Friday, January 20, 2006

Bus and Boards Conference

VDC analyst Eric Gulliksen was out at the Bus & Board conference this week and has returned with a few pieces of information.

  • Conference attendance seemed to be down a bit this year.
  • The cell processor from IBM/Sony/Toshiba caused a stir. However vendors are unsure of the chips impact on the broad market. Mercury is offering what is calls the first rugged cell-based board product.
  • RoHS compliance was a key theme. Not just on the conference schedule, but in vendor meetings as well.
  • 2006 looks to be the year of RoHS compliance and vendors are concerned about the amount of effort that will be required...and more concerned about not complying.
  • It is not just lead, but cadmium and other metals that are raising concerns. Cadmium, for instance, is used in the dye for some wire jacket insulation.
  • One vendor commented that just changing a line SKU number can take as much as 30 man hours of work. That does not include the engineering or validation. Just the paperwork, updates to market materials and product documentation, etc. Some vendors have over 1 million SKUs.
  • Bottom line: In 2006 the embedded boards vendors are going to be swamped with compliance activities. This could hurt innovation, new product development and other business activities.

More on RoHS from Wikepedia:

The Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) 2002/95/EC was adopted in February 2003 by the European Union. The RoHS directive takes effect on July 1, 2006, but is not a law; it is simply a directive. This directive restricts the use of six hazardous materials in the manufacture of various types of electronic and electrical equipment. It is closely linked with the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) 2002/96/EC which sets collection, recycling and recovery targets for electrical goods and is part of a legislative initiative to solve the problem of huge amounts of toxic e-waste.Each European Union member state will adopt its own enforcement and implementation policies using the directive as a guide. Therefore, there could be as many different versions of the law as there are states in the EU.

RoHS is often referred to as the "lead-free" directive, but it restricts the use of the following 6 substances:

PBB and PBDE are flame retardants used in some plastics.The maximum concentrations are 0.1% (except for Cadmium which is limited to 0.01%) by weight of homogeneous material. This means that the limits do not apply to the weight of the finished product, or even to a component, but to any single substance that could (theoretically) be separated mechanically — for example, the sheath on a cable or the tinning on a component lead.

As an example, a radio comprises a case, screws, washers, a circuit board, speakers etc. A circuit board comprises a bare PCB, ICs, resistors, switches etc. A switch comprises a case, a lever, a spring, contacts, pins etc. The contact might comprise a copper strip with a surface coating.Everything that can be identified as a different material must meet the limit.
So if it turns out that the switch's contact coating was gold with 2300 ppm cadmium then the entire radio would fail the requirements of the directive.