Small metalbashers across the Midlands will bear the brunt of the latest environmental regulations from Brussels, writes Russell Luckock, managing director of Birmingham pressworking company A.E. Harris, July 1, is a very important day for West Midland manufacturing in general, and solderers in particular.
For on this very day it becomes illegal to use lead/tin solder on a wide range of manufactured articles.
Solder constitutes only some 0.6 per cent of the total world-wide usage in terms of metric tonnes, but the havoc that will be caused will be felt down the years to come.
This is due to the implementation of European Union Directives: WEEE - Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment - and RoHS, Restriction of Hazardous Substances.
The purpose of these lengthy and complex documents, is to promote recycling on the one hand, and to preclude the dumping of materials of this type in land-fill sites, as they are now considered hazardous to health and the environment.
The new regulations will most certainly increase the cost of the ultimate product.
By way of illustration, lead-free solder used, in for instance, joining together electrical components to a printed circuit board, will require a much hotter iron, for a longer period of time.
There will also be a danger that the extra heat utilised, could damage, both the board and component.
In addition, the iron tips are likely to last for only about half the time they do now.
So, up go the component costs, and in walk the Chinese with much lower-priced goods. It goes without saying, that apart from Japan, the Asians are not a party to these regulations, neither are the Americans.
To add to the difficulties, the finished products are likely to display a tendency to break down in operation.
Government recognises this fact, by exempting the aeronautical, medical, and certain parts of the automobile industry from full compliance. Aeroplane passengers would take a dim view if the radar functions of their holiday jet developed a catastrophic malfunction due to what is known as a dry joint.
Midland manufactures have as yet, to get to grips with the new Directives. Certainly, firms I have talked to, both in the user industries and the producers of the new raw material, are lagging way behind in their preparation for implementation.
One specialist soldering company in the Jewellery Quarter was in complete ignorance.
As a wide generalisation, it is mostly small firms that are involved in this type of work.
Once again, the cost and disruption brought about by this legislation will have to be bourn by those who can least afford it. Another fine mess...SUPL: