U.S. House Approves Measure to Promote R&D on Lead-Free Electronics in Aerospace, Defense, Automotive, Medical Sectors

June 21, 2019 — IPC, the global trade association for the electronics industry, is applauding the U.S. House of Representatives for approving a measure that would promote research and development into the performance of lead-free electronics in high-reliability sectors such as aerospace, defense, automotive, and medical equipment. 

The House this week voted 327-101 to approve an amendment to the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Defense, State, Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, 2020 (H.R. 2740), offered by Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH) and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), to “increase and decrease the defense-wide Research, Development, Test and Evaluation account by $5 million in order to support funding to develop lead-free defense electronics to ensure the defense industry can integrate cutting-edge civilian technology to meet military requirements.” The “increase-decrease” language is how Congress asks government agencies to find funds for specific requests within existing budget limits.

IPC is leading the advocacy effort to secure these funds because the aerospace, defense, and high performance (ADHP) electronics sectors remain reliant on lead-based solders and components even as the commercial sector has largely phased out the use of lead (Pb) due to human health and environmental concerns. ADHP products have more demanding performance requirements than consumer electronics because they need to perform flawlessly in harsh environments and in safety-related applications. However, to date, there has not been enough R&D on the performance and interoperability of Pb-free products in the ADHP sectors, which would be necessary to inform such a transition. DoD budget cuts within the last decade blocked a “Lead-Free Manhattan Project” from being completed, although some companies and universities continued to work on portions of the overall effort.  

IPC praised Reps. Kuster and Schneider for their leadership, as well as Reps. Pete Visclosky (D-IN), chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and Ken Calvert (R-CA), ranking minority member of the subcommittee, for facilitating the amendment’s passage.

“The Department of Defense’s reliance on lead-based electronics presents serious challenges for the Armed Forces’ ability to continue to integrate cutting-edge civilian technology into the systems that help keep Americans safe,” said Rep. Kuster. “I’m proud the House adopted my amendment, which will help the DoD partner with civilian groups to develop lead-free electronics that will help our Armed Forces accomplish their important missions.”

“Without research and investment, our defense industrial base will continue to face challenges incorporating newly developed technologies, which ultimately will adversely affect our military readiness,” said Rep. Schneider.

“Leaded electronics are vital to the reliability of aerospace, defense, and other high-performance sectors,” said IPC President and CEO John Mitchell. “However, the migration of the commercial industry to lead-free electronics has introduced technical and supply-chain concerns that can only be addressed through new R&D. The R&D that the House backed this week will ensure that DoD strengthens its access to cutting-edge electronics.”

IPC and a consortium from industry and academia are also working with leaders in the U.S. Senate to secure as much as $15 million for the R&D program in 2020, with legislative action expected there in July.

For more information, see this IPC Blog article or visit the website of the Pb-Free Electronics Risk Management (PERM) Council, which is housed at IPC.

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