Time to transition to lead-free contacts

May 21, 2021 // By Achim Engel
Time to transition to lead-free contacts
Achim Engel, a business development manager at Würth Elektronik, considers the status of exemptions that allow the continued use of lead in electronic contacts. He urges companies to manage their transition to lead-free ahead of a complete ban on lead.

Those with limited knowledge of the details of the RoHS, REACH and ELV regulations (Restriction of Hazardous Substances, Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals and End of Life Vehicles) may not immediately recognise the importance of a lead-free product range.

As a result of exemptions in environmental regulations, lead is still permitted as a material in a number of applications. But with its lead-free product range, Würth Elektronik ICS shows that this transitional solution does not need to be exploited to the bitter end.

This is the current situation:

The REACH Regulation (EC 1907/2006) regulates the manufacture, placing on the market and use of chemical substances. Here, lead is considered to be a Substance of Very High Concern and is subject to documentation requirements. Since the beginning of 2021, product sellers have been obliged to register in the SCIP database (Substances of Concern In articles as such or in complex objects (Products)) in addition to the IMDS (part number, designation, proportion of SVHC substance) in the automotive sector.

The ELV regulation (Directive 2000/53/EC) regulates the material recycling of motor vehicles within the European Union. The maximum limit value of 0.1 percent applies to lead. An exemption was granted for copper alloys that allows a maximum lead content of four percent. This exemption will be reviewed in 2021.

The RoHS regulation also defines a maximum permissible concentration of lead in homogeneous materials of 0.1 percent by weight. However, ‘copper alloys with a mass content of up to four per cent lead’ are permissible under the existing exemption 6c. This exemption is set to formally expire on 21 July 2021. After the end of the exemption, electrical and electronic equipment exceeding the limit of 0.1 per cent lead in materials may no longer be sold in Europe.

As expected, the responsible EU department has received numerous applications for a renewed extension of the exemption. However, it is not advisable for manufacturers of electrical and electronic devices or assemblies to continue to do ‘business as usual’. This is because – depending on the development time and product life cycle – there is a risk that a definitive ban on lead in electronic assemblies may make it necessary to redesign a particular ongoing series. This would result in a major conversion effort and large additional investments that could have been avoided had far-sighted design decisions been made.

Next: copper alloy exemption

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