RoHS isn’t Everyone’s Cup of Tea

19 November 2007

Susan Mucha

It is no secret that not all original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are thrilled with RoHS legislation. While some companies covered by exemptions are using that time for a slow conversion to RoHS, others choose to avoid the issue for as long as possible.

While visiting the Surface Mount International conference and show in Orlando, Florida last month, I decided to do an impromptu survey of some of the exhibitors to find out what they were experiencing in their markets.

Two exhibitors, in particular, provide focused support to companies seeking leaded alternatives.

EDX Electronics, Inc. (Winter Springs, FL) is a non-franchised distributor which specializes in obsolete part management, shortage fulfillment, cost savings initiatives, excess inventory disposition and vendor managed inventory.

Hepco, Inc. (Sunnyvale, CA) provides electronic component lead cut & form equipment and BGA re-balling systems.

“Survey 1000 companies and you’ll find that 950 are willing to convert to RoHS. But that vocal minority wants to stay leaded,” said Harry Greene, Director of Business Solutions for EDX Electronics, Inc.

Greene added that many of the companies he saw looking for leaded component options in the distribution market had concerns about reliability and were not confident of the technology. Most had exemptions and were in the aerospace, defense and medical markets.

Market frustration within this segment has been driven by lack of available leaded options, end-of-life for leaded versions with no RoHS options on some lower volume components, and the fact that some components with leaded date codes are actually RoHS-compliant because RoHS versions were apparently produced earlier than announced. Greene estimated he had seen 15-20 companies at the show looking specifically for leaded inventory.

He added that some companies are getting creative and even re-balling RoHS components with lead balls.

John Manfroy with Hepco, Inc. said he had sold almost as many x-ray inspection systems to verify lead content as to verify lead-free.

Tin whiskering and reliability concerns were often cited as reasons for reluctance to covert product to RoHS-compliance. A few OEMs cite lack of enforcement of RoHS legislation as a further rationale for delaying conversion.

My conversations with EMS providers over the last few months also tend to mirror this impromptu survey. The vast majority of U.S. OEMs see conversion as inevitable and are addressing the issue. But holdouts remain who question the technology and go to great lengths to maintain a leaded status quo. There is definitely still a market for companies with services which support keeping the lead in.

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