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What is RoHS Auditing? – Making the Green Transition

Hazardous_Substances_PCBThe world of electronics grows and evolves at a breakneck pace. On a seemingly daily basis, new electronic gadgets hit the market – the tech-savvy consumer is inundated with choices for faster home computers, powerful smartphones, and more visually stunning TVs; these examples only scratch the surface of the ever-changing landscape of electronic devices.

This process of continual growth and discovery seems clearly beneficial for all; there is, however, an unspoken corollary to the unfettered progress made in electronics: the specter of obsolescence looms large, relegating the old, broken, and tragically untrendy devices to the wastebasket. As electronics have become cheaper and more commonplace, the amount of electronics waste in landfills around the world grows at a seemingly exponential rate.

To limit the ecological impact of the growing problem of “e-waste”, the European Union created the Restriction on Harmful Substances (RoHS) directive, establishing limits on the amounts of the most ecologically dangerous materials commonly used in electronics. Manufacturers who choose to “go green” take this directive to heart; however, given the complex supply chain involved in most modern manufacturing, it is sometimes difficult to ensure that all components of a device meet RoHS requirements. In these situations, RoHS auditing can provide these manufacturers with some much-needed peace of mind.

RoHS auditing involves analyzing a sample to determine the presence and amount of any of the ecologically dangerous substances listed by the RoHS directive. There are a variety of different analytical techniques used to detect these dirty demons; x-ray fluorescence or energy dispersive spectroscopy are sufficient to find the elemental pollutants like lead or mercury, while tools like Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy are necessary to examine circuit boards for more complex polybrominated compounds.

A manufacturer may choose to have RoHS certification performed at many junctures in their process. Components from a third party supplier can be audited on a piece-by-piece or lot-by-lot basis to ensure compliance to RoHS restrictions, or completely finished assemblies can be submitted for analysis to ensure that all components and processes used to create a device meet the necessary requirements. While these compliant devices may eventually make their way to the great junkyard in the sky, the environmental impact they have once they get there is much less, thanks to the due diligence spent by the manufacturer in ensuring conformance to RoHS requirements.

Compliance with RoHS is not only ecologically responsible, but fiscally beneficial is well. In order to sell consumer electronics in many areas of the world, it is absolutely necessary to be RoHS compliant; in these instances, RoHS auditing can be the gateway to opening new markets and increasing a company’s potential profits. From this perspective, it behooves all manufacturers to invest the time and energy necessary to have their parts audited for RoHS compliance.

Derek Snider is a failure analyst at Insight Analytical Labs, where he has worked since 2004. He is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, where he is pursuing a Bachelors of Science degree in Electrical Engineering.

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