Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Volatile Organic Compounds & Evolving Regulations – Guest Blog

by Steve Allen, VP Marketing and Innovation, ACL Staticide

Steve Allen, our guest blogger from ACL, this time focuses on the topic of VOCs and aerosol cleaners

An important topic today with end-use customers using aerosol cleaners, is the changing regulations regarding the VOC content and compliance of solvent-based products. Many customers are perplexed as to why manufacturers and suppliers don't already have this information on their product MSDS (GHS safety data sheets) and tech data sheets. At one time, the weight percent of all non-exempt chemicals in most products was listed on each product MSDS, but this information has been removed for several reasons. And, as most everyone knows, the regs are changing all the time.

There is an evolving Federal list of exempt chemicals along with many state and municipal lists of currently exempt chemicals. In some instances, these lists do not always agree. Additionally, there exists at least three EPA-approved ways to calculate VOC content. And, each method can yield different values for the same product. The choice of a particular calculation method can depend on the customer's location and the air quality regulations for their particular region.

It's important to review what a VOC is and why it's important. VOC stands for "volatile organic compound." These are chemicals whose vapors have been found to chemically react with nitrogen oxides (NOx, which are produced by auto exhaust, the burning of fossil fuels for power generation, and other industrial processes) in the air and in the presence of sunlight to produce ground-level ozone or "smog". The ability of certain chemical vapors to produce smog when sunlight makes them react with nitrogen oxides is referred to as photochemical reactivity. The direct emission of these vapors into the air defines the scope with which the EPA is most concerned. Thus, chemicals whose vapors are not photochemically reactive to form smog are considered exempt and are not included in the process of determining the amount of VOC ingredients in a particular product.

The federal EPA publishes a list of exempt chemicals and many states also publish their own list. A chemical that is listed as exempt on the EPA list may not appear on the individual state or municipality listings. A basic Internet search for methods of calculating VOC will generate literally 1000s of information sources and reference sites. VOC test results are used for a variety of purposes. These are predominantly for emissions fees, new source review applicability, and compliance with permit limits.

Most VOC and air quality/emissions permits do not specify VOC test methodology for purposes of demonstrating compliance with VOC limits. Currently, there are inconsistencies and a lack of guidance among states and EPA regions in implementation of VOC test methodology. It is technically difficult to specify any one single method for VOC measurement. This is why it is difficult to specify a simple value for the VOC content of most cleaning products. Without specific knowledge of the area of the country in which the customer is located, the EPA region under whose regulations they operate, if they are operating under a Federal NESHAP, the existence of state and local emission regulations, and the specific application or way in which the product will be used, it is difficult-to-impossible to list accurate and specific VOC information on a product MSDS.

Many states do not recognize all of the chemicals on the EPA lists as being exempt. Formal exemption of a chemical from VOC consideration may depend on how it is being used. California is generally the most extreme case and most industry there is moving toward water-based cleaning.

So, why are VOC determinations mission-critical today? Traditionally, VOCs have been used for conformal coating and various contact cleaning and flux removal applications. The properties of a conformal coating stem from the selected base resin and the various additives, while the solvents used in most cleaners come from an aromatic or aliphatic hydrocarbon base. These are included to optimize the performance of the cured coating or the formulated cleaner. Organic solvents are used to dissolve the base resin and reduce viscosity to bring the coating within a workable range. As such, the conformal coating dries by a simple solvent evaporation. Contact cleaners and flux removers function in the same manner.

Solvent-based conformal coatings are extremely versatile and can be applied in many ways, such as dipping, spraying, and brushing. By simply adjusting the solvent level, the viscosity of the coating can be tailored to the required application method. Solvents or VOCs are used for many different cleaning applications during PCB manufacture. Until recently, there has been a reluctance to change to alternative products for a number of reasons:
  • Change required alterations to production procedures and equipment
  • Solvent-based materials were very well established
  • Alternatives did not have all the answers
  • VOC limits on solvents were changing as were test methods
Cleaning is an essential process required at different stages in PCB manufacturing. The purpose of cleaning is to ensure good surface resistance and prevent current leakages which lead to PCB failure. Future markets see electronics getting smaller and smaller, and the requirement for high performance and reliability is stronger than ever.

Many manufacturers are turning to "no-clean" processes implying that cleaning is not required after soldering. In the "no-clean" process, rosin and activator are not removed prior to the next process such as coating or encapsulating of the PCB. Such residues, along with any other unwanted elements collected due to the missing cleaning stage, could cause issues with adhesion and possibly affect the performance of the protecting media applied. It can therefore be stated that even with advances in new technologies, such as "no-clean" fluxes, cleaning is still an essential multi-stage process within the electronics industry. Finally, there are also cleaning stages required for the removal of coatings and adhesives when re-work is necessary and for the cleaning of actual components and for maintenance of the production line.

Volatile organic compounds in cleaning and coating chemistries will continue to be a point of concern at the end-user level. Low VOC alternatives are available as are water-based options. Every manufacturer must maintain awareness of changing VOC regs and formulate products which are in the best interest of the environment, the industry, and most importantly, the end-use customer. ACL Staticide is committed to this effort as we develop and commercialize industry responsible and compliant new products.

If there's a product or topic you'd like to see The Q Source Resource write about please let us know. We'd also appreciate if you share this blog post with your friends and colleagues via the social media links below. If you have questions or comments about ACL Staticide products or about cleaning printed circuit boards and electronic equipment please leave us a message in the comments section.

