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The Heat Is On

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The deadline for the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) now looms less than a year away. Meanwhile, the EU has put an Aug. 13, 2005 deadline on registering for its Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive. Aside from the EU’s 25 member states, both China and California have their own set of rules in the works that will force suppliers to provide more environmental sound products, with the common factor to all countries being a push toward lead-free electronics.

Is the industry ready for RoHS, which is set to hit first with a July 1, 2006 deadline marked on supply-chain calendars? The answer, according to Fern Abrams, director of environmental policy at IPC – Association Connecting Electronics Industries, is a resounding “No.”

“They [suppliers] may very well be ready in a year – there’s a lot of resources and talent and energy being put to this – but it’s an uphill battle.

“A year ago we really thought most of the problems were of a technical nature. What we are finding this year is companies that addressed those early on are in good shape, but they are still working to flush out their supply chain and in places where they have a critical component that they can’t find in lead-free or they can’t get information on their supplier’s compliance plans. So it’s a management data/flow type of problem,” she said.

Abrams doesn’t necessarily put the blame on companies, however. She notes that the EU hasn’t been crystal clear on its interpretations.

She further noted that not all 25 EU countries have yet passed their own regulations to implement RoHS, so specific laws are not set. And, on the WEEE end, a registration deadline is set for next month with only a small handful of countries establishing registries and rules for procedures, IPC noted.

Despite its obstacles, those who did move ahead on RoHS could have a significant advantage. Advanced Micro Devices, for one, this month announced several of its processors and chipsets, including the Opteron, Athlon 64, AMD-8111 and AMD-8151, are compliant to the RoHS directive. In its efforts, AMD began the move to reduced lead back in 2001.

“We’re in a very complex industry where, for example, a PC has many different parts. Our customers have been involved in supply-chain management processes to make sure their suppliers are ready, and clearly, suppliers to maintain that business are going to have to demonstrate they are ready. That’s one of the reasons we started as early as we did,” Reed Content, senior EHS manager, in AMD's global EHS department, said.

Based on the fact that it took AMD, well-known for its green efforts and one of the industries most advanced companies, four years to reach RoHS compliance for reduced lead in its technologies, many other members of the supply chain that have not advanced as far – or not even started on their RoHS efforts – could be facing some tough hurdles in the months to come.

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