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SOUTHFIELD, Mich., Sept. 8, 2009 – For many years, lead was considered to be a useful material in manufacturing many products. But as concerns over human exposure to lead have grown, industries have worked to remove lead from consumer applications. Despite this effort, small amounts remain – especially inside electronic devices, where lead mixed with tin is found in solder.

Recently, a project team under the United States Council for Automotive Research LLC, (USCAR), whose members include Chrysler Group LLC, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Company, developed a process to help automotive suppliers remove lead-based solder from electronic components used in vehicles around the world.

Working through the Vehicle Recycling Partnership LLC (VRP), a Lead-Free Solder Validation Test Plan was developed for suppliers of audio components, instrument clusters, engine controls and other electronic components to use in meeting the requirements for all products manufactured by Chrysler, Ford and General Motors.

Representatives from parts suppliers TRW and Lear Corporation joined the VRP Lead-Free Solder Validation Team, which began work in April 2008. Among the challenges was sorting through the hundreds of tests and validation processes each of the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) require suppliers to use.

“Taking lead out of a component essentially means it’s a new product,” said Jennifer Senish, member of the VRP Lead-Free Solder Validation Team and General Motors environmental/durability engineer. “There needs to be an entirely new set of tests, including chemical, thermal and fatigue evaluations to ensure the products are still robust.”

Validating components and certifying they are lead free are daunting tasks for the automotive parts suppliers, as the average car has between 400 and 600 electrical components.

When considering a single auto manufacturer, thousands of electronic components need to be re-engineered to be built with a tin/silver/copper solder. Multiply that among the dozens of OEMs globally, and the process could take years to complete.

“Whenever you think about changing something, you need to know which tests are essential for those changes. So we looked at everyone’s parameters and how we could combine them into a series of ‘surgical tests’ out of the hundreds of possibilities,” Senish said.

The benefit for suppliers is that testing once for three manufacturers will reduce costs and speed time-to-market. Plus, having completed an agreed-upon lead-free test plan, component suppliers and Detroit’s OEMs will be able to meet a European End-of-Life Vehicle (ELV) directive requiring the elimination of leaded solder in all electronic components beginning January 2011.

“This has really allowed us to be ahead of the game in terms of ELV requirements as well as the further elimination of lead used in vehicles in general,” Senish said.


Founded in 1992, USCAR is the collaborative automotive technology organization for Chrysler Group LLC, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Company. The goal of USCAR is to further strengthen the technology base of the domestic auto industry through cooperative research and development. For more information, visit USCAR’s Web site at www.uscar.org.


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