Electronic Design

Changes Lie Ahead For RoHS

Meanwhile, the European Union is currently reviewing its Restrictions on Hazardous Substances (RoHS), which largely kicked off the movement toward non-toxic materials in electronic products. Tweaks in the language of the RoHS legislation are very likely and will be very closely watched by chip manufacturers and OEMs. The EU is expected to clarify some of its current definitions and terms, and it is seeking industry input. Freescale’s Teggeman says most of his discussions with customers eventually come around to terminology.

“That’s probably the biggest issue right now. We have companies asking us to confirm that we’re selling them products that are completely lead-free, and then they’re ordering a BGA (ball-gate array) package with leaded bumps within the package with lead-free termination. We’ll ask them, ‘Do you really want lead-free or do you just want lead-free termination?’ Usually, they just want lead-free termination,” Teggeman says. “Another big issue is testing and how things are tested.”

The EU will also take a new look at all 29 current RoHS exemptions. Some of them are expected to be eliminated as the review continues through 2008, with particular attention to medical devices and monitoring and control instruments. However, new regulations may not become effective until 2010.

The Oko Institut, the European consulting firm selected by the EU to manage the review, is working on identifying hazardous substances in electronic equipment that are not currently regulated by the RoHS directive. It’s also possible that additional substances will be added to the current six specified in the original RoHS document, a process that may be kicked off by one or more of EU member countries. Norway, for example, has been reviewing 18 additional substances for possible restriction, including arsenic, which could impact the use of gallium arsenide ICs used in mobile phones. None of this has escaped the attention of the industry or its trade associations.

“The PCB (printed-circuit board) industry is painfully aware of the impact of ‘going green’ on their pocketbooks, not to mention all the extra resources needed to comply with environmental regulations,” says Jean Hebeisen, director of professional development of the IPC—Association Connecting Electronics Industries.

The IPC continues to hold technical conferences, often in partnership with other trade groups, on how new and evolving environmental issues are affecting their member companies. In fact, the IPC and JEDEC hosted a technical conference to examine drivers behind environmental trends and regulations at this year’s International CES.

In preparations for its own meetings on the subject, the CEA has developed a survey that seeks to identify its members’ experiences, costs, and benefits from the EU’s RoHS directive. The CEA also has said that it will, at some point, provide policymakers with quantitative data on the true cost of RoHS compliance to its members.

As part of this effort, the CEA’s environmental policy team led a group of its members to London and Brussels in early November to meet with EU policymakers in an effort to strengthen the consumer electronics sector’s position on EU-developed environmental issues, including RoHS, WEEE (Waste on Electrical and Electronic Equipment), and REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization of Chemicals). The team also proposed the creation of a REACH consortium that would review and monitor restrictions and the use of chemicals in electronic products.

Then there’s China. Now accounting for an estimated 15% of the global semiconductor market, and with growth projected at an annual rate of more than 20% in 2008, China is likely to place more emphasis on “green” issues over time.

China has already responded to the EU’s RoHS directive with its own “China RoHS.” These regulations kicked in on March 1, 2007, but they are clearly a work in progress. For example, China RoHS at this point does not even require products to be lead-free, only that companies declare which of their products aren’t lead-free.

To its credit, China has been very open—at least, so far—about how it is proceeding with its RoHS directive, even inviting industry representatives to meetings of its Ministry of Industry Information (MII). Meanwhile, the International Engineering Consortium (IEC) has organized working groups to develop approaches on how to test and certify products in China. In fact, “China has copied and pasted much of this information into their testing methodology,” says Freescale Semiconductor’s Teggemen.

The IEC has also been at the forefront of developing an industry standard (IEC 62087 Ed. 2.0) for measuring the power consumption of audio, video, and related equipment.

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