This is the first in a three-part series on the lingering difficulties of complying with RoHS.
Months have passed since the July 1, 2006 European Union RoHS deadline, but the electronics industry is still far from complying with the directive. Collecting and managing the data efficiently remains one of the biggest hurdles. According to a recent report from AMR Research, complying with RoHS is “old-fashioned hard work.” Parts need to be rationalized, bills of materials need to be cleansed and parts need to be validated. “It’s a cumbersome process that may soak up some of your best talent, but compliance is necessary,” says AMR analyst Eric Karofsky, the report’s author.
Necessary indeed. Karofsky points to three well-known companies that were recently in the news for their difficulties in reaching RoHS compliance:
Palm publicly stated that it stopped shipping the Treo 650 Smartphone to Europe because of non compliance with RoHS.
Apple recently pulled several products for sale in Europe because or RoHS. The list includes iSight, AirPort Base Station with modem, AirPort Base Station powered over ethernet and antenna, iPod Shuffle external battery pack, and all versions of the eMac all-in-one desktop computer, according to the trade journal AppleInsider.
Last quarter, IBM had problems meeting demand for some of its servers; it changed its manufacturing process and suppliers to become more RoHS compliant.
AMR points to confusion in the way that OEMs and suppliers communicate their compliance data as a big stumbling block that has slowed compliance.Though a standard has been put forth by IPC and iNEMI, IPC 1752, it has not yet been widely adopted. “In the absence of standard forms or technology to use, OEMs create their own forms and tell suppliers to fill them out,” notes Karofsky. That has caused big problems with suppliers that are overwhelmed as they struggle to keep up with the paperwork. “In a rush to keep their customers happy, they answer the questions, but too frequently with incorrect – and possibly fraudulent – responses,” says Karofsky. This is such as problem that several OEMs report that they are finding mistakes and inconsistencies in about 50 percent of supplier responses.
AMR notes that the biggest problems with collecting compliance data include:
Difficulty in finding and verifying data for thousands of parts from suppliers across the world.
Component information changes rapidly, hindering the validity of static content.
Compliance data is not readily accessible to multiple groups.
Reporting to various states, countries and legislative bodies requires multiple languages and formats.
Vague directives leave no clear insight on the depth of information needed to acceptably mitigate risk.
The second part of this article will look at whether the standard, IPC 1752, is helping to clear the confusion of data exchange. The third part of the article will look at the role of PLM vendors in RoHS compliance.
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