead, good to be in the know! These little hints in the summaries are what makes me appreciate /. so much!

If you don't trust wikipedia... (0, Offtopic)

ForestGrump (644805) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802839)

If you don't trust wikipedia, then change it! That's the whole idea behind wikipedia.

This insightful comment brought to you by Forest Grump - /. ID #644805

Tip: Do not change it using your home/work computer. It is best to change it from a public library in a city far far away.
Tip #2: Don't buy a plane ticket to travel to this far far away city. It is best to hitchhike so you can save on travel $$$ and not leave a paper trail.

Re:If you don't trust wikipedia... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23803277)

Or just follow the links to the original sources that the Wikipedia article cites.

Well,, I can only say... (4, Funny)

Linker3000 (626634) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802851)

Imagine a ...er, no..

I blame Mic..hang on..

The RIA...Uh..

In Soviet Ru...Damn..

SCO probably...fu..

Does solder run Lin...um...

Bah!

Re:Well,, I can only say... (5, Funny)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802959)

--
You have wasted your time reading this signature
I think I wasted my time reading the entire comment...

This is only going to get recursive... (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23803241)

I think you've wasted your time commenting on the comment.

Re:Well,, I can only say... (0, Offtopic)

Daimanta (1140543) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803157)

In South Kore, only old people solder tin whiskers!

Re:Well,, I can only say... (1)

rishistar (662278) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803289)

There'll be some soldering in computers - so you can have a Beowulf Cluster of these tin whisker things!

Re:Well,, I can only say... (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803495)

Blame the environmentalists for this. Maybe this slight reduction in lead is a benefit, but not if it means devices break much sooner than before. I don't look forward to getting my next computer, as it will have this lead-free crap in it.

NASA Are Worried (5, Informative)

Ganty (1223066) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802863)

Well, NASA Goddard are worried about the situation and they have done extensive studies on the subject:

http://nepp.nasa.gov/WHISKER/ [nasa.gov]

Ganty

Tin Whiskers are fact (5, Informative)

zejackal (186296) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802871)

Tin whiskers are, in fact a reality. They are a problem with pure tin specifically. The older tin-lead, and newer tin-vanadium alloys don't have the problem. However, many manufacturers still manufacture parts in a pure tin variety. The reason for all of this pure tin madness is that the EU passed strict anti-lead regulations and so the lead had to be removed from electronics. EU manufacturers immediately started using pure tin parts. In the US, many manufacturers followed suit, partly because pure tin parts were now more available than tin-lead (and at the time there was hardly any tin-vanadium), and partly because they wanted to maintain a good environmental image. Some manufacturers, having been burned by the whisker problem insisted on a better solution hence the tin-vanadium solders now available. The problem is there are a lot of electronics out there with pure tin parts in there. For example, I'm no fan of flying on Airbus aircraft manufactured in the late '90s and early 2000s (pure tin baby). The thing is, the hardware will work perfectly... until it doesn't, then an errant short will cause a malfunction and in the act, the tin whisker will vaporize. The only way you'll find the problem is with electron microscopy.

Re:Tin Whiskers are fact (4, Interesting)

AllergicToMilk (653529) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803033)

This, of course, is not always what happens. The whiskers, being very fine, don't have much current carrying capacity so they are quite likely to just vaporize. Nevertheless, there is risk.

Re:Tin Whiskers are fact (4, Insightful)

veranikon (202025) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803415)

It takes *very little* current to short a FET gate, i.e. microamps or less. Indeed, compare the geometry of these whiskers to the tracks etched on silicon. Not every bit of metal exposed on a PCB will carry current large enough to fuse these whiskers before they cause disruption. Furthermore, chip-scale assembly techniques likes BGA will give you plenty of areas with large blobs of solder within convenient whisker distance of each other.

