Faculty to research lead-free defense electronics as part of $7M award

By Cassie Montgomery

Published: Feb 8, 2021 1:32:00 PM

From left, Sa'd Hamasha, John L. Evans, Jeffrey Suhling and George Flowers From left, Sa'd Hamasha, John L. Evans, Jeffrey Suhling and George Flowers

Auburn University will soon help strengthen the economic and force posture of the United States’ lead-free defense electronics industrial base through participation in the newly-launched Defense Electronics Consortium (DEC). 

The DEC was established by the U.S. Partnership for Assured Electronics through an award from the U.S. Department of Defense. The total award amount is expected to exceed $42 million – $7 million of which is expected to come to Auburn – and will be distributed during a period of five to seven years. 

The first year of the project was funded at $3.9 million, with $830,000 awarded to Auburn Engineering. Auburn faculty will partner with researchers from Purdue University and the University of Maryland to focus on the Lead-Free Defense Electronics Project, the first initiative to flow through the DEC. 

When compared to consumer electronics, defense electronics are subjected to harsher environments and are often designed for a much longer lifespan. Auburn faculty, led by principal investigator Sa’d Hamasha, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering, will develop a comprehensive evaluation system for solder selection to meet specific defense-related requirements. 

“The outcome of this research is a lead-free Solder Users Handbook to ensure a safe transition of aerospace and defense electronics to lead-free technology,” he said. “The lead-free project includes a plan for developing a comprehensive solder agnostic evaluation system for defense lead-free technology. The goal is to enable future new solders and electronics packaging technologies and processes for specific defense use cases.” 

The interdisciplinary project is a collaboration between faculty in Auburn’s industrial and systems engineering and mechanical engineering departments. From the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Hamasha will direct the research program, department chair John L. Evans is a co-principal investigator and will manage the USPAE consortium interface, and assistant professors Daniel Silva and Peter Liu are also co-principal investigators. Participating faculty from the Department of Mechanical Engineering include department chair and Quina Professor Jeffrey Suhling and professor George Flowers, Graduate School dean, as co-principal investigators. Emeritus professors Wayne Johnson from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Michael Bozack from the Department of Physics will also contribute. 

“Auburn’s involvement comes after 25 years of excellence in electronics packaging, manufacturing and reliability and one of the largest research efforts in lead-free solder in the United States,” said Evans, the Charles D. Miller Chair Professor. 

Hamasha explained that in addition to the Auburn team’s wealth of research experience, Auburn’s state-of-the-art facilities will be used to fill the gaps in thermal cycling, drop shock and vibration testing, all important factors to determining military suitability. 

“Our team has experience investigating mechanical properties, failure and fatigue behavior and reliability of more than 50 standard and enhanced lead-free solder alloys, as well as the manufacturability of these materials,” Suhling said. “And our research has targeted mission critical electronic products for military, automotive, aerospace and industrial applications that are exposed to harsh environments.” 

Overall, the work produced by the DEC has the potential to make a great impact in the defense industry.

“The DEC work will accelerate the use of advanced electronics technology for the defense industry, while also improving product quality, reliability, performance and reducing product costs,” Evans said.

Media Contact: Cassie Montgomery, cmontgomery@auburn.edu, 334.844.3668

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