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Articles from 2005 In August

iNEMI calls for continuing production of leaded parts

iNEMI calls for continuing production of leaded parts

Component suppliers are being pressured by European Union laws to switch to non-leaded parts. Now the International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI) is asking suppliers to keep providing leaded parts once they shift to green components.


iNEMI has released a set of recommendations for safeguarding the dependability of high-reliability products as the supply chain converts to lead-free components and materials. An INEMI task force is calling for “continued availability of tin/lead-compatible components for exempted products.”

It’s our understanding that the mil-spec components they describe will continue to be produced. They’re tailor-made for the military (exempt from RoHS rules), they are built to be highly reliable, and they are consequently more expensive than commercial components.

The crying we’re hearing from the industry is not about mil-spec parts. We’re hearing from companies that are worried that the less expensive commercial products will no longer be produced in leaded versions. Many suppliers intend to quit producing leaded versions of their high volume commercial components, which is understandable since the market will no longer be high volume. So the real complaint, as we understand it, is that companies will have to switch to more expensive components if they still want leaded versions.

Materials Composition Standard Gets Workover

The IPC standard for exchanging data on lead-free material composition is being revised by the iNEMI’s Materials Composition Data Exchange committee. The standard was released for industry review on June 10. The amount of feedback on the standard surprised executives at IPC (Association Connecting Electronics Industries) and iNEMI (International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative). “The response and interest has been overwhelming,” says Richard Kubin, chair of the iNEMI committee that produced the standard. “IPC hasn’t experienced so much interest in its history. There were more than 1,800 downloads of the standard.” The downloads of the standard came from dozens of different countries, even including Estonia and Turkey.

Since the standard is up for industry review, users were asked for feedback on the standard. IPC received 400 to 500 comments. The committee is required to respond each and every comment. “IPC is required to provide a disposition on every comment,” says Kubin. “So the committee met for three days in Chicago, and we got through every single comment.”

Kubin notes the comments tended to fall into groupings. “Some of the comments were editorial in nature, such as pointing out typos,” says Kubin. “But there were also meaningful comments on the standard itself. Many focused on whether the standard would allow suppliers to use a single declaration around a family of parts.” As an example, chip resisters have the same material composition regardless of the individual resistant value, so why create an individual form for each component?. “We’re working to support that idea in the next release of the standard,” says Kubin.

The next release of the standard is pegged for September. “We’re revising the form based on the feedback and we’re targeting September 15 to have the release out,” says Kubin. “Then the standard requires a 30-day balloting. During that time users can raise further technical issues. Our hope is to have most of the significant technical issues covered in the next release.”

The standard proposes a set format for component suppliers to communicate the materials that make up the content of their RoHS-compliant parts. The standard also provides for a signature from the supplier certifying the component complies with RoHS restrictions. Prior to the standard, certification was separate from materials content declarations. The declarations themselves came in every conceivable flavor. The IPC standard attempts to create a uniform materials content declaration standard that is married to a digitally signed certification.

The standard also proposes a machine-readable format that can be used by both large manufacturers engaging is RosettaNet data exchange as well as small suppliers working on a stand-alone PC connected to the Internet. Kubin worked with Adobe to create a form that allows small suppliers to enter data on their material content while also creating a digital signature for the certification. “Adobe supports the standard at no charge,” explains Kubin. “And the cool thing is that sitting behind the form is a fully formed XML schema. When the user hits the submit button, a RosettaNet PIP [partner interface process] is extracted and sent to the requester.”

Kubin hopes the standard can stand as the legal document to verify ROHS compliance to governmental bodies in European Union countries. The EU has not weighed in on what certification documentation it needs. IPC and iNEMI hope their standard will set the bar for certification since it’s the first attempt at creating a form that works to both certify RoHS compliance and communicate the material content of components.

