Different systems are effectively deployed to prevent fire in electronic & electrical components

The Electronic Age

In this section, we give an overview of the use of the main flame retardant systems used in electronic and electrical devices, and how the different systems are effectively deployed to prevent fire in E&E components, including printed circuit boards, enclosures, cables, wires and connectors.

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The application of flame retardants has allowed modern day engineers to consider advantageous designs of new materials. Size, weight, autonomy and quality have become all important choices in the consumer market resulting in the flat screen televisions, lighter laptops and small, hand held, high definition figure1-intro-electrogaming appliances as examples.

 

As modern day technology continues to develop, we have a vast array of electronic gadgets and appliances to suit our everyday needs. We talk almost anywhere on mobile phones, finding our way to any location using the GPS (Global Positioning Systems) whilst even listening to our music on an iPod!
It is thought that an average of 22 electronic and electrical appliances can be found in any European household, many often operating at the same time!

Polymers (or plastics which encompass a large class of natural and synthetic materials) now offer considerable advantages in the E&E market, being finely tuned, lightweight yet strong and durable, and easy to mould into various shapes and sizes of different colours and textures. This versatility means complex components such as circuit boards, wires, cables and connectors can all be produced to high reliability standards, expected in the consumer market of today.

Growing fire hazards

The widespread use of plastics means that the potential fire hazard in our homes and offices has become an increasingly important consideration.

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Most E&E devices contain 1 to 9 Kg of plastic materials; often used in thin sheets and relatively easy to ignite when in contact with internal and external electrical current and heat sources.

To illustrate this point, without flame retardants, such quantities of plastic are equivalent to 0.6 to 6 litres of gasoline in terms of potential heat release. (Figure 2)

For our personal safety it is vital that the most exposed plastic parts used in electronic and electrical appliances:

  • resist ignition from inside the equipment,
  • resist ignition from sources close to the equipment.

Flame retardants do just that. These chemical substances are added to combustible materials to increase their resistance to fire. The use of flame retardants must also allow other functional, aesthetic and ecological requirements to be met, with minimal impact on the final cost of the goods.