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Recyclable PCBs: just add water

06 June 2012

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL), along with partners In2Tec Ltd (UK) and Gwent Electronic Materials Ltd, have developed a printed circuit board (PCB) whose components can be easily separated by immersion in hot water. The work was part of the ReUSE project, funded by the UK government’s Technology Strategy Board.

The aim of the ReUSE (Reuseable, Unzippable, Sustainable Electronics) project was to increase the recyclability of electronic assemblies. The partners designed, developed and tested a series of unzippable polymeric layers which, while withstanding prolonged thermal cycling and damp heat stressing, allow the assemblies to be easily separated at end-of-life into their constituent parts, after immersion in hot water. The project demonstrated a 90% recyclable inverter circuit for an electroluminescent lamp.

Find out more about NPL’s work on The ReUSE disassembly process is demonstrated in a short video hosted by the NPL site.
Meanwhile, a new collaborative project is being set up by NPL to carry out research into possible indicators of remaining useful life in electronic components. ‘Prognostics’ involves monitoring the health of a device and estimating its remaining useful life. Knowing when an electronic assembly is going to fail can give a company a competitive edge, as it allows for longer periods of time between scheduled maintenance and an associated reduction in costs. By replacing components before they fail, equipment downtime can also be minimised. This makes prognostics especially relevant for the aerospace and energy sectors.

There are several different approaches to prognostics. Environmental factors such as temperature and humidity, or external parameters such as the signal noise in the power line, can be monitored to give an indication of how long a component has left before it will fail. The research in this new project will look at electronic interconnects, measuring electrical impedance, noise and linearity, and identifying suitable indicators for predicting remaining useful life.

The project will also look at so-called ‘canary components’, which are designed to fail earlier than any other electronic component to warn of the impending failure of a device - much in the way that canaries were once used in coal mines as a first indicator of dangerously low oxygen levels.

Industrial partners are encouraged to get involved in the overall decision making of the project and to help decide on what components and conditions to include in the research.

For more information on the Prognostics of Electronic Interconnects project, click here.

Find out more about NPL’s work on Electronics Interconnection

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