“We really covered all the bases in this standard,” says Kubin. “We’ve had legal forms and legal council involved.” He notes the committee worked to make sure the standard would satisfy the needs of the governing bodies among EU members. So far, the UK has the most developed set of notions on how compliance should be communicated, so Kubin’s committee targeted those requirements. “The UK did suggest that [compliance documentation] be in machine-readable form, so we developed what we believe is the right solution,” says Kubin.

Less Clicking for Plastics

Need to compare the mechanical properties of plastics from multiple suppliers? Or dig up chemical resistance data? Finding this kind of technical plastics information has in the past been an exercise in frustration for many engineers. IDES Inc., though, has now developed a new web site that promises to cut down on the amount of searching, pointing, and clicking required to find plastics engineering content.

Called Plastics Web, the site combines new free offerings with IDES’s established plastics database. “We’ve come to realize after 20 years in this business that we have a great amount of plastics technical content that we haven’t exposed to our customer base,” says Mike Kmetz, IDES’s president and founder.

The free content, which requires no registration to access, includes a troubleshooting guide, ASTM test method descriptions, and a glossary that sorts out the alphabet soup of plastics acronyms. It also includes a section on chemical resistance. The portion of the site contains deep links to chemical resistance advice and data from various supplier and industry sites. Kmetz says the list, about 30 strong right now, isn’t all inclusive but will grow over time.

For those willing to register with name, email, and job function, the site offers far more valuable features. Chief among them is Prospector X5, which lets users find, view, and compare data sheets on nearly 60,000 different grades of plastic from almost 500 global suppliers. Kmetz notes the Prospector functionality used to be offered as part of the company’s subscription services. With the roll out of Plastics Web, Prospector has become free to any registered user whose job involves plastics specification.

IDES will still offer a premium service that provides software modules containing the company’s most advanced plastics selection tools.These include a module for automotive specifications, a module that searches on mechanical property requirements, and a module that displays stress-strain curves and other multi-point data. Other modules offer pricing information and help users identify alternative materials that meet a set of application and cost requirements.

Pricing for the subscription services ranges from $99 to $1,500 per year, depending on the number of modules and users.

At press time, IDES was also finishing up a brand new plastics-specific search engine that will change how it serves up all of its free and paid content. Kmetz says IDES’s home page will transform into something more Google-like--in that a search box will be the main element on the page. “Most of what you see on our home page today will disappear,” says Kmetz.

Unlike Google, though, IDES’s new search engine will only return technical results related to plastics. Some of these results will be from IDES’s own databases. Others will be from industry, supplier, and publication sites that IDES has chosen to index. “The important thing about our search engine is that all the results will be relevant to engineers,” says Kmetz. “If you type nylon into Google today, you’ll get back results about pantyhose. That won’t happen anymore.”


Users can currently access all the Plastics Web features in their beta version at web. Once the site officially launches, it will be available at both and at

Renowned School Revamps Lab

A generous University of Wisconsin alum funded the first Wempec training lab in Madison in the mid-1980s. Now, the Wisconsin Electric Machines and Power Electronics Consortium, begun on campus in 1981, is updating it. The new laboratory should be fully operational by spring. A “teaching studio,” as professor Robert Lorenz calls it, the lab will have five stations with drives on which students will study the
characteristics of seven motor varieties.
Several newcomers, including permanent magnet (both interior and surface mounted magnet types), switched
reluctance, and brushless dc motors will be joining the classic ac induction, dc, and wound synchronous machines on the test benches. ABB has donated five drives for the lab, joining a donor roll that includes Rockwell Automation, Danfoss, and Yaskawa Electric Americas.  
Today, much of the lab’s core work receives industry sponsorship, with most of it going for “pre-competitive
research,” Lorenz says. “We do fundamental work which usually doesn’t show up in products for about ten years,” he adds. 