As referenced in another comment, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center does indeed seem pretty concerned:
http://nepp.nasa.gov/WHISKER/ [nasa.gov]

Re:Tin Whiskers are fact (1)

morgad (473350) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803527)

This, of course, is not always what happens. The whiskers, being very fine, don't have much current carrying capacity so they are quite likely to just vaporize. Nevertheless, there is risk.
see http://nepp.nasa.gov/npsl/Prohibited/tin_prohibition.htm [nasa.gov] (look at catagory 3)
you can get currents of 100's of Amps

Re:Tin Whiskers are fact (2, Interesting)

hughk (248126) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803109)

Avionics & military electronics were excluded from the no-lead rule in the EU. Automotive not, so it could still me that your ABS fails safe (but not very safe on a wet road).

Re:Tin Whiskers are fact (1, Insightful)

angel'o'sphere (80593) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803331)

Sorry you might be perfectly right, but fail to understand how a whisker can cause a short. If at all the soldering point might "break" and cause a stop in current, but a short? With what exactly should it short cut? This really sounds like a myth.

angel'o'sphere

Re:Tin Whiskers are fact (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803425)


With what exactly should it short cut?

Two nearby solder points whose whiskers touch? One or more whiskers breaking off and landing between two solder points?

Having metal floating around your sensitive electronics isn't generally a good idea.

Built-in obsolescence (5, Insightful)

Stiletto (12066) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802929)


Look at it from the manufacturer's point of view. There's a chance that any piece of consumer electronics is now going to wear out and die even faster, causing people to buy replacements more frequently. Sounds like a great deal for the manufacturer with no downside. They don't have to pay to dispose of these things properly. And no, chucking your old electronics in the trash is not the proper way of disposing of them, unless you like cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, and brominated flame retardants seeping into your drinking water.

Make manufacturers bear the ENTIRE cost of properly and safely disposing of their products, and overnight we'd have cleaner, greener, more long-lasting and durable products.

Re:Built-in obsolescence (3, Insightful)

Chineseyes (691744) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803217)

Make manufacturers bear the ENTIRE cost of properly and safely disposing of their products, and overnight we'd have cleaner, greener, more long-lasting and durable products.

Very idealistic of you but manufacturers will NEVER bear the cost, it will be passed on to the consumer who will then bitch and moan to their government representation that they are being gouged. The manufacturers will then play the victim, "It's the big bad government restricting our ability to provide you with cheap goods". Now Mr. John Q. Politician is stuck in a real crap hole because the next election is coming up soon and his constituents are angry at him because they are paying what they perceive is too much for certain goods. Also the manufacturers lobby who funded his last campaign are threatening to fund his competition who has promised to rescind any laws that keep the manufacturers from doing business as usual. To compound John Q. Politician's problems the manufacturers are saying they will have to move their factories to more friendly territory in Asia so they can continue to stay competitive providing cheap goods. This would cause thousands of jobs to be lost among Mr John Q. Politicians constituency and many thousands more job losses among the constituency of his colleagues who will refuse to endorse him if he goes against a bill that will hurt their own chances of re-election.

Now he is facing pressure from his constituency, lobbyists, and even his own colleagues.

What do you suppose Mr. Politician does? Stick to his guns and fight the good fight? Hell no he doesn't. He votes to rescind any law that forces the manufacturers to bear any costs that will be pushed onto consumers. Why? because if he doesn't he will be voted out of office and the guy who takes his office will do what he refused to.

Is it right? No. Do I agree with it? No. But thats the way it is.

Re:Built-in obsolescence (1)

Stiletto (12066) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803315)

Very idealistic of you but manufacturers will NEVER bear the cost, it will be passed on to the consumer who will then bitch and moan to their government representation that they are being gouged.

You are forgetting that under my (admittedly fantasy) scheme, clean products would end up less expensive, as fewer disposal costs would need to be passed on to the consumer. Instead of bitching to the government, consumers would simply buy the cheaper products, and let the manufacturer's of the dirty (now expensive) products die out.

Re:Built-in obsolescence (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803513)

You are forgetting that under my (admittedly fantasy) scheme...


