My wife is an amazing cook. In our house, she is the undisputed champ when it comes to creating magic in the kitchen. When left up to me, I am the one who will foul up a recipe and create a dining disaster. Over the years, I have found many ways to ruin food, but one of the worst things I’ve done is use an ingredient in the wrong proportions, or use the wrong ingredient altogether. The dough may not rise, the main course may be tasteless, or breakfast is so salty that we can’t enjoy it. Trust me, if a simple meal of scrambled eggs can be ruined, I’ll be the one to do it.
Messing up the ingredients in our meal usually earns me a huge sigh of exasperation from my wife. The consequences are far worse, however, if the ingredients are messed up during the manufacturing of your printed circuit boards, especially for those that must be compliant with the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) standards. For a circuit board to meet these requirements, specific materials and chemical ingredients that are compliant with the RoHS regulations must be used during fabrication and assembly. It is vital that these ingredients not be contaminated with any other materials or chemistry that may not pass those same standards.
To ensure the PCBAs that you are having built will pass RoHS-compliant manufacturing standards, you need to use a contract manufacturer that is well versed in these regulations. A CM that has built their manufacturing processes around RoHS regulations will have the capabilities and knowledge you need to ensure the quality of your finished boards. Let’s look first at the details of RoHS compliance and how they affect the manufacturing of your PCBAs.
For Our Protection: Restriction of Hazardous Substances
RoHS regulations are a set of standards that restrict the use of hazardous and toxic materials in electronic products sold or distributed in the European Union. Since materials used in the production of circuit boards can include hazardous substances, the RoHS regulations specify the maximum parts per million (ppm) of these substances that are allowed. Products that exceed these thresholds cannot be sold in the EU.
One example is with solder used in the manufacturing of PCBAs. In the past, circuit boards used solder that contained lead as a key ingredient due to its desired temperature behaviors. The restriction of lead in solder for the production of PCBAs removed that substance from being a source of contamination. Other examples of materials that must be restricted to be RoHS compliant include:
- Polybrominated Biphenyls
By specifying the maximum amount of these substances that are allowed in the manufacturing of PCBAs, the RoHS regulations help to protect consumers from hazardous materials in a range of product families, including computers and communications equipment and medical equipment. If you currently sell or plan to sell products affected by RoHS regulations in the EU, maintaining compliance with these requirements by partnering with the right CM to create your PCBAs is of critical importance.
To do this, there are key aspects of PCBA manufacturing to consider that will affect your choice of CM for your RoHS-compliant product.
Key Principles of RoHS-Compliant Manufacturing of PCBAs
Most, if not all, of the steps of the PCBA manufacturing process are impacted when complying with RoHS requirements. However, there are three key concepts that form the bedrock of RoHS-compliant PCBA manufacturing:
- Materials. The most basic requirement when it comes to manufacturing a RoHS-compliant PCBA is using compliant materials. For example, once the RoHS restricted the use of lead in solder, it spurred the creation of new materials with excellent thermal properties to satisfy the need for lead-free solder. It’s critical that all of the materials and chemistry used by your CM in the assembly of your board are RoHS compliant.
- Processes. Just as an incorrect ingredient will ruin a cooked meal, contamination of RoHS chemistry and materials with non-RoHS substances will destroy their purity. It is essential that processes are in place to keep the two types of materials separate. This means having documented procedures to identify and segregate RoHS-compliant materials and boards from non-compliant ones throughout the production process.
- Documentation. All materials and chemistry used in the building of your PCBA must be traceable to show your product meets its specific regulatory requirements. This makes documentation during manufacturing crucial so there are records to show that all materials are, in fact, RoHS compliant and have not been cross-contaminated with non-compliant materials.
To ensure your PCBAs are manufactured with these principles at the forefront, you must work with a CM that understands the importance of these regulations and has the experience and procedures in place to maintain compliance. Not all CMs can do this for you, especially the larger ones with volume-driven processes, so it’s important to know what to look for when choosing a CM to meet your RoHS-compliance needs.
How to Identify the Right RoHS-Compliant Contract Manufacturer
The first thing to look for when choosing a CM that is RoHS compliant is to make sure they understand and have patterned their processes after the RoHS regulations. This means that they:
- Will source the parts and materials for your board from vendors that are 100% RoHS compliant.
- Work with fabrication shops that are also fully RoHS compliant.
- Can guarantee the materials used for your RoHS-compliant projects are completely pure by following verified processes and documented procedures that keep RoHS and non-RoHS chemistry and materials completely separated.
- Establish your RoHS requirements up front by documenting them during the quoting process and verifying your specified components are compliant during the product review.
- Have quality and component engineers on staff to monitor the production of your board to ensure your requirements are met.
At VSE, we understand the importance of the RoHS regulations, and we are fully set up to work with compliant vendors to ensure that all parts and materials used on your boards will pass the RoHS requirements. Since 2006, we have had a documented procedure in place to tightly control the identification and segregation of compliant and non-compliant materials.
We know that cross-contamination is a big concern, and we have painstakingly defined and crafted our manufacturing processes to guarantee that all RoHS chemistry and materials are kept pure. Additionally, we can provide RoHS conversion design services on your legacy products to ensure that updated components and materials are also compliant with the regulations.
Other CMs may not have the manpower and detailed procedures in place to meet your RoHS compliance needs. At VSE, however, we have the processes, procedures, experience, and skilled staff in place to expertly handle these requirements. Let us make certain that your RoHS requirements are met so that you are free to focus on product development and the other aspects of your business.