Among the technologies born at Wempec, resonant dc links—which resonate a circuit to reduce switching losses dramatically—have become a standard in industry, Lorenz says. The lab developed self sensing motors, also. About 20 percent of the students pursuing advanced degrees at Wempec come into the program as MEs, he says, not at all surprising considering about a third of a motor design actually concerns electromagnetics. The other two-thirds, he says, involve managing mechanical forces and dissipating heat. These students have a solid understanding of electrical machines by the time they finish the program, he says. Increasingly, motors are being integrated into machine designs, from appliances to autos. Future designers will use integrated power converters even more than they do today, he predicts. For working engineers wanting to get a leg up on that future, the  consortium offers distance learning for all courses through a PhD—except the advanced labs. For those, off-site students visit the Wisconsin campus for 3 week summer stints—about all the time off managers will permit these days.

Find more information:

Wempec courses
Consortium research
ABB ACS800 drives like those donated to the lab


Wempec staff and students flank ABB’s Kalyan Gokhale (in tie), and co-directors Thomas Lipo (in blue shirt) and Robert Lorenz (to his left) during the presentation of new drives for the laboratory. The students had the drives out of their cartons and into test benches shortly after this photo was taken. (Photo Credit: ABB)

The EU issues battery directive

The EU issues battery directive

A new environmental directive from the European Union arrived last month when the European Council formally issued a draft battery directive. The political agreement behind the directive was completed last December. The new rule bans cadmium in batteries, with some exclusions. The directive also includes disposal requirements. The directive is expected to be adopted in mid 2006. Once its adopted, companies will have 24 months to comply.

Key requirements of the agreed draft directive include:

  • A partial ban on portable nickel-cadmium batteries that excludes batteries used in medical equipment, emergency lighting and alarm systems, and cordless power tools. However, the exemption for power tools is subject to review after four years.
  • Collection targets for spent portable batteries of 25 percent of average annual sales four years after the directive is implemented in the UK, rising to 45 percent after eight years.
  • Bans the disposal of untreated automotive and industrial batteries in landfill or by incineration.
  • Member states will have 24 months to implement the directive once it has been agreed.

Materials Documentation Still a Mess

One of the thorniest issues in the conversion to lead-free electronics is compliance information. The International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI) worked with the IPC, the electronic industry’s packaging group, to offer a standard for collecting, tracking, and disclosing information on the material content of components, but so far the standard has done little to alleviate the confusion about RoHS certification and material content information.

A recent study on the status of RoHS conversion conducted by Technology Forecasters Inc. of Alameda, Calif. shows more confusion on declaration than any other lead-free issue. For those customers who buy direct from component suppliers, the issue is a tad less thorny. They obtain material declaration information directly from their suppliers. The declarations come in many formats, but at least there is a direct flow from supplier to customer.

For those customers buying components from distributors, the documentation chain is broken. Technology Forecasters found that 48 percent of component customers expect to get material content documentation from their distributors. Most distributors, however, have thrown up their hands, saying, “We can’t provide material documentation since we are not involved in the manufacturing process and thus can’t legally certify what’s in the components.” Distributors have been advised by legal council that when they provide RoHS certification they take legal responsibility for assuring the accuracy of the declaration. So most are going hands off.

So customers turn to the Websites of the component suppliers in hopes of finding declaration information. In the best cases, they will find a RoHS certification document for the component. But they will have to go to another part of the Website to find detailed material content data on the component. Then they’re left to decide how to capture the information. A printed screenshot of the documents? That becomes a document storage nightmare if the product in question includes hundreds of components. Another solution is to capture the links to the documentation. But that’s problematic because Websites change regularly, so the link that’s captured this morning could contain different information 10 minutes later.

Many in the industry hope the iNEMI IPC standard will help. “Material composition comes in as many forms as there are suppliers,” says said Michael Kirschner, president of Design Chain Associates in San Francisco, a firm that helps companies manage design information. “iNEMI came out with a PDF in an attempt to standardize and it’s going through adoption.” He says iNEMI will release a revised version of its standard this fall. Kirschner notes that another problem with compliance documentation is that customers don’t have adequate staff to collect and manage the documentation even if they can get it.

