Racing towards RoHS

01 June 2006

The RoHS deadline can seem like Christmas: plenty of anticipation, build-up, excitement and anxiety and then the day arrives… and passes…

RoHS differs here, in that the legislation is not going to go away for another year. Next month, the big day arrives. From 1 July, no new electrical or electronic equipment can be sold if with more than the agreed levels of certain hazardous substances.

There is still much that may not be apparent to some manufacturers. One of the biggest headaches, though, and sadly not a new one, is compliance to the legislation. Envirowise (www.envirowise.gov.uk/electronics) has been running a series of seminars to explain both the RoHS and WEEE directives and to offer practical guidance on compliance. The government-funded programme advises on minimising a product’s environmental impact, how to update products and processes and on
the legislation.

All partners in the supply chain can be held accountable for RoHS compliance. Lead time is also important for engineers designing in these new products. Distributors have been active in providing information and guidance. Distributors such as Farnell InOne offer information to enable engineers to meet the directive. The
company established a dedicated RoHS website, (www.rohs.info) where users can access product searches and find alternative stock suggestions.

The company has also established a Bill of Materials Response Team, to source products for customers. Technicians match BoM listings to RoHS-compliant components so customers do not have to convert their designs. The BoM upload service is free and accessed via www.farnellinone.co.uk where customers can upload their BoM, regardless of manufacturer for the Response Team (pictured below) to convert.

For RoHS, ignorance is not bliss, as in addition to product lines being withdrawn, companies face fines if non-compliance is due to ‘negligence or wilful misconduct’. According to Premier Farnell’s general counsel, Steven Webb, ‘our view is that it must mean something more than simpy relying without question on what you are told by your suppliers.’ Electronic designers and engineers will have to carefully scruntise evidence provided by product manufacturers or use a distributor which will do this for them, he says.

Europartners (www.europartners.eu.com) offers customisable services to help companies meets RoHS objectives, for example researching a client’s own bill of materials, quotations and/or components databases.

The EU legislation covers products manufactured in EU member states and those that are imported into the EU. The producer, i.e. manufacturer or vendor, of a product is responsible for compliance to the legislation.
The implication is that by putting the product on the market, it is a declaration that it complies with RoHS legislation. There is no mandatory compliance mark or testing by third parties. Instead each EU state will conduct checks and identify and withdraw those which contain banned chemicals.

However, what those substances are is not cut and dried. Some substances, lead in networking products, for example, can still be used. Medical and military products will be exempt from the directive until 2010. Will this mean that every manufacturer caught unprepared next month, will instead label every product as military-grade?

Another area of uncertainty is where the legislation applies. Many assume that products shipped to outside the EU will be exempt - they will not. Beyond the EU, China, Taiwan and Japan, together with 27 US states, are developing similar legislation.


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