Seal of Approval: Logos will help
engineers and consumers know that products don't have banned
The technology needed to meet a number of environmental regulations that ban
materials such as lead and require recycling seem to be largely in place, but
engineers might not be aware of that fact. Information on materials remains
difficult to get, coming in various forms when it does arrive.
Legislation in Europe, China, and states headed by California are forcing the electronics industry to eliminate hazardous materials, including lead, and plan for recycling or possible reuse. Europe's restriction of hazardous substances (RoHS) and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) have been driving the industry for quite some time to cut out hazardous materials and reduce the growing presence of electronics in dump sites.
Most leading system and component suppliers expect to meet requirements of that phase next year. "Most large companies have moved to phase out hazardous materials, but some smaller companies may get caught off guard," says Sheila Davis, program director at the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition in CA.
But while the technology may be ready, the supporting infrastructure might make the transition less than seamless. "We've talked to over 400 customers about this. After those conversations, I've come to view this as an impending supply chain train wreck," says Glenn Bassett, vice president of business development at Avnet Inc. of Phoenix.
A key aspect of that potential problem is that many component suppliers plan to use the same part numbers for conventional tin-lead solder parts and lead-free versions. "Forty-two percent of the suppliers we surveyed in September don't plan to change part numbers," Bassett says.
Some chipmakers are solving this by doubling the volume of their part numbers. "We have created lead-free part numbers of customers who need them, and we're continuing to support our standard part numbers," says Eric Williams, lead-free program manager at Texas Instruments of Dallas.
Another challenge for system houses and contract manufacturers is to sift through input from many suppliers, many who use their own reporting schemes. Consortia including the International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI) and the IPC have standard techniques, but their usage is still spotty. "Industry-wide, there's a big challenge to provide information in a standardized way. We are providing materials declaration following industry standard formats being developed, and we hope other people will use the standard," says Reed Content, Senior Manager for AMD's Environmental, Health, and Safety program.
HP, Dell, IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, and Intel have all adopted a common guideline, the Electronic Industry Code of Conduct, which includes environmental compliance along with other business issues. It's also been adopted by a handful of contract manufacturers.
Pileup: The popularity of electronic
products has created a problem in trash dump sites, prompting worldwide
legislation that's changing product design and
The EICC provides methodologies for assuring compliance. "We set rules about
materials, but those rules aren't effective if there's not a way to see that
each of the associated companies are committed to making sure they use the right
materials," says Bonnie Nixon Gardiner, Hewlett Packard's Global Program Manager
for Supply Chain Social & Environmental Responsibility based in Palo Alto,
Observers note that along with lead, RoHS also puts strict limits on cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated products. "There's so much focus on lead-free that a lot of companies are missing the bigger picture," says Pamela Gordon, president of Technology Forecasters Inc. of Alameda, CA. These other materials are causing some concern even in companies that are well prepared for meeting environmental regulations. "The sheet metal we use on enclosures has hexavalent chromium coatings, and we're a small user of that compared to the auto industry, so it's become a bit of a challenge," says Judy Glazer, director of strategic process development for HP's Global Supply Chain.
Component and system manufacturers who are hoping that legislators will give them more time with timetable extensions may find that these reprieves are no longer forthcoming. "This regulatory movement has been around long enough to build up a head of legal steam. It will be an embarrassment for California, the European Union and China to flinch and push the law out," Bassett says.