Going in Circles, or WEEE Don’t Need No Regulation

More than 15 years ago, the Restriction of the Use of Hazardous Substances in Electronics (RoHS) went into effect with great fanfare. While it had far-reaching effects, the most prominent material affected was lead.

Lead has for decades been the industry’s bad boy. (I’d say red-headed stepchild, but I am still mostly red-headed.) Several attempts were made in the U.S. alone to eliminate its use, and the remediation and eradication efforts for lead in plumbing has had a pronounced effect on lowering rates of birth defects and learning disabilities. While an EU mandate, RoHS had a ripple effect throughout electronics-producing regions, and most eventually migrated to using lead-free materials in electronics solder as well.

As the early RoHS end-use exemptions expired, the number of electronics hardware applications using lead has become limited primarily to legacy high-reliability programs. One of the last holdouts has been the U.S. Department of Defense, and even that pendulum is swinging. The last few U.S. defense appropriations bills have included millions of dollars in funding to support the transition of various aerospace, defense, and high-performance electronics to lead-free technologies.

But as we focus on the molecules, are we missing the larger compound? By that I mean the ability to recycle and reuse the materials in electronics products, regardless of their relative toxicity?

Michael Kirschner, president of Design Chain Associates, thinks so. As he explained to PCEA chief content officer Chelsey Drysdale in March on the PCB Chat podcast, many of the directives and regulations, while well-meaning, have fallen short of their ultimate goals, which was to change manufacturer behavior. And yet it is manufacturer behavior that must change if the needle is to be moved. After all, it’s been years since the packaging containing electronics came adorned with the green lead-free labels that signified to consumers they had a choice to buy eco-friendly products.

Born about five years prior to RoHS, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulation (WEEE) directive mandates electronics recycling. Compliance rates, however, have been stubbornly low. The percentage of e-waste that’s properly recycled hovers around 40% per European Commission data, well below targets.

According to Kirschner, manufacturers have been reluctant to change their ways. “Fundamentally, we’re still using the classical linear product lifecycle process to design products and manufacture them. And really, manufacturers haven’t made changes to process or design to products to make them more recyclable or more reusable. They’ve just paid the amount of money the recyclers and member states are asking and said, ‘OK, it’s your problem now.’”

Last month, the EU held an open comment period for the next revision of RoHS. One possibility, says the EU, is merging RoHS with the EcoDesign directive, also known as 2009/125/EC.

Kirschner thinks the EU will try to bring RoHS into alignment with the Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP). The circular economy serves as a more holistic way of addressing environmentally sound recovery and disposal of waste, including electronics. In real terms, per the U.S. EPA, the circular economy aims to eliminate waste through “superior design” of materials, products, and systems, including business models. 

Kirschner says,: “I think they’re going to try to tie this all together to be more sensible and coherent, rather than have RoHS, REACH, EcoDesign, Persistent Organic Pollutant (POPS)—all these different regulations impacting one aspect or another of the electronic product and the design of that product. I don’t know how they plan to make it more coherent, but I certainly expect to see changes to a regulation that simply bans substances like RoHS to make it more circular.”

Likely, changes are coming. While Europe has often worked past deadlines for new publications, the European Commission says the RoHS revision is expected by the fourth quarter of this year. Industry can and should coordinate coherent feedback to ensure any changes are actionable and effective.

RoHS brought many changes to material systems, in particular ramped use of tin-silver-copper,  high-tin, and tin-bismuth alloys, among others. In many cases, the changeover revealed improved performance that might never have been noticed had assemblers not been forced to switch.

But we must also take measures to ensure our own product designers understand the novel materials available that might not only be equal to or better than the current crop in performance but also recyclability. And those same designers must have access to best-in-class information on how to, you know, design products that can be reused.

Those interested in moving forward—or moving in circles?—may consider PCB East, April 11-13 to Marlboro, Massachusetts. Bump elbows with those at the leading edge of technology development. We’d love to see you there.

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association.

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2022

Going in Circles, or WEEE Don’t Need No Regulation

04-08-2022

Lead has for decades been the industry’s bad boy. (I’d say red-headed stepchild, but I am still mostly red-headed.) Several attempts were made in the U.S. alone to eliminate its use, and the remediation and eradication efforts for lead in plumbing has had a pronounced effect on lowering rates of birth defects and learning disabilities. While an EU mandate, RoHS had a ripple effect throughout electronics-producing regions, and most eventually migrated to using lead-free materials in electronics solder as well.

