HWTR Pollution Prevention

My Watershed

Decagon Devices

Toxic Metals Prevention: Reducing the use of lead and improving quality and efficiency


The Company

Decagon Devices, Pullman, WA, manufactures electronic sensors for the food, environmental research, and agriculture industries.

A leader in their field, Decagon had long used traditional lead-based soldering for manufacturing circuit boards. With half of their business in the international marketplace, they needed to find a lead-free solder to retain sales and expand overseas markets.

In 2009, Decagon began a two-year project to reduce their use of lead and improve other aspects of their manufacturing. Decagon collaborated with Impact Washington in lean and environmental efforts to eliminate their use of lead and improve productivity.

The results

Decagon Devices:

  • Will eliminate their use of lead by 105 pounds per year (based on anticipated 2010 production) by January 1, 2011. In turn this will:
    • Eliminate associated lead-bearing hazardous wastes at the company; and
    • Eliminate possible environmental contamination from consumers disposing of their products.
  • Increased quality in the stenciling area from 35 percent to 95 percent by changing from hand stenciling to machine stenciling.
  • Maintained their finished goods inventory levels while increasing sales by 50 percent.
  •  Reduced inventory turns in the repair department from 120 days to 10 days.
  • Created cells in several areas that have increased productivity.

The focus on lead was important to meet the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) Standards and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive of the EU and minimize hazardous waste and other environmental impacts of using lead. The focus on other lean efforts helped Decagon achieve productivity goals as well.

How they did it

Impact Washington worked with Decagon to conduct value stream mapping (VSM) and several kaizen events. The future-state value stream map identified these priority opportunities:

  • Adopt lead-free solder technology
  • Address product quality
  • Decrease total time in the repair department
  • Create cells in certain areas, and
  • Work on inventory control

Decagon and Impact Washington engaged a certified trainer from Weeks Solder Training to begin the transition. Lead is a toxic element and an important environmental priority for Washington. Because of this, the state Department of Ecology agreed to use funds from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant to help support the training.

The trainer trained and certified the company’s staff to an international standard for lead-free soldering, rework, and inspection soldering methods. This certification of in-house staff allows those certified in the processes to train new staff in the methods. This training provided the information and skills for Decagon to begin the transition to meet the WEEE and RoHS standards and continue supplying international markets. Decagon Devices also invested about $300,000 in new equipment as part of the quality improvement effort.

This story is based on a case study prepared by the Pollution Prevention Resource Center, Seattle, Washington (www.pprc.org) with support from Impact Washington.

For more information on the participants and lean and environment resources:

Decagon Devices (www.decagon.com)
Impact Washington (www.impactwashington.org)
Washington Ecology Lean and Environment (www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/hwtr/lean/index.html)
US EPA Lean and the Environment (www.epa.gov/lean)


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