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RoHS Certification and the Failure Analysis Lab

RoHS CertificationThe process of initially undergoing RoHS certification can be a daunting one. Every piece of a product – from the largest circuit board down to the smallest wire – must be accounted for, to ensure that any of the named hazardous substances are kept to an absolute minimum. For many companies, developing the capability to inspect a product to ensure it meets these stringent requirements entails a huge cost due to equipment purchases and additional hiring and training of dedicated personnel. For smaller startups, these costs may be prohibitive; however, the use of a failure analysis lab instead of onsite capabilities for RoHS certification can help to alleviate some of this cost.

Unlike the aforementioned startups, failure analysis companies are unlikely to need to purchase special equipment specifically for the purpose of performing RoHS certification audits; many of the tools used to analyze defective devices can just as easily be applied to sniffing out lead, cadmium, and other harmful elements. Energy dispersive spectroscopy and x-ray fluorescence, for example, are just as readily used to identify the ecologically hazardous elements banned by RoHS requirements as they are for analyzing contaminants that cause devices to break down. Fourier transform spectroscopy can be used to analyze organic compounds, like oils or resins, which may interfere with a device’s operation; it can also be used to detect the PBBs and PBDEs banned by RoHS.

Not only do the tools found in a failure analysis lab adapt easily to performing RoHS audits, the set of analytical skills possessed by the average FA tech can be a boon as well. Successful failure analysis requires a meticulous, methodical approach; this attention to minutiae is vital for performing RoHS certification, since even the smallest components must be considered as potential sources of undesirable elements. Furthermore, the analyst’s experience with a multitude of different products and processes can provide insight that can guide the course of the audit; for example, an analyst may recognize the sheen of leaded solder on a few parts amongst a handful of relatively dull components, prompting more careful inspection of those devices that stand out.

In the strictest sense, RoHS certification is not failure analysis – after all, it would be somewhat silly to certify non-working product. However, the tools and skills of the failure analysis lab transition seamlessly into performing RoHS audits, providing a high level of confidence that any given product can meet the stringent requirements put forth by the RoHS directive.

Derek Snider is a failure analyst at Insight Analytical Labs, where he has worked since 2004. He is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, where he is pursuing a Bachelors of Science degree in Electrical Engineering.

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