Selecting a part based on its electronic parameters alone risks having to find a replacement later and perhaps even recalling a product.
When you design (your part of) an electronic product, particularly if you’re an electrical/electronic engineer (EE) like me, you don’t tend to think about much other than the functional and parametric requirements of the specific challenge you’re trying to solve.
The supply base understands this: an electronic component datasheet tells you what it does, how it does it (if necessary), and includes a raft of parametrics specific to the purpose of the device and what is important to specifiers like you. These datasheets, however, rarely if ever indicate what the item is made of, even if it’s not a trade secret. This information is generally not considered relevant to its form, fit, or function.
And even if they did publish it, EEs wouldn’t care or, in most cases, know what to do with it. Plenty of EEs get through their careers not having to understand much more chemistry than the fact that copper conducts electricity and heat better than iron.
Mechanical engineers do need a decent understanding of chemistry, though they normally focus, again, on functional and parametric requirements.
The unfortunate fact is that, just like the wrong functionality or parametric value can result in the elimination from consideration of a component or material, so can the wrong substance in its composition. If you’re not looking for it up front at the same time you’re looking at functionality and parametrics, the risk of having to find a replacement later on during your product development process and potentially delaying time to market, or even having to pull the product from the market, increases.
Deep familiarity with regulatory and market requirements is now necessary; if your company doesn’t have this expertise – and I would not recommend that it be left to design engineers; that’s not their expertise – I recommend investing in it already.
While you may be familiar with RoHS and its handful of restricted substances, a boatload of other similar regulatory requirements exist in your markets. I won’t go over those here; I cover them in another column. What I do want to point out here is that this is not a static issue; substances used in electronic products are constantly being identified for disclosure, restriction or outright ban in one market or another around the world. Here are some that are in-process now that may be in your products:
You can see just how similar these molecules are. They are so similar that, in fact, the Canadian government has determined that DBDPE should be restricted too. Expect that to happen within the next year.
And the beat goes on. Looking ahead and taking a risk-based approach to material and component selection based on the potential for future regulation is simply good business practice today.
Right now your (often far-upstream) chemical suppliers have near-zero risk for providing toxic substances to you for use in your products (unless they get sued for polluting the environment while manufacturing substances for your product; watch the film Dark Waters, for instance). They get the opportunity to sell you a replacement once their substance gets banned but are not culpable for selling a substance that cost your company time and money to replace because a government banned it. Avoiding a regrettable substitution, which is replacing one banned substance with another that will just get banned in the future (like DecaBDE and its replacement DBDPE), should be part of a manufacturer’s product lifecycle management process.
This article was originally published on EE Times.
Michael Kirschner is president of Design Chain Associates LLC.