To make matters even more confusing, the governmental bodies issuing directives have not specified what they need to accept a product as compliant. The UK has come the closest to issuing specifics for RoHS certification, but even their guidelines are vague.

Mark Myles, services director at The Goodbye Chain Group in Colorado Spring, Colo. – a firm that helps companies manage compliance data – believes the documentation issue won’t be clarified until companies are questioned by government bodies. “If someone [in the government] says your board has lead solder, you will have to prove it doesn’t,” says Myles. “You don’t have to do anything until you’re called on the carpet. Then you have to have the documentation to prove you’re compliant.” At that point, the electronics industry will find out what documentation is actually needed to certify a product is compliant.

The EU delivers a new EuP punch

The EU delivers a new EuP punch

The European Union has delivered a new set of environmental guidelines for the electronics industry. The Directive on the Eco-design of Energy-using Products plops down a new set of rules guiding the entire lifecycle of an electronic product. While the directive is not currently a legal requirement, many believe individual EU countries will adopt it as law in coming months and years.


The directive offers guidelines on everything from design and manufacturing to energy consumption and final disposal at the end of the product’s life. The goal is to make the manufacturer adopt eco-correct design and manufacturing practices. The directive is part of the EU’s larger-scope Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources, a 25-year game-plan to revamp products to help create a cleaner environment.

Since RoHS and WEEE started grabbing headlines last year, industry experts have warned that these first two directives were only the beginning. EU’s taking the lead in what will probably become a decades-long march to a greener – and more regulated – electronics industry.

NI Exec UpBeat About Engineering’s Future

Austin, TX—“We need Jennifer Garner to date an engineer. No, we need Jennifer Garner to be an engineer,” jokes Ray Algrem when asked about how to get more kids today interested in science and engineering.

And if he actually believed that writing an engineer into the script of Alias would work, Almgren would be on a plane to Hollywood tomorrow. As VP of Product Marketing and Academic Relations at NI, Almgren is channeling much of his energy into making science and engineering more accessible to kids today and encouraging them to pursue technical careers.

He has spearheaded the company’s many academic and university relations programs, including ROBOLAB, which combines LEGO Mindstorms with LabVIEW to introduce robotics and control to school kids. These days he is criss-crossing the country, meeting with academics, industry representatives, and government officials to deliver his urgent message: We need to fix engineering here in the U.S.

“We don’t have enough students going into engineering today. And for those that do, too many of them don’t have a chance to make it once they get there. They are simply not prepared. It’s ridiculous, for example, that advanced science and math courses are electives in schools today,” says Almgren.


Ray Almgren, VP of Product Marketing and Academic Relations at NI, wants Jennifer Garner to date an engineer.

But although he has concerns, Almgren expresses optimism about the future of engineering in the U.S.  “I am seeing some incredibly positive signs that we are making progress,” says Almgren.

He points to the efforts of Bill Gates, for example. “The Gates Foundation is using a fair amount of money to influence legislators, and Congressmen are beginning to develop an understanding of the situation and that we need government support and involvement to get this thing fixed,” he says.

Almgren also cites the growing popularity of initiatives like the FIRST LEGO League, a program that introduces robotics to students at a young age. And he says that LEGO Mindstorms, with its LabVIEW graphical interface, has made programming more intuitive and accessible to high school and even college students. “For most kids, most adults for that matter, it would be impossible to get started with something like C++,”he says.

While it’s too early too tell, Almgren says that there is anecdotal evidence that suggests kids who participate in programs like the FIRST LEGO League retain an interest in science and math longer—hopefully leading to more students pursuing technical degrees in college.

While he’s busy traveling the country, Almgren’s efforts have also clearly made an impact at home, where he is busy raising three daughters. A friend recently asked Almgren’s nine-year-old what she wants to be when she grows up: “An engineer, sir,” she replied.

