Electronics and Electrical Equipment

Electronic devices have become omnipresent in our lives. Nowadays, we take our portable personal devices, flat screen televisions and monitors and wireless audio and video connectivity for granted. Yet most of these technologies would have seemed like science fiction only a generation ago.

Televisions – from wooden cabinets to flat screens

Televisions were the first ‘modern’ electrical appliances to be found in virtually every home. Initially, these were large, bulky, and immobile, relying on traditional materials such as wood and metal in their construction. 

However, as consumer demand increased exponentially (colour television sets started to become commonplace in the 1960s) so did the demand for more user-friendly design. What emerged reflected the revolutionary developments in design and technology of the late 1960s and 1970s. The key was the steady replacement of wood and metal with plastics. Initially, plastic use in TVs was restricted to ‘non-visible’ components – back panels and a few internal components. However, this in itself was a revolution; previously, plastics had been viewed as an indication that goods as cheap and low-quality. Ultimately, however, they became the main constituent. 

The use of plastics offered numerous advantages; it could be injection-moulded into relatively complex, sophisticated shapes. However, before this could happen, there was important consideration – fire safety. Older televisions, which used cathode ray tubes rather than modern LCD or LED displays, consumed a great deal of energy and created a considerable amount of heat. For this reason, it was important that the plastics used in these televisions were fire-resistant. 

Although the plastic in the average LCD TV has the same potential to generate the heat as six litres of petrol, the inclusion of modern flame retardants renders them much safer

A modern LCD TV requires far less energy; however, their smaller size means that their components are more tightly packed together. In addition they are routinely constructed almost entirely of plastics. 

However, they pose virtually no fire risk to consumers. Flame retardants are blended into the polymers used to make the plastic casings, meaning that they are unlikely to burn. If they do, the rate of burning will be greatly slowed, allowing longer to deal with any issues. The same applies to internal components, which are also protected by flame retardants incorporated within the Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) and wiring. Therefore, although the plastic in the average LCD TV has the same potential to generate the heat as six litres of petrol, the inclusion of modern flame retardants renders them much safer.

It is similar for other common electronic devices and electrical equipment. Consumer demand has seen computers, tablets and mobile phones become ever smaller and more portable. These smaller sizes mean that the heat-producing elements – such as the battery and the CPU –need to be positioned closer together in a smaller, more-confined space. In the event of damage or malfunction, the use of flame-retardant plastics means that there is suitable protection for users.

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Making electric & electronic
equipment safe

Plastics are versatile, diverse, mouldable and lightweight, which is why this material is very popular to use in the production of electrical equipment and electronic appliances.

The high volume of plastics in this kind of equipment poses a fire risk. Most E&E devices contain 1 to 9kg 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.

Incorporating brominated flame retardants (BFRs) into polymers components gives flame retardant properties. BFRs can either be added to polymer materials during production or can be reacted with materials such as epoxy used in the manufacture of printed circuit boards.

Consumers have the right to expect products which are efficient, reliable and safe. For that reason the Flame retardant industry has been committed to developed innovative products that meet the most stringent fire safety requirements. National governments are also attentive to the products that may not meet the fire safety requirements.

An everyday device like a washing machine has evolved from simply being a labour saving device to become the complex, intelligent appliances we see now. The introduction of electronically controlled systems mean that modern machines are not only better at cleaning, they use less water, less energy and less detergent in each cycle. Their size has decreased, and their convenience increased, as a result.

Clearly, bringing together heat and electricity in the vicinity of a plastic-based PCB – in a potentially damp or humid environment – poses a potential fire hazard. Therefore flame retardants are an essential element in the manufacturing of those electronic circuit boards used in washing machines. It is these properties that ensure the safety of the complex, electronically controlled operation of these appliances.

Domestic appliances – increasing convenience

Another area that has benefited from the increasingly widespread use of flame-retardant plastics is the manufacture and design of our major domestic appliances. The ability to safely introduce electronic controls into many of these devices has significantly improved their performance and convenience. 

Consumer safety is a key priority for the home appliance industry. Promoting the use of brominated flame retardants, and working with all the actors in the value chain, can help ensure circularity and consumer safety.”