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The Digital Layout: The Future of Space No Longer Up in the Air

03-01-2022

It wasn’t long ago NASA administrators were lamenting ongoing cuts to the world’s leading space agency’s annual budget were putting the U.S. at risk of falling behind its competitors. No one remembers, but in the 1960s the line item for NASA made up more than 4% of the federal U.S. budget. Once a few footprints were made in space, however, the shine was off the moon rock. A decade later, NASA’s budget had been slashed by two-thirds in real dollars, and only briefly topped 1% of the federal budget again over the next 50 years.

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The Digital Layout: Diving into DDR—Highlights of an Upcoming Conference

02-16-2022

Last month’s discussion focused on training opportunities. We looked at developments at the college level and new certification programs like the Printed Circuit Engineering Professional course offered by PCE-EDU. This month, we dive into the upcoming PCB East technical conference. For the uninitiated, PCB East is the Eastern U.S. version of the popular PCB West trade show. It debuted in the 2000s, then went on hiatus after the industry downturn in 2007-08. At the urging of several companies and individual design engineers, it was set to return last year until the pandemic got in the way.

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The Digital Layout: Next-Generation Engineers Need Next-Generation Training

02-07-2022

You know the labor situation is bad when even the Air Force is getting involved to find solutions. Indeed, as was recently announced, the Air Force Research Laboratory is working with NextFlex to come up with ways to attract students to careers in technology and science. NextFlex isn’t a random choice. It was formed under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Manufacturing Technology Program. As one of eight DoD Manufacturing Innovation Institutes, the consortium is a partnership among the DoD, industry and academia.

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The Digital Layout: Live or Via Zoom, Knowledge is All Around Us

01-03-2022

For the past year-plus, this column has been written by Kelly Dack, our erstwhile communications director, and Stephen Chavez, our chairman. In the next couple of months, the PCEA is transitioning from an all-volunteer organization to one with a fulltime staff, which will allow the board of directors to focus on higher-level strategy. Steph’s role, then, will no longer be tied to monthly communications but rather leading the board in charting the goals and direction of the association. Filling the gaps is where I come in.

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2021

The Digital Layout: A Grand Announcement

11-11-2021

Who other than a dynamic organization like the PCEA could decide they want to establish a trade show footprint one month and then muster the creative talents of their executive staff to design a trade show booth to exhibit at DesignCon the next? Oh, and then exhibit at another major trade show such as PCB West 2021 only a short time later? I’ll tell you, the PCEA has a momentum in this industry the likes of which we have not seen. I do not use the word momentum lightly. Because, like the shiny, spherical bob of a pendulum in a Newtonian mechanics experiment, the leadership of this organization seems to be able to swoop down from their rightward (positive) displacement, pass their zero-position goal of achieved success, and still have enough momentum to reach their leftward displacement where they tend to set yet another, even loftier goal.

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The Digital Layout: Electronics Data Format Collaboration—Help Wanted

10-19-2021

In this month’s column, I share some critical staffing requirements which need to be filled within the PCEA. As always, we’ll hear from our Chairman, Steph Chavez, as he expresses his excitement regarding the PCEA’s involvement in recent electronics industry trade shows. Then I’m happy to close out by providing our readers with a list of upcoming events.

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The Digital Layout: Interaction—The Cure for Industry Contraction

10-04-2021

In this month’s column, I share reports from our PCEA leadership on a flurry of activity over the past month. Next, I highlight some inspiring words which our Chairman Steph Chavez recently delivered to our executive staff. Again, I am happy to provide our readers with a list of events which are coming up in 2021 and 2022.

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The Digital Layout: Educational Accolades for Our Chapter Liaison

09-02-2021

In this month’s column, I will give kudos to our PCEA Chapter Liaison who has been capturing the efforts of the PCEA to educate our members and our industry as a whole and then pass the mic to our PCEA Chairman, Steph Chavez to provide some thoughts on the matter.

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The Digital Layout: Say What You Do—Do What You Say

07-28-2021

In this month’s column, Kelly Dack provides answers to some common questions about joining an electronics industry organization. PCEA Chairman Steph Chavez conveys his excitement and anticipation of events to come and how the PCEA will be involved.

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The Digital Layout: PCB Engineering on the Move

06-15-2021

In this month’s column, Kelly Dack examines the PCB engineering job outlook and evaluate the career moves we are making, while PCEA Chairman Steph Chavez lists some important attributes in our personal development that will keep our edges sharp.

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The Digital Layout: Test for Design—How Do You Measure Up?

05-25-2021

In this month’s column, Kelly Dack conveys the value of honing a skill set and the importance of being able to measure that skill set. Next, I hand it off to our PCEA Chairman Steph Chavez, who offers a positive outlook on PCEA activities over the summer months. Again, I am happy to provide our readers with a growing list of events which are coming up in 2021.

