I hope you all enjoyed your cookout as much as we did. I had a chance to catch up with my cousin Scott who was here from South Florida. Scott is a robotics engineer by trade working in the medical device industry. By night he is a part-time inventor/tinkerer. So I got a big chuckle out of this gadget he invented. Besides the shameless plug, I thought I would take advantage of the opportunity to interview him on a range of topics related to the role of metals both for automotive accessories (you too can get your Scion tC radio cover to automatically open with a turn of the ignition) and medical devices or more specifically robotic medical devices.
As the content for electronics within cars continues to grow and eat into other systems (e.g. electro-mechanical), it surprised me to learn how many metal elements were used to make this motorized radio cover. First, the printed circuit board (e.g. copper for traces) and for some boards, they must be gold plated especially for contacts (things that need to mate to something). Because metals are such good conductors, they will likely be used for a long time in printed circuit boards. In addition to the boards, the device contains metal brackets, custom carbon steel rods, zinc plated steel screws, zinc plated metal brackets and a threaded stainless rod which my cousin had to machine himself (nobody would quote it). Quite a few metals I thought for an “electronic device”.
But the interesting development is really in the area of ROHS compliance (ROHS, developed in Europe but has since been adopted by the US automotive industry) requires the removal of lead used on the printed circuit board. Lead has traditionally been the one metal that is soldered on which helps give boards their electronic capability. The elimination of lead has in turn, created some interesting conundrums. The main one is that no long term reliability studies have been conducted to show that alternative soldering mechanisms (e.g. tin/silver) would hold up as well as lead. For this reason, military and medical device applications were exempted from ROHS compliance. The automotive industry is now ROHS compliant but not without first expending a whole lot of cost for reliability testing.
Later in the week we’ll cover the use of metals in the field of medical robotics.