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July 25, 2011

Appliance Deployment Industry Watches RoHS Act Compliance Costs Shoot Up

By David Sims, TMCnet Contributing Editor

Lead-free equipment is beneficial in some ways, but really, really costly in others. According to a recent blog post from appliance deployment provider NEI’s (News - Alert) Online Community, the requirement of providing lead-free equipment, in the form of the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Act, “has cost the electronics industry an estimated $30 billion since it was enacted in 2003.”

Actually there are six hazardous substances restricted in electrical and electronic equipment, but getting rid of lead solder from Printed Circuit Boards is by far the most expensive hassle now required.

Both Verizon and AT&T (News - Alert) have new test requirements for electrical equipment using lead-free solder, and they aren’t cheap. As NEI explains, “each circuit board must be run through a battery of tests. Any board having less than 4000 solder joints must have more than one sample tested.”

When it comes to testing, there is temperature testing, consisting of thermal shock, temperature cycling and over temperature. But that’s not all, as there are additional tests for mechanical shock, destructive testing and salt fog, NEI says, noting that the cost of testing “could range from $30,000 to $40,000 per board, exclusive of the cost of the board.”

In addition to the onerous cost there are the delays, since release dates are pushed back up to six months to accommodate the testing. Changing the bill of materials, manufacturing process or supply chain means retesting, and as NEI says, each server can have as many as eight circuit boards, so you can see how much time and how many resources testing and retesting is going to take.

Of course what would make the most sense, which means it’s a politically dead option, is to simply use lead-based solder in PCBs. But due to all the trying to comply, electronics companies have sunk some pretty significant time and money in lead-free equipment, and it’d be more time, expense and hassle to change back.

In contrast, TMCnet had the news in April that the decision not to restrict the use of beryllium and beryllium oxide under the newly revised European Union RoHS (Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment) list of restricted substances will help ensure affordable, high-quality performance of the next generation electronic products, according to W. Glenn Maxwell, president, Materion Brush Performance Alloys. The exclusion followed a thorough review and consideration of a range of materials by authorities in Europe.

David Sims is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of David’s articles, please visit his columnist page. He also blogs for TMCnet here.

Edited by Jamie Epstein

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