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The Digital Layout: Back to Back Chapter Meetings and More

04-15-2021

In this month’s column, Kelly Dack extends an overview of two recent PCEA chapter meetings and gives a nod to two very interesting presenters, and PCEA Chairman Stephen Chavez relates a recent, personal career “crossroads” experience.

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The Digital Layout: Messages from the Chairmen

03-24-2021

In this month’s column, Kelly Dack interviews the chairman and chairman emeritus for the PCEA, who provide their shared viewpoints on the importance of organizing.

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The Digital Layout: Footprints—Small Steps with a Giant Impact

02-11-2021

Kelly Dack celebrates the importance of the humble PCB component footprint, and PCEA Chairman Stephen Chazev provides some inspiring words as we tread into the new year.

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2020

The Digital Layout: PCEA 2020—Small Rearview Mirror, Big Windshield

12-10-2020

In this month’s forward-driving column, Kelly Dack glances back at PCEA’s year in “rearview," and PCEA Chairman Stephen Chavez focuses on what lies ahead. Dack also points out some interesting events for you to consider attending.

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The Digital Layout: PCEA and Industry Leaders Who Happen to Be Women

11-20-2020

In this month’s column, Kelly Dack introduces a few of our inspiring PCEA leaders who happen to be women and teases some upcoming coverage we’ll be doing on one of the PCEA’s educational networking events. PCEA Chairman Stephen Chavez also offers his take on the importance of diversity in a collective organization.

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The Digital Layout: Local Chapters—You Can Distance This Body But Not These Senses

10-23-2020

Kelly Dack shares a few thoughts on the formation of PCEA chapters as far as where they’re at and where they need to go, and PCEA Chairman Stephen Chavez offers some encouraging words for these extended times of COVID-19.

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The Digital Layout: Education Unlocks the Golden Door to Freedom

10-09-2020

Kelly Dack speaks with the PCEA Educational Committee regarding the team’s take on the PCEA’s role in education. What do they have in store? PCEA Chairman Steph Chavez also weighs in on the strength of our education committee and why it is crucial to the PCEA’s mission.

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The Digital Layout: It’s Official—1,000+ PCEA Members Worldwide

08-27-2020

Kelly Dack reviews the virtual PCEA grand opening, which took place on July 14, 2020 and featured guest presenter and PCEA educational committee member Rick Hartley. He also checks in with the PCEA education committee, and PCEA Chairman Steph Chavez also shares his satisfaction with the PCEA's recent open house.

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The Digital Layout: The PCEA’s Grand Opening

07-15-2020

Kelly Dack interviews Rick Hartley about the presentation he has prepared for the PCEA’s grand opening on July 14, and PCEA Chairman Steph Chavez shares a timely message on how our time working from home is a serious matter, and how letting our guard down could be a mistake.

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The Digital Layout: An Expectation of Collaboration

06-15-2020

Kelly Dack shares updates on the PCEA website and reports on some inspiring communication on collaboration taking place between the PCEA and a well-known industry organization. Kelly also includes a "Message From the Chairman," Steph Chavez, as well as professional development opportunities and events.

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The Digital Layout: Life During COVID-19 ‘Wartime’

05-15-2020

This month, Kelly Dack shares updates on the progress the PCEA staff is making toward establishing a web presence and reports on what the PCEA is preparing in support of the PCB engineering community. Though PCEA chapter activities, as well as professional development and event opportunities, have been limited because of restrictions due to COVID-19, PCEA Chairman Steph Chavez also offers his perspective on the challenges of staying connected without using traditional means.

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The Digital Layout: Onward!

04-30-2020

In Kelly Dack's debut as the new author of this column, he provides updates on the direction and leadership of the PCEA and upcoming professional development and event opportunities, and Stephen Chavez shares his first "message from the chairman." In addition, Bob McCreight, president of the Silicon Valley Chapter, discusses their most recent “lunch and learn” event held in February.

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The Digital Layout: The Foundation of the PCEA Is Being Laid

03-17-2020

Stephen Chavez highlights the Orange County Chapter’s recent meeting and their transition from IPC to PCEA affiliation, recent PCEA activities, and the evolution of this column, including introducing Kelly Dack, CID+, PCEA's new communication officer.

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2019

The Digital Layout: Fall 2019 Recap

12-29-2019

As the second half of the year is quickly passing by, the IPC Designers Council has seen lots of continued activities within our industry regarding PCB design. PCB West was held in mid-September in Santa Clara, California, and as usual, the show exceeded expectations. Stephen Chavez provides a brief breakdown of fall activities within local chapters.