Exactly. It's a fantasy, as even you admit. That means that it's impossible in the Real World, and not worth discussing.

Re:Built-in obsolescence (2, Insightful)

The Man (684) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803343)

Dunno about him but I'm happy to bear the cost. Figure out the cheapest way to recycle or dispose of these things properly, then add that to the price and let me put it in the bin with the rest of my rubbish (or a separate one as with other recyclables). That system is simple and convenient and it provides the correct incentives. What we have now is a system in which it is often illegal to dispose of something but no alternative is available and, where one is, I have no pricing information to determine whether I'm getting jobbed. Meanwhile most people keep throwing the stuff into landfills and polluting everyone's water supplies. This is a no-brainer.

Re:Built-in obsolescence (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803325)

Look up the WEEE directive: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WEEE [wikipedia.org]

In the EU, manufacturers are already responsible for end-of-life products.

According to the web (4, Informative)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802939)

Tin Whiskers appear real:

    http://nepp.nasa.gov/WHISKER/background/index.htm [nasa.gov]
    http://www.calce.umd.edu/lead-free/tin-whiskers/ [umd.edu]

From what I can tell from these links there issue is still present in lead-free solder, and very much an issue in certain conditions. I have not seen any pages which indicate long-term solutions, though it would be interesting if someone can turn one up.

Another link:

    http://www.national.com/analog/packaging/leadfree [national.com]

Don't trust Wikipedia (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802987)

Check the reference yourself.

What? No references? Add citation needed [wikipedia.org] or better yet, do some research and find a citation that supports the statement.

Fact (5, Interesting)

Telecommando (513768) | more than 6 years ago | (#23802999)

Years ago I used to work on GE radio equipment. GE radios (Master II series) had tin-plated resonant cavities in their receivers. Tin whiskers were seldom a problem in the mobile radios as vehicle vibration tended to keep the whiskers knocked off. But in base stations the whiskers would grow along the lines of current until they shorted out the coils within the cavities.

The symptoms were always the same. The radio would be working fine one minute and be stone-deaf the next. Sometimes just opening the cabinet door would be enough to dislodge the whiskers and remove the short. But it always returned a few days or weeks later. We got to the point where whenever we were sent out to fix a deaf base, our first repair technique was to take a large screwdriver and rap the cavities with the handle a couple of times, hard. We got some funny looks from the customers but they were happy to be back on the air.

GE finally admitted that the plating was the problem and shipped us a bunch of cavities with a different alloy to use as replacements. They never would tell us what the difference was. Curious, we disassembled some of the old cavities and shook out tiny metal slivers that were finer than a human hair. Some were up to a centimeter in length.

All of the radios we had problems with were less than five years old at the time.

On a somewhat unrelated note, a friend of mine works for a company building avionics. They're still using Lead/Tin/Silver solder for US military contracts. He thinks they know something the rest of us don't.

Re:Fact (2, Interesting)

sawak (582338) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803307)

So basically, when something stops working, hitting it may actually solve the problem? :-)

Re:Fact (1)

mrbluze (1034940) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803389)

He thinks they know something the rest of us don't.
We all think we know something the rest of us don't.

Re:Fact (1)

kesuki (321456) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803393)

very cool, so people worried about cars failing have nothing to worry about, every time you hit a pot hole, the tin whiskers are all going to fall off!

perhaps we need to put 'dual shock' systems in lead free soldier devices to knock free the tin whiskers.

Not been taking notice? (3, Funny)

Mike1024 (184871) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803035)

Robert Cringley wrote this up this some time ago, but it seems that the world has not been taking notice.
Of Cringely? Well, of course not.

seems familiar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23803049)

http://www.usatoday.com/tech/products/gear/parts/2007-10-05-tinwhiskers_N.htm
2007....

Robert Cringley wrote it so its gonna be bollocks (1)

moderators_are_w*nke (571920) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803051)

The man has never said anything sensible, well, ever.

