Recast of RoHS directive has implications for design engineers

5 min read

The Restriction of Hazardous Substances (or RoHS) Directive, which first came into effect in July 2006, restricts the use of six hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment.

The Directive has had widespread impact, not least the requirement for manufacturers to use lead free solder. A number of important changes have been made with the implementation at the beginning of January 2013 of the RoHS Recast (RoHS2) and these may have wide ranging implications for electronic design engineers. Although much has been made of the changes from the original Directive, it's important to consider exactly what these entail. First and foremost, RoHS2 still applies to eight of the 10 categories outlined by the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, or WEEE, Directive. However, the scope has widened and this will capture more products as medical devices and monitoring and control instruments – the remaining two categories outlined by the WEEE Directive – are phased in between 2014 and 2017. This process concludes with the introduction of the Category 11, which includes all other equipment not captured in Categories 1 to 10, unless excluded specifically. It is likely that devices with an electronic function will be captured in Category 11, even though it may not be the device's primary function. An example here is a gas cooker with an electronic clock. While the number of restricted substances remains unchanged at six, this is due to be reviewed by July 2014, as the next phase of the Directive's development, with four further substances currently the subject of a stakeholder consultation (see below). As RoHS is a Directive, rather than a regulation, there have been small tweaks made by individual member states, such as the inclusion of certain types of equipment with minor electrical functions. Examples include talking teddy bears, flashing running shoes and even flashing toy fire engines. Addressing a grey area One area in which the RoHS recast has created something of a grey area is that of low cost semiconductor evaluation boards, normally referred to as development kits, whose usage has increased dramatically in recent years. While there is no doubt that these low cost plug in pcbs are a great tool for the design engineer, there has been a long running debate around their status in respect of the RoHS Directive and, more importantly, the impact on them of the RoHS Recast 2011/65/EU and the implications of the CE mark. There has been a level of uncertainty in industry – and amongst development kit manufacturers – regarding the compliance status of these kits and whether or not they are deemed to be finished products. If this is the case, there is debate about which category they should fit into: after all, they are typically just small pcbs with no enclosure. A high profile case was that of the Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi Foundation considered the product not to be in scope but, as the device needs to plug into a pc in order to function, the view of all European Member States is that Raspberry Pi is a single board computer that falls under Category 3 – IT and Telecommunications Equipment. There is no definition of finished equipment in the legislative text, but official EU guidance in the 'Blue Book' (the European Commission's guidance on how to implement new approach Directives) implies that finished equipment is a product where no further assembly is necessary, except to plug it in to allow it to carry out its function. An enclosure is not a requirement for equipment to be 'finished'; rather, compliance obligations begin when all assembly and packaging is complete and it is ready to supply to the end user. According to this definition, development boards are therefore finished products as they are simply plugged in to other equipment to make them function. Others, with no IT function (such as stepper motor controller chips) are captured under Category 9: monitoring and control instruments. Enforcement Authorities also regard the likes of plug in graphics cards as being finished products as they are sold to end users, who simply plug them into available slots on their pcs. It is clear, then, that EU Member States regard development boards as 'finished equipment' and therefore as being in scope. While many manufacturers make their development boards RoHS compliant, there are several notable exceptions and these companies now need to work on ensuring their products are compliant and to provide all the necessary documentation as part of their CE obligations. A challenge to this through the courts may rise in the future but, for the meantime, plug in boards such as Raspberry Pi need to fall into line. The CE mark: a universal standard? A significant new aspect of the RoHS Recast which has strong implications for electronic design engineers is the fact the Directive now falls under the umbrella of the CE mark. Affixing the CE mark, which essentially shows conformity in Europe, is a declaration by the Producer (usually the manufacturer or importer) that the product has been designed, tested and manufactured to meet the essential requirements of all CE mark Directives. The mark declares the device is suitable for use in the function for which it was designed and will not have adverse effects on its surroundings. The CE mark applies to finished equipment and there is considerable documentation required to support the claim of compliance once it is fixed to the equipment. While components do not need their own CE mark, declaration or technical file, they must comply with the substance restrictions if the finished product is in scope. Following the implementation of RoHS in 2006, many ad hoc symbols were created and used widely by industry, but there was no single official logo recognised by the authorities. Generally, this is no longer permitted and CE marking is now considered to be the only mark that denotes the conformity of a product with RoHS2. Any product that bears a CE mark is now presumed to be in conformity with the requirements of RoHS2 and therefore does not contain more than the maximum permitted concentration values of any of the six restricted substances. The road ahead Significant changes to standards have been implemented with the RoHS Recast, but there will be a further review of the Directive's scope and exclusions by 22 July 2014. There will also be analysis of further possible substance restrictions, using the methodology adopted by the REACH Regulations, and further amendments to scope will feature in RoHS 2.1, which is also expected by the end of 2014. The RoHS Recast introduces many new challenges for the design engineer. While there are no additional restricted substances yet, a further four are under consultation and restrictions could be in place by the middle of 2014. More products are also on the radar, firstly with the change of scope to capture 'at least one intended function', then the phase in of categories to include medical devices and monitoring and control instruments, followed by an open scope category between 2014 and 2019. For design engineers, however, the biggest challenge of all will be the obligatory requirements around the collection of documents and labeling relating to the CE mark. Substances 'under consideration' Three plasticisers are being examined with a view to including them in a future RoHS recast: benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) Also being examined is hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDD), which is used as a flame retardant. All four compounds are regarded as substances of very high concern, or SOVC. Their environmental impact will be determined using the REACH methodology, rather than the RoHS approach used previously. Gary Nevison is head of legislation and compliance at Farnell element14.