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April 23, 2014
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Recovering Solder from Dross
Does it make economic sense to develop an in-house capability for recovering pure solder from solder dross?

What are the benefits, if any, for developing this capability and are there drawbacks that should keep us from doing this?
E. K.

Experts Comments

The environmental requirements and regulations which would be imposed to initiate this kind of process within your facility may be quite substantial and expensive. The collection of dross and the return of such material to the supplier should be sufficient as the suppliers are already doing this kind of work.

Secondly you can get a certificate of analysis where the recycler will provide you with the elemental levels within your samples and pay you for the cost of your materials.

If you're soldering many gold boards the gold is retrievable from the dross and solder samples and this relates to a cost which should be refunded to you by the recycler.

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Leo Lambert
Vice President, Technical Director
EPTAC Corporation
At EPTAC Corporation, Mr. Lambert oversees content of course offerings, IPC Certification programs and provides customers with expert consultation in electronics manufacturing, including RoHS/WEEE and lead free issues. Leo is also the IPC General Chairman for the Assembly/Joining Process Committee.

You have to evaluate on a case by case basis and as well determine what type of ROI you are looking for.

For instance if you generate 1,000 Lbs/year of SN100C dross the savings if your return on a piece of equipment is 100% might be $7.00/Lb X 1,000 = $7,000. If the piece of equipment your are looking at costs $10,500 your ROI is a year and a half.

As you use more expensive alloys like SAC305 your ROI becomes less as the savings is greater. Some of the drawbacks are:

  • Managing a lead free bath. A lot of the lead free alloys on the market today are made up of three or more ingredients. Some of these ingredients are added to minimize drossing and will burn off as they are heated. With an in house recycling program you will have to manage these ingredients and make additions when necessary.
  • Dilution of impurities. If you have some components that are bringing in lead to the pot you don't have the dilution of these impurities with fresh solder.
  • Other Costs. You have to look at all the costs such as utilities and labor to run the piece of equipment.
  • Focus. Do you want your engineer focused on recycling of your metal or are you better of outsourcing.

In summary if the savings is great enough to give you the desired ROI and offer enough savings to offset the drawbacks above then in-house metal recovery might make sense for you.

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Mike Scimeca
President
FCT Assembly
Mike Scimeca created FCT Assembly after the purchase of Fine Line Stencil, Inc., and consists of two major operations: stencil manufacturing and the manufacturing of electronic assembly products such as solder paste, flux and solder bar.

If you are going to create a system to recover solder, then before you start I would look at this website EVS International website. They have a system for solder recovery at the source.

The benefits are clearly outlined.

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Edward Zamborsky
Regional Sales Manager
OK International Inc.
Mr. Zamborsky serves as one of OK's technology advisers to the Product Development group. Ed has authored articles and papers on topics such as; Low Volume SMT Assembly, Solder Fume Extraction, SMT Rework, BGA Rework, Lead Free Hand Soldering, Lead Free Visual Inspection and Lead Free Array Rework.

Solder dross has gone from being a cost to be considered by large companies to a very high cost that must be tracked for all who assemble electronic devices. As much as 70% of bar solder can be wasted as solder dross and with SAC 305 now at the $25/Lb level and even leaded solder costing almost twice as much as in previous years it is a major issue.

Recovering your own dross could save you money but it is not an undertaking that should be done lightly. Besides the equipment, cost and manpower necessary here are a few thoughts to consider

To recycle dross some states require processing permits and the permits would need to comply with local regulations.lead treatment compliance issues are even more complex, they would apply include Blood lead testing for employees,ventilation issues, dust collectors and hoods, pollution insurance etc...

The bi-product generated from sweating dross or separating good metal from oxides and flux residues is typically not desirable and could become a disposal issue for the generating company. Typically only 50% of the metal can be recovered from dross recycled by pot sweating and the single wave unit squeezing machines are not much more effective.

There is more value to the company by simply selling the dross for the best price however sale of dross to a recycler is something that often makes more money for an employee selling it out the back door or a middle man than it saves for the company.

Many companies do not realize the value of dross, especially lead free dross. Many company senior managers would be amazed at the hundreds of thousands of dollars of company assets (bar solder dross) that just disappears from the balance sheet.

Because of the exponential increase in the cost of metals coinciding with the shift to lead free every company should be accurately tracking their solder usage and should get a handle on the cost of dross. So many do not really have a clue.

New in line processes such as MS2 from P. KAY Metal have been developed to actually halt the formation of dross right in the wave solder machine and therefore save 50% to 70% of the solder. Actual reductions in solder purchases of this magnitude have been proved.

This process saves a moderate sized company many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Because this is an in line process the using company is not a recycler and is therefore not required to do anything more on the regulatory side than they must do to solder boards.

One thing for sure, the old days of just letting a low level manager handle the sale of dross to a recycler and not tracking the entire bar solder usage/purchase life cycle is rapidly coming to a close if an assembly company is to remain profitable and competitive.

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Daniel (Baer) Feinberg
Vice President
Fein-Line Associates
Mr. Feinberg is a forty-four year industry veteran and a former President of Morton Electronic Materials (Dynachem). Feinberg presently owns Fein-Line Associates, a management consulting and market research company.

Does it make economic sense to develop an in-house capability for recovering pure solder from solder dross?

This depends on two parameters:

  • The amount of solder that you buy each month.
  • The cost you pay for the solder and the amount in USD of the credit you receive for your dross from your solder supplier or recycling contractor.

What are the benefits, if any, for developing this capability and are there drawbacks that should keep us from doing this?

The benefits are many and varied and I will attempt to compress these into a succinct reply:

  • Solder recovery usually has a very rapid ROI (Return on Investment) i.e. you recover the money invested in your recovery system in months not years, depending on the answers to 1 and 2 above.
  • You can normally recover anywhere from 40 to 70 percent on average pure solder by weight from your dross.Typically, this will reduce your purchases of solder from 35 to 50 percent.
  • Onsite solder recovery at your wave as you de-dross can reduce your de-drossing time by up to 75 percent, improving productivity, reducing costs and the exposure of your operators to flux fumes.
  • Recovering the heavy solder reduces heavy lifting for your staff and significantly reduces stocking and handling of dross supplies being shipped back to your suppliers.
  • Because you are reducing your environmental impact, solder recycling fits in perfectly with the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System whose mantra is RECYCLE - REDUCE - REUSE. Recycling onsite will dramatically improve your ability to gain or retain the ISO 14001 accreditation, with all of the attendant benefits that this accreditation will give you including the commercial benefits of making this positive statement to your customers, suppliers and staff.
  • With a good solder recovery system there is no need for your operators to chop or squeeze the dross to try to reduce your de-drossing costs. This will give you a cleaner wave, less pump and nozzle maintenance, less shorts and bridging and less rework time and cost as a cleaner wave will give you better soldering performance.
  • PAYBACK/ROI - Should you wish to investigate your savings online or receive help and guidance in this area, please go to www.solderrecovery.com.

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Simon G. Norman
International Director
EVS International
Simon G. Norman is the international director for EVS International, the Leader in Solder Recovery.
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