Is lead truly that dangerous ? (5, Interesting)

billcopc (196330) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803067)

I understand the rationale for getting rid of lead in various products due to its toxicity, but is the amount of lead in solder really dangerous ? It seems like it would be such a small quantity, and perhaps more importantly it's sealed away in some plastic or steel enclosure... it's not like I go around licking motherboards all day long, and quite frankly if your kid wants to lick lead solder and you let him, brain damage might be an improvement!

Re:Is lead truly that dangerous ? (4, Informative)

hughk (248126) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803121)

The issue is more for some little Chinese kid who lives by scrapping our electronics. This means the lead is concentrated and gets into water and all sorts.

Re:Is lead truly that dangerous ? (1)

kesuki (321456) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803405)

where i live, the women's prison is where all the computers get scrapped for recycling.

it's quite expensive to ship a useless computer across the ocean to be recycled, when they get shipped to china, they bury them in a landfill, where they then leech into the ground water.

Re:Is lead truly that dangerous ? (4, Informative)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803133)

It's sealed away properly now, but unless people dispose of old equipment properly it ends up in a dump somewhere, and there's a risk that in a few decades it will end up contaminating groundwater. Obviously it's a hard risk to quantify, so I'll fence-sit as to whether this is a useful precaution or not.

Re:Is lead truly that dangerous ? (2, Interesting)

bjourne (1034822) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803219)

Computer breaks and goes to the garbage dump. Rats eat the circuits dies and decays in the soil. Grass sucks up the lead from the soil and cows eat it. Cows are slaughtered and transformed into ham which you eat. Lead is then accumulated in the body.

Re:Is lead truly that dangerous ? (1)

ErikZ (55491) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803375)

Really? I thought it was just through the water or dissolved in other liquids that we drink. I've never heard of anyone getting lead poisoning from a cow.

Re:Is lead truly that dangerous ? (2, Funny)

gujo-odori (473191) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803379)

You live in a place where they make ham out of *cows*? I don't think I want to eat /anything/ there, lead or not.

Re:Is lead truly that dangerous ? (1)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803475)

And where rats eat circuit boards?

Re:Is lead truly that dangerous ? (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803411)

Cows =! ham. s/cows/pigs, and you're all set

Re:Is lead truly that dangerous ? (5, Funny)

drkmirror (812642) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803429)

Cows are slaughtered and transformed into ham which you eat. Lead is then accumulated in the body.
Lead transforms cows into HAM my god I never realized lead was so dangerous

Re:Is lead truly that dangerous ? (5, Informative)

rueger (210566) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803459)

...but is the amount of lead in solder really dangerous?

The risk is likely more to people repairing and building electronics than to the consumer. The last transmitter tech that I worked with was adamant about handwashing and always had a high wattage light positioned over solder work so that rising hot air would draw lead fumes up and away from his face.

People who hand load ammunition face a similar long term but real risk of lead exposure.

Useless without pictures. (1)

Gaffod (939100) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803145)

(body)

Re:Useless without pictures. (-1, Troll)

Jogar the Barbarian (5830) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803445)

tin whiskers [youtube.com]

More stupid laws thanks to paranoia. (2, Funny)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803239)

I'm sorry but I don't see the danger to life and limb these politicians do in the tiny dimples of lead alloy solder which are enclosed in numerous tough outer casings.

Have there been any studies comparing this "health risk" to your average city's smog layer?

Lead has its place in society. It's not as if lead based solder is being used to paint walls or as inlay in children's toys.

Cringley (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23803265)

I like his story about replacing all the car parts on his old Thunderbird. If it is true of course. Probably has been driving the latest BMW models for the last 10 years.

