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April 24, 2006

Are equipment companies mandated to meet lead-free requirements?

My company is an equipment manufacturer for PCB Assembly in the USA. We are concerned with the July 1 Lead Free mandate from the EU. About 25% of our equipment is shipped to Europe. Are equipment companies mandated to meet this requirement and if so, how can we be sure all the components from our suppliers including the computer (HP) which controls the machine and hundreds of other components in the system are compliant? How have other equipment companies handled this problem?



P.D.

Experts Comments

We have recently gone through this exercise as well.

Some thoughts and feedback:

1) As with anything there is room for interpretation which can lead to conflict between the letter of the law and the spirit. In reading the materials associated with the RoHS and WEEE directives one can see that "Large Stationary Equipment" is not subject to recycling. As such, it can then be concluded that systems like Pick and Place, Screen Print and Reflow do not need to comply at all.

2) On the other hand, so much of the Lead Free Directives and drive is about marketing and not so much about science. Therefore, it can also be concluded that if one wants to market in Europe one should follow the spirit of the directive and as NIKE says "just do it". We took that approach.

3) Basically, you need to work with vendors and confirm their compliance to the directives. They can (and should) provide letters of compliance for your records. Compliance to the directives is both voluntary and self certifying so you need to have your papers in order to be able to show that your due diligence was done.

Certainly the big boys like HP will be the easiest to work with as they are an International company and have had full scale programs in place for a while. It can be more challenging to get this type of info or confirmation from the smaller vendors as their customer bases can be primarily inside the North America and they may not be so worried about European directives as from their point of view they don't ship to Europe.

Bottom line is that it is best to get after this quickly as it can take some time to sort out all the parts in a B/M between now and July.
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Marc Peo
President
Heller Industries Inc.
Mr. Peo has been with Heller Industries for over 20 years and has been President for the past 8 years. Marc has authored several industry articles on Soldering, Flux collection, nitrogen use and Lead Free conversion.

I hate to break the bad news, but you are way behind the curve on this project. Yes, the ROHS and WEEE regulations apply to your machinery that is sold in Europe. You will need to certify that your components do not include any materials listed on the RoHS and WEEE listings, the most troublesome of which is lead in your soldered electronics.

If you do have lead and other banned materials in your designs, you need to start working today to get them eliminated. For circuit boards, this means going lead-free, which requires new components and usually new board designs, which means new bare boards, new stencils for your SMT work, new solder paste and new high-temp fluxes, new solvents to handle these new fluxes, new soldering procedures and often new capital equipment to handle these materials. At a bare minimum, you're going to need a completely new wave solder machine, and often new reflow ovens as well. It is a huge job and, quite honestly, since it's nearly May I would say you have zero chance of getting it done in time to comply with the regs.

The good news is that you'll be getting lots of overtime for the next half year or so.

Best regards,

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Mike Jones
Vice President
Micro Care
Mr. Jones is an electronics cleaning and stencil printing specialist. Averaging over one hundred days a year on the road, Mike visits SMT production sites and circuit board repair facilities in every corner of the globe, helping engineers and technicians work through the complex trade-offs today's demanding electronics require.
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