A European program targeting toxic and hazardous materials in electrical and electronic products foreshadows similar developments in North America, industry analysts say.
The Restriction on Hazardous Substances or RoHS (pronounced Roe-haus) directive took effect in Europe this month – the deadline for compliance having expired July 1.
The directive prohibits companies from placing on the EU market any new electrical and electronic equipment containing more than agreed levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl and polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants.
At least two Canadian executives believe North America will be walking down the same green path soon. Both execs belong to multinational companies that have significantly reworked their own processes to comply with the European directive.
“This is the start of a new way of manufacturing products,” said Joe Scala, director of operations for global RoHS compliance at Toronto-based electronics manufacturing services provider Celestica Inc.
He said it was a quite a challenge for Celestica to figure out which equipment to upgrade or replace, and which processes to alter.
The company replaced the lead solders on non-exempt Europe-bound circuit boards with an alloy of tin, silver and copper. These materials, however, needed to be processed at higher temperatures, so Celestica conducted further tests to better understand the interaction of the components and to ensure reliability of the solder.
The company also expended significant manpower on reworking their bill of materials to sort out the codes of RoHS-compliant and non-compliant materials, according to Celestica senior vice-president and CIO, Charles Kirk. He said Celestica needed to figure out which materials had to be replenished and which used up before the compliance deadline.
The process of going lead free “was a Y2K-like experience,” reminisced Kirk. “We had to redo the bill of materials for every component on every circuit board in the company. We had to do it as late as possible. Of course the first thing that happened is the systems all tanked.” He said the sheer volume of the planning process overwhelmed the company’s servers.
Semiconductor distributor Avnet Inc. headquartered in Phoenix, Ariz. confronted similar challenges.
You would think it would be easier to manufacture just lead-free circuit boards but things are not that simple, said Steve Schultz, director of strategic planning and communications at Avnet.
He said Avnet customers sometimes had requirements that sometimes conflicted with those set out in the RoHS directive.
For instance, he said lead-free circuit boards do not meet the specifications of one of the company’s biggest clients – the U.S. military. “When the non-lead solders are heated at higher temperatures they sometimes result in tin whiskers that can cause shortages,” said Shultz.
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