RoHS Poses an Ethical Dilemma for Some Engineers
It’s the ultimate Catch-22 for design engineers: Comply with RoHS and risk the long-term reliability of their products in some cases. Or break the law.
Some design engineers in the U.K. have privately admitted to me that their designs currently are not in compliance with RoHS regulations, for fear that lead-free alternatives may lead to lower quality and premature failure of their products in the field.
One engineer, whose company makes LED lighting products, says that his engineering team initially investigated alternative lead-free solders, rejecting them one-by-one because of defects. Given that the company’s products are used outdoors and the specs call for extremely high reliability and a long life expectancy, they applied for an exemption before RoHS regulations went into effect.
Since then, he says there’s been nary a peep out of any RoHS representative regarding that exemption. Approved? Disapproved? It’s a mystery. Nor have any inspectors been around.
“It’s senseless, really,” he says. “I’m a good law abiding citizen. But when I’m being asked to do something to make my products unreliable, it strikes such alarm bells that I can’t go along with it. I feel that strongly about it.”
So for now, this design engineer just waits and wonders.
As to what’s going on regarding enforcement of the regulation, in October 2007, EETimes reported on the industry’s first prosection for violation of RoHS and went on to discuss UK enforcement practices:
“The prosecution was in the UK at the end of September. The unnamed company was charged with marketing lead-containing products in contravention of the Directive. Although the case was settled with the UK compliance authority out-of-court without financial penalty, a documented warning was issued that would support legal action in the case of further violations.
Generally the UK has been taking a cooperative rather than heavy-handed approach to enforcement.”
The article does go on to say, though, that enforcement is stepping up.