Who Will Regulate Lead-free Compliance?


We all know that you can do well by doing good, right? When it comes to lead-free, many advanced packaging OEMs have already made an announcement of compliance. Intel announced the planned availability of flip chip packages with lead-free solder balls recently, with selected embedded IA processors for communications in Q2 of 2004, select CPUs and chipsets for desktop and mobile segments in Q3 of 2004. They even reduced it to a percentage — 95 percent — just to show the company's ability to work with the electronics industry to resolve the challenges ahead to complete the transition to lead-free. It is good for the environment and it is also good for business.

National Semiconductor also announced in April that it will offer lead-free packages for its complete line of IC products by the end of 2004. At present, approximately 90 percent of National's 15,000 analog and mixed-signal ICs are available in lead-free package types. Lead was used in the plating finish of copper lead frame-based packages and in the solder balls of array packages.

The move toward lead-free electronics has become a worldwide issue. The demands of the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) in Electrical and Electronic Equipment and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) initiatives as published in the Official Journal of the EU have a deadline of July 1, 2006, for compliance. But who will regulate compliance? And should the world bow to this European Parliament Directive?

According to Ed Blackshear, senior technical staff member at Hopewell Junction, NY-based IBM, since the EU has a market of significant size of such that no company can afford to ignore it, these two Directives will probably become the default standard. Also, since the EU is one of the first groups to formulate a plan, they will also probably be the ones to regulate lead free.

Others agree. "This is only my opinion," says Indium Corp.'s Ron Lasky, "But regulation will be connected somehow to the European Parliament to make certain that the RoHS and WEEE restrictions are met." Spot checking using a statistical sampling will probably be the method. "If it is assessed that a regulation has not been followed intentionally, then breaking the Directives can be serious with high fines and perhaps more." Though it is still unclear, some EU organization probably will check for compliance.

Alan Rae, VP of technology at Cookson Electronics, says "I speculate that lead-free compliance in electronics will be self-regulating. Perhaps competitors will tip off regulating agencies. There's a wipe-on chemical test now that can detect lead through a simple color change if smeared across a leaded part that may be used."

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Tune in to Advanced Packaging's lead-free Webcasts to ask questions on October 5, 2004, January 18, 2005, and March 15, 2005.

Gail Flower