For additional Q Source product information, reviews, how-to articles, and special offers please subscribe to our email newsletter.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

3M Receives EPA ENERGY STAR Sustained Excellence Award for Record 10th Year in a Row

In an Earth Day announcement, 3M revealed yesterday that they have earned a privilege that no other industrial company in the world has attained. For the 10th year in a row, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has presented 3M with the EPA ENERGY STAR® Sustained Excellence Award.

Recognizing the importance of energy efficiency and environmental concerns as a strategy for corporate social responsibility, 3M stated that they've worked the past 10 years (and longer) to improve their processes, raw materials, and efficient methods for resource savings. Among 3M's sustainable products are 3M Novec Engineered Fluids, 3M Window Films, and 3M LED Advanced Lighting.

The EPA recognized 3M for a number of efforts including:

  • Implementation of 252 projects, which resulted in savings of $8.79 million and 61,700 metric tons of CO2
  • Development of a strategic initiative to identify and implement projects to make step-change improvements in greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency
  • Formation of Centers of Excellence to integrate all aspects of sustainability into business strategies company-wide
  • Enacting energy-saving innovations in diverse markets, and engaging communities globally in energy and sustainability dialogues
The Sustained Excellence achievement is the EPA's highest ENERGY STAR award. The EPA created ENERGY STAR in 1992 to stimulate corporate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 3M is the only company to ever receive the Sustained Excellence award ten years in a row.

In related news, 3M received the Xcel Energy 2013 Energy Efficiency Expo Award for saving nearly 1.8 million therms of gas. And in an effort to further solidify their commitment to corporate responsibility, 3M became a member of the United Nations Global Compact, a voluntary initiative that outlines 10 doctrines in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption.

Q Source has been an authorized distributor of 3M products for more than a decade. We congratulate them on their recognition and continued sustainability efforts.

For additional Q Source product information, reviews, how-to articles, and special offers please subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Brady BMP41 Label Printer on Flickr

The Brady BMP41 Label Printer is a durable, portable printer for all your industrial labeling needs. The BMP41 features built-in templates, smart-cell technology, and the ability to print both continuous and die-cut labels. Check out this Flickr photo set to get a closer look at this durable and versatile portable printer.

Be sure to visit our Web site to learn more about the Brady BMP41 Label Printer.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why Clean "No Cleans?" Printed Circuit Board Flux Removal – Guest Blog

by Steve Allen, VP Marketing and Innovation, ACL Staticide

Steve Allen, our guest blogger from ACL, returns with this article about cleaning “no-clean” fluxes.

Today, nearly half of all printed circuit boards (PCBs) are assembled with no-clean solder paste. The development of no-clean solder paste was initiated to eliminate the need for further post-solder cleaning of circuit boards. Yet, many electronics assemblers are still struggling with the process of adequately and effectively removing no-clean flux materials.

No-clean fluxes are now the most popular fluxes to clean in electronics manufacturing. Most manufacturers have designed and dialed in their assembly lines to run no-clean paste. And, they only clean the boards they want to clean, not always the boards they perhaps need to clean. Additionally, the flux residues left behind by no-clean pastes are more difficult to remove from PCBs than other fluxes. Since they are formulated not to be cleaned, the residues from no-clean products can be left on the board in unwanted areas with detrimental effects on the PCB. That creates a cleaning challenge if you need to clean off a residue that was not designed to be removed.

No-clean flux and solder residue on the board depends on the amount of solids in the material, the type of gelling agents, and various activators in the flux. The fluxes in most of today's no-clean pastes contain up to 60% solids. The lower the total solids, the fewer residues on the board. No cleans, in theory, contain lower total solids so as not to need removal/cleaning. Following the reflow process, the flux leaves a small amount of residue around the various solder joints.

There are several reasons to remove no-clean flux residues from PCBs. Historically, no-clean fluxes were developed as tacky resins, which inherently coated and stuck to all surfaces. The residue would gradually build up on the test pins. Manufacturers began cleaning no-clean fluxes when problems emerged with in-circuit testing. The latest technologies of no cleans are improved and no longer tacky, but still can interfere with signal transmission in most instances.

Also, no-clean fluxes can inhibit proper adhesion of conformal coatings. No-clean flux residues can absorb moisture in process. In any further curing processes, the release of any moisture can cause the coating to be separated from the board and incomplete conformal adhesion can occur. This can allow corrosive materials, carbon dust build-up, or moisture to penetrate under the assembly and cause corrosion, signal transmission problems, and component failure.

Today, no-clean paste manufacturers are aware that end-users are cleaning no cleans from board surfaces. The type of flux chemistry chosen can have significant impact on the cleaning process. To effectively clean and remove no-clean solder pastes and no-clean flux residues, a polar solvent or a solution of water and saponifier is necessary. Most no-clean pastes require an organic saponifier for effective flux removal, but some can be cleaned with inorganic saponifiers. No-clean fluxes that contain halides leave the most residue and are easier to clean. However, halide-free no-clean fluxes produce less residue, yet are more difficult to remove. In general, no-clean fluxes can be extremely difficult to clean, particularly following any reflow processes, as they can be baked on and tough to remove.

It can be vitally important to resolve any issues with no-clean technologies and their subsequent cleaning challenges at the forefront of the device design process especially with high-reliability products such as avionics or medical devices. In applications where cleanliness is critical, it is important to consult cleaning experts like ACL for the most effective, board-safe cleaning technology.

Q Source would like to, once again, thank our guest blogger, Steve Allen. We appreciate your contributions to The Q Source Resource and look forward to sharing your future articles, as well.

For more information about ACL Staticide products and options for flux removal, please visit the ACL Staticide Department at

For additional Q Source product information, reviews, how-to articles, and special offers please subscribe to our email newsletter.