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Panel: Rob Simon
Media: Bryan Goodman

Printed wiring boards are flat composite boards typically made with thermoplastic resins, copper foils, and glass fiber textiles having circuitry etched or laminated onto the board, and electronic components soldered onto the circuitry.

Flame retardants are incorporated into the backbone of the materials that make up the board so the product can meet important flammability standards. They provide a layer of fire retarding properties between the board and the electronic circuitry and components.  Flame retardants work in a number of ways to help stop or reduce the chances of a fire occurring or spreading, and limit the consequences of fires. This includes interfering with the chemical reaction that results in fire, stopping it before it starts, and insulating the heat sources from the material that can burn by inducing “charring.” Learn more about how flame retardants work.

Some flame retardants work effectively on their own; others act as “synergists” to increase the fire protective benefits of other flame retardants. But because flame retardants can impact product characteristics and performance, flame retardant solutions must balance critical fire safety needs with technical challenges.

Today, a variety of flame retardants are used in the manufacture of printed wiring boards and the majority of flame retardants used are either reactive or additive. Reactive flame retardants, such as TBBPA, one of the most commonly used flame retardant in printed wiring boards, are incorporated directly into the plastic that becomes the wiring board during the manufacturing stage. Once this process takes place, the flame retardant no longer exists as a free chemical. Currently, using these flame retardants in wiring board materials provides for the best mechanical and electrical product performance, including the ability to withstand high temperatures during manufacturing and resist moisture absorption, which can cause delamination.

New, innovative and sustainable flame retardant technologies designed to enhance flame- retarding capabilities also are emerging. A large area of research focuses on the potential use of nanotechnology to increase fire-resistance in printed wiring boards and other electrical and electronic equipment. 


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