The European Union's (EU) impact on the electronic-product design process can be felt worldwide. Case in point: The EU mandates the removal of lead from all electronic and electrical products sold on the continent by July 1, 2006.
The ban includes other hazardous substances--mercury, cadmium and hexavalent--as well as limits polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).
Known formally as Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS), the directives are intended to protect Europeans against the environmental hazards of discarded components that end up in landfill sites. Ultimately, they wind up leaching dangerous substances into water supplies.
While they're clear on what OEMs must not do--produce electrical and electronic components containing potentially hazardous levels of these substances--the directives have yet to be transposed into country law, and there are still open issues of exemptions.
This leaves a fair amount of ambiguity and a high degree of confusion for OEMs to ponder--specifically, the meaning of the directives, and what must be done to avoid penalties, lost revenue, or supply disruptions in their European markets after July 1, 2006.
Electronics manufacturers, large and small alike, need access to information to develop an effective and responsible approach to compliancy. Arrow Electronics created a dedicated Web site as an aggregator of data at www.arrow.com/green. The site explains the issues and provides updates on the status of environmental legislation around the world. It also discusses supplier-related policies and reactions.
More information on compliance status has become available from manufacturers of components either via the Web or directly. But gathering this information can be time-consuming and difficult. To simplify the process, many OEMs subscribe to tools like Arrow's Component Selection Management Services. For several years, these tools have helped design engineers research and select components based on a combination of technical and procurability specifications.
The database behind these services was enhanced to provide information on the compliance status, manufacturing characteristics, and substance contents on millions of semiconductor, passive, and electromechanical devices.
These services enable OEMs to load a BOM for research, identify alternatives, and/or review parts one at a time. Consider the many hundreds of suppliers and millions of components in existence, and it's easy to see the value of access to all this information in one place.
Though the EU is in the legislative forefront of the environmental timetable, this is far from strictly a European issue. Several industrial nations, including China, Korea, Japan, Australia, and Canada, are lining up. Some 20 states in the U.S. also are considering some form of environmental legislation that will potentially affect the electronics industry.
With a little more than a year left to reach compliancy, OEMs should be well on their way to identifying the affected products. They must develop a transition approach to achieve compliance.
Uncertainty about the legislation's final form suggests OEMs and suppliers take a lean, responsible, and scalable approach to compliance. Therefore, any necessary adjustments can be made as guidelines come into greater focus. Ambiguity aside, waiting to act is not a viable option.
Contributed by Leonie Tipton, Vice President of Global Supply Chain Programs, Arrow Electronics Inc.