Product standards, specs no longer enough

Most of the telecommunications industry and electrical/electronics sector are aware that new environmental requirements are emerging from Europe, including the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment and Restriction on Hazardous Substances (RoHS). They are now spreading through Asia and the Americas, becoming part of the global supply chain. These requirements establish restrictions on hazardous materials and disposal of electronic products. In some circumstances, even copper cables, optical cables, and connectors are affected.

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) formed a new Technical Committee 111 (TC111) this year on Environmental Aspects of Electrical and Electronic Products and Systems. This committee has a broad mandate and will potentially influence the work of almost all the IEC technical committees. TC111 has gotten off to a fast start with two meetings this year and has begun work in three working groups:

• Working Group 1 (WG1) is developing a materials declaration standard to enable industry to make a single declaration of the presence or absence of hazardous materials in their products to all markets worldwide. Many companies are now struggling with customer requests in many formats, often requiring a significant response time.

• WG2 is working on a standard for environmentally conscious design. Early discussions focus on a guideline or template for use by IEC product technical committees and manufacturers. It encourages consideration of environmental impact and end of life disposal during a product’s design. Current efforts are focused on a voluntary rather than prescriptive standard.

• WG3 is drafting test methods to establish the levels of six hazardous substances in RoHS in a consistent and reproduceable way.

The committee is also looking at proposals for several new initiatives and will become one of the broad “horizontal” influences on traditional product standards and specifications.

James E. Matthews III is director of technical standards and standards policy at Corning and has leadership positions in several standards bodies, including the IEC and Telecommunications Industry Association. He can be reached at MatthewsJE@

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