NEW YORK-Japan is leading the world in lead-free solder paste use, but Western Europe will likely catch up in the near future, according to a recent study by Frost & Sullivan.

According to the market-research firm's World Surface Mount Technology Roadmap report, Japan currently consumes 80 percent of the world's supply of lead-free solder paste, primarly in the the area of consumer electronics. The study says European lead-free legislation, scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2006, will accelerate the move toward lead-free solder use in that region in the months to come.

Currently Western Europe consumes a little over 10 percent of the world's lead-free solder past supply. North America represents 4 percent of global use.

"Lead-free solder paste is not only technologically feasible, but in most cases, it is as reliable as traditional eutectic, lead-based solder paste," says Frost & Sullivan research analyst Raman Monga. However, Monga warns that more work needs to be done before lead-free methods can be widely accepted.

"While the industry has identified possible alternatives to traditional tin-lead solder alloy, much work needs to be done, especially in the area of component and board reliability and assembly process development," he says.

Monga notes that efficient temperature control is crucially important when using lead-free solders. Unless the thermal efficiency and profiles of the products being processed are improved, the problems posed by high temperature are likely to continue to restrain market growth. Additionally, high processing temperature requires 15 to 25 percent more energy, which makes the electronic assemblies increasingly prone to warping and board-drop issues.

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