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The Digital Layout: Recent IPC DC Chapter Activities

10-23-2019

We’re onto the second half of the year now, and we’ve seen lots of activities within our local Designers Council (DC) Chapters, including a few international chapters as well. Here's a snapshot of what has taken place so far from several of our active chapters.

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The Digital Layout: New and Thriving Chapters in Mexico

08-01-2019

This month’s column highlights the Monterrey Designers Council Chapter located in Monterrey, Mexico. The chapter was established November 23, 2017, which makes it a younger chapter compared to several other global chapters currently in existence today. I also share news about a new chapter forming in Nogales, Mexico.

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The Digital Layout: Spotlight on the Orange County Chapter

06-13-2019

So, what’s so special about the Orange County Chapter? For starters, we’re fortunate that a large number of electronics companies are located in Southern California, so there are many PCB designers in our area who are thirsty for knowledge. We are also lucky to have many local PCB fabrication and assembly companies from which we draw attendees and speakers. All of the major CAE vendors have offices and technical field personnel here and have been very supportive of our chapter in hosting lunches to help us keep our costs down.

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The Digital Layout: San Diego Chapter Updates and More

05-20-2019

This month’s column is packed with recent activities, including a spotlight on the San Diego Chapter and an interview with Luke Hausherr, the new chapter president. You’ll also find an update from the IPC Designers Council Executive Board as collaboration with the new IPC Education Foundation continues to evolve and recommended reading featuring an interview with a young designer.

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The Digital Layout: Greater Phoenix Chapter Revived

03-21-2019

The Greater Phoenix chapter was revived in late 2018 after being largely dormant over the past few years. It has also undergone some leadership changes. As the former president, I have taken on a more active global role at the executive level of the IPC Executive DC Board as the communications officer at large. I will stay on the leadership committee for the Greater Phoenix Chapter as the VP at the request of the newly elected president, Randy Kumagai. Randy and I have already started to brainstorm with ways to kickstart the chapter’s activity in 2019.

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The Digital Layout: Designer Highlights From IPC APEX EXPO 2019

03-15-2019

The IPC Designers Council Executive Board meeting took place on January 29. Executive Board members in attendance included Gary Ferrari, Mike Creeden, Cherie Litson, Kelly Dack, Thomas Romont, and me. We also had Michael Schleicher, a guest representative from Germany, in attendance. Further, Dr. John Mitchell, Dave Hernandez, Colette Buscemi, Teresa Rowe, Aaron Birney, and Charlene Gunter du Plessis represented IPC.

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The Digital Layout: Cascade Designers Council Chapter and 2019 Activities

02-28-2019

Our CID+ class had four people enrolled who came from around the area. All who attended learned about how board materials affected their designs, including EMI, EMC, impedance control, power distribution techniques, board stackups, and placement strategies in more detail than what was in the CID. Further, participants took the exam first thing Friday morning. This allowed us time to attend the Designers Council “lunch-and-learn” meeting, and the Altium user group met afterward in the same location.

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The Digital Layout: Chapter Highlights and Certification Successes

01-24-2019

This month’s column highlights the San Diego chapter, which is also where IPC APEX EXPO 2019 will be held at the end of January. You will also find updates on recent CID and CID+ certification success stories, a recap of the PCB Carolina event from the Research Triangle Park (RTP) North Carolina chapter, and upcoming events, so mark your calendars for next year.

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2018

The Digital Layout: Chapter Roundup and CID+ Certification

12-12-2018

This month’s spotlight is the Silicon Valley Chapter. We held our fall quarterly meeting on October 25, 2018, at none other than Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California—yes, the site of Super Bowl 50 and the soon-to-be 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship game. This was made possible by our host, Sierra Circuits, and sponsor, Altium. We thank them both graciously. Out of 33 total RSVPs, 24 were able to attend the lunchtime meeting. Fun fact: of the members who RSVPed, six of them were CID certified and 10 were CID+ certified, with Faisal Ahmed being the most recent (hear more from him later).

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The Digital Layout: Designers Council Update and PCB Carolina 2018

10-24-2018

Welcome to the first edition of "The Digital Layout." As a current IPC Designers Council (DC) Executive Board member and a long-time active IPC member, I was nominated to be the chairman of the newly created communications subcommittee. In this role, I will be the main point of contact for global chapter communications and will work with local IPC chapter leaders to publish content in this new column. We want to utilize this column to help spread the IPC DC Executive Board’s goals like a virus.

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