Techie Bloggers Cover NIWeek—and More

Techie Bloggers Cover NIWeek—and More

Austin, TX--When Michael Aivaliotis blogged about NIWeek 2003, it was pretty much a no-brainer. He'd already blogged for the LabVIEW user's group LAVA, and since he was attending NIWeek anyway, he figured he could blog about his experiences there-even the after hours stuff. So what happened in Austin, apparently didn't stay in Austin.

So was born the first "unofficial" NIWeek Blog. Check out the 2005 edition.

This year, Aivaliotis has company, including several application engineers at MTS-a supplier of testing products that specializes in sound and vibration. They jointly post on, a blog launched by Dr. Gabriella Cerrato-Jay, the technical director for MTS Consulting Services. The company is participating in NIWeek, and several engineers plan to blog about their experiences. Though no posts on the event were up as of Wednesday afternoon, Marketing Manager Dianne Bell says that they will be shortly.

Bell says that MTS launched the blog in response to feedback from participants of the company's technical seminars indicating that sound and vibration is starting to become an issue outside of the company's core automotive and aerospace business. "Clearly, design engineers are looking for information, and our strategy was to create a site that would serve as a technical resource and provide a platform for them to ask questions and position ourselves as sound and vibration experts," says Bell.

The company launched the site in May, and Bell says that traffic to the site has been steadily increasing-averaging about 500 unique hits per month. Bloggers post on a variety of technical topics-ranging from background noise issues to sound quality. MTS plans to add more content to the site, including a sound library for engineers.

Brian Tyler, Senior Software Engineer, LabVIEW Platform, connects with users through his blog, Lycangeek . (The dog is his avatar.)

National Instruments itself launched six technical blogs earlier this year, written by the company's own software engineers.

J.R. Allen, LabVIEW product manager responsible for helping to build community among users, says that the blogs have been outrageously popular with the user community, with bloggers like Brian Tyler attaining almost celebrity-like status through his postings.

Tyler, a Senior Software Engineer for LabVIEW Platform, has earned fame with LabVIEW users through his blog, Lycangeek. He blogs on everything from technical points about LabVIEW to his addiction to a new video game-and he is also blogging NIWeek.

So far, Allen says that the blogs have exceeded expectations. "It's turning out to be a great way for our developers to connect with users on a whole different level," says Allen.

PXI Express Comes to Instruments

PXI Express Comes to Instruments

Austin, TX - Instrumentation speeds are going to be moving upward dramatically next year when the PXI bus evolves to PXI Express. That will let engineers and scientists move data at up to 6 Gbytes per second per system, 45 times faster than traditional PXI systems.

The specification, unveiled at NIWeek, is based on PCI Express, which is shipping on high-end PCs. It also includes CompactPCI technology, which helps in the rugged applications many instruments are used in.
PXI Systems Alliance Loofie Gutterman notes that the development of PXI Express took some time since it requires triggering, real time capabilities and other factors needed in instrumentation and industrial control. They weren't addressed in PCI Express. He predicts that PXI Express product shipments will begin next year. These products will be backwards compatible with existing products. "Longevity in this field is huge. People still use technology that is 10-15 years old," says Terry West, a marketing director at Intel Corp. "This is fully software compatible, a program that's running on a PXI will run on PXI Express," adds Eric Starkloff, director of PXI marketing at National Instruments. Last year, the PXI market reached $118.1 million in sales on more than 62,100 systems with a 40 % growth rate, according to Frost and Sullivan. Both CompactPCI Express and PXI Express use a new Advanced Differential Fabric connector. "Using this new ADF connector, we can bring PCI Express to PXI, incorporate advanced synchronization signals and create hybrid slots that accept both PXI and PXI Express signaling," says Mark Wetzel, technical chair of the PXI Systems Alliance. That helps boost data throughput to a peak rate of 6 GBytes/s in each direction. PXI Express designers will be able to leverage the speed and low cost of PC chipsets that incorporate PCI Express, prompters say.