He mentions silver and bismuth are just as bad for health. Checking the equally reputable Wikipedia page for silver [wikipedia.org] yields "Silver plays no known natural biological role in humans, and possible health effects of silver are a subject of dispute. Silver itself is not toxic but most silver salts are, and some may be carcinogenic." So seems to me at least, one cannot compare silver and lead in terms of health effects. No one disputes that lead is bad for health, particularly the health of children. Checking on bismuth [wikipedia.org] also yields no known health maladies other than perhaps discolored teeth from ingesting it. Again compared to lead [wikipedia.org] it seems tame.

Also a quote from Cringley's article, I love the type of logic it displays :

"mean time between failures (MTBF) has gone down (accelerated MTBF tests, which are the only MTBF tests we do anymore, don't reliably pick this up, by the way), and reliability has suffered."

So basically "I am right but you can't tell, because the ways of things are measured now hide the fact that I am right"

Just had to replace an ABS unit. (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803297)

The mechanic blamed the failure on lead-free solder. It sure did hurt my wallet.

This qualifies for a "Are you pulling my leg?" tag (0, Troll)

Fantastic Lad (198284) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803303)

Tin Whiskers? You have got to be joking! If somebody wrote this into a sci-fi story, it would be one of the dumber Doctor Who episodes. Even the name is dorky.


And, sorry, it may cause brain damage, when I grew up, the soldering iron was my sonic screwdriver, and 'flux' should be available as a room scent; I associate it with many happy memories. (Well, also with burnt fingers and exhausted frustration as expensive parts utterly failed to work at the 11th hour, but still. . .) Lead-based solder is on my top five list of all-time favorite non-food/medicinal substances.

Ground-up ESTES rocket-engine powder is one of the others.

How did Heston put it. . .


-FL

Re:This qualifies for a "Are you pulling my leg?" (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803333)

Too bad he is serious, as the problem really does exist.

Now, on what scale is debatable, but not the problem itself.

Built in obsolescence (2, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803321)

If your computer has a limited life expectancy, then you have to buy a new one at some point. So why would they 'fix' the problem ?

Cars (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23803351)

Probably we don't have any major car manufacturer sued because nobody ever cares to examine cars electronics after accidents. It's so easy to blame the drunk/distract/incompetent driver.

CRAPacitors failed way before tin whiskers (3, Informative)

Stavr0 (35032) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803365)

I've had several equipment fail, not because of tin whiskers, but because of crappy capacitors that leaked and/or burst.

zinc whiskers (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23803367)

Zinc whiskers are also a problem - specifically if the raised floor in a datacenter is held up by older galvanized steel standards. i've actually got a client with this issue - you can see the whiskers on server motherboards with a flashlight held at an oblique angle.

symptoms included random server failures, power supplies and pdu's exploding (had one go off when i was in the room - NOT FUN)

they not only had the old standards, but the roof overhead was steel, soldered with a solder that also contained zinc.

Google image search... (1)

wolvesofthenight (991664) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803373)

I don't know about the majority of tin whiskers, but some of them sure are visible. Just do a Google image search [google.com] for them. I do not know how common the problem will be in new electronics but some people have sure had trouble.

Whoever controls tin whiskers controls the world (0)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803441)

Tin whiskers are nothing less than a gift from God. It is merely left up to us to discover the nature of His gift to us, and to take advantage of it.

The question we should be asking ourselves is, what potential uses might these tin whiskers have? Are they good for anything? Can we sell them in some sort of product and make money? For example, can bald guys plate their heads with tin and start regrowing hair?

How would we know? (1, Insightful)

supabeast! (84658) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803447)

These days everything electronic is slapped together on assembly lines in third-world crapholes. How are we supposed to know the difference between tin whisker failures or the device being made with adulterated materials in a factory full of former cabbage farmers?

Ice spikes (2, Insightful)

Fry-kun (619632) | more than 6 years ago | (#23803483)

What's interesting is, nobody seems to draw a parallel between spikes that appear when clear water is frozen and tin whiskers.
Something very similar happens - as the temperature goes down, spikes/whiskers appear. It only happens in pure or near-pure water. And it's a well established fact (although not well understood until recently).

This is too much of a coincidence to not investigate it.
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