RoHS Influence PCB Industry

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What is RoHS and Why Does it Matter for PCBs?

RoHS stands for the Restriction of Hazardous Substances. It is an EU directive that restricts the use of certain hazardous materials in the manufacture of various types of electronic and electrical equipment, including printed circuit boards (PCBs).

The RoHS directive took effect on July 1, 2006 and impacts the entire electronics industry supply chain, including producers of PCBs. It aims to reduce the negative health and environmental impacts of electronics waste by restricting the use of lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), cadmium (Cd), hexavalent chromium (Cr6+), polybrominated biphenyls (PBB), and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) in the manufacture of electronics.

RoHS compliance is required to sell electronics and electrical equipment in the EU. Many other countries have adopted similar regulations, making RoHS an important global standard for PCB manufacturing. Non-compliance can result in hefty fines, product recalls, and damage to a company’s brand reputation.

How RoHS Has Changed PCB Manufacturing Processes

To comply with RoHS regulations, PCB manufacturers have had to make significant changes to their materials and processes:

Lead-free Solder

One of the biggest changes has been the switch from leaded to lead-free solder. Traditional tin-lead solder contained around 40% lead. RoHS-compliant solder is typically made from a tin-silver-copper alloy (SAC).

Lead-free solder has a higher melting point than leaded solder (around 220°C vs 180°C). This has required changes in solder application methods and some redesign of components and PCBs to withstand higher Soldering Temperatures.

Different Component Finishes

Another change has been to the finishes used on component leads and contacts. Many components previously used finishes containing restricted substances like lead or hexavalent chromium.

Common RoHS-compliant finishes now include:

  • Nickel-palladium-gold (NiPdAu)
  • Immersion tin
  • Immersion silver
  • Electroless nickel immersion gold (ENIG)

The choice of finish depends on factors like solderable, environmental requirements, and cost.

Updated Laminates and Solder Masks

RoHS has also impacted the laminates and solder masks used in PCB manufacturing. Laminates and solder masks previously contained some RoHS-restricted substances as flame retardants.

Halogen-free laminates and solder masks are now widely used to comply with RoHS. The laminate and mask materials have been reformulated to reduce hazardous substances while still maintaining the required electrical and physical properties.

Careful Supply Chain Management

With RoHS, PCB manufacturers must carefully manage their supply chain to ensure all materials and components going into their products are RoHS compliant. This requires strict traceability measures, supplier audits, and regular testing to verify the bill of materials.

Many manufacturers will only source components and materials from suppliers who can fully guarantee RoHS compliance through certificates of compliance and lab testing data. Some conduct their own XRF testing on incoming materials as an added precaution.

Challenges of RoHS Compliance for PCB Manufacturers

While the electronics industry has largely transitioned to RoHS compliance, challenges remain for PCB manufacturers, especially as the regulations continue to evolve.

Reliability Concerns with Lead-Free Solder

The switch to lead-free solder has come with some reliability concerns. The higher soldering temperatures can cause more thermal stress on components. The different wetting behavior and mechanical properties of lead-free alloys can also impact joint strength and reliability.

Techniques like careful profile management, nitrogen Reflow Soldering, and PCB/component redesign have helped address these issues. But some high-reliability applications may still require exemptions for the use of leaded solder.

Achieving Compliance Across a Global Supply Chain

Another ongoing challenge is achieving and maintaining compliance across an increasingly complex global electronics supply chain. A typical PCB may contain hundreds of components sourced from multiple suppliers and distributors around the world.

Counterfeit or mislabeled parts, incomplete material declarations, and contamination during handling and shipping can all jeopardize RoHS compliance. Robust supply chain management and traceability systems are critical.

Keeping Up with Evolving Regulations

RoHS regulations have continued to evolve since the original directive. The RoHS 2 directive (2011/65/EU) added restrictions for four phthalate plasticizers. The RoHS 3 directive (2015/863) added four more substances to the restricted list. Additional substance restrictions are likely in the future.

This means PCB manufacturers must stay up to date on the latest regulatory requirements and be prepared to adapt their processes and materials as needed to maintain compliance.

Benefits of RoHS Compliance for PCB Manufacturers

Despite the challenges, RoHS compliance offers several key benefits for PCB manufacturers:

Expanded Market Access

RoHS compliance is required to sell PCBs and electronics into the EU, which remains one of the world’s largest markets. As more countries adopt similar regulations, RoHS compliance is increasingly important for global market access.

Improved Environmental Sustainability

By eliminating hazardous substances, RoHS helps reduce the negative environmental impact of electronics waste. This supports the growing demand for more sustainable and eco-friendly electronics.

RoHS compliance can also help manufacturers meet other environmental regulations and standards, like WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) and REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals).

Competitive Advantage

As RoHS has become a de facto global standard, compliance is now a basic requirement for most PCB buyers. Manufacturers who can demonstrate robust RoHS compliance processes may have an advantage in winning new business and strengthening customer relationships.

Some manufacturers are going beyond RoHS by proactively eliminating other potentially hazardous substances from their products. This positions them to stay ahead of future regulatory changes and meet growing customer demand for safer, more sustainable electronics.

The Future of RoHS and PCB Manufacturing

RoHS and other hazardous substance regulations are likely to continue expanding in scope and geographical reach in the coming years. Emerging technologies like 5G, electric vehicles, and IoT are driving rapid growth in electronics production, along with increased focus on sustainability.

For PCB manufacturers, continued investment in RoHS compliance processes and capabilities will be critical for long-term success. This may include:

  • Implementing digital traceability solutions (e.g. blockchain) to improve supply chain transparency
  • Developing “green” PCB materials and processes that go beyond current RoHS requirements
  • Collaborating with suppliers and customers on designing for compliance and reliability
  • Participating in industry standards development and policy advocacy efforts

By staying proactive on RoHS and hazardous substance restrictions, PCB manufacturers can position themselves for success in an increasingly demanding and competitive global market.


What substances are currently restricted under RoHS?

The current RoHS restricted substances list includes:
– Lead (Pb)
– Mercury (Hg)
– Cadmium (Cd)
– Hexavalent chromium (Cr6+)
– Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB)
– Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE)
– Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP)
– Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP)
– Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)
– Diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP)

Are any substances likely to be added to the RoHS list in the future?

Substances under review for possible future inclusion in RoHS include:
– Tetrabromobisphenol-A (TBBP-A)
– Medium chain chlorinated paraffins (MCCPs)
– Beryllium and its compounds
– Indium phosphide
– Nickel sulphate and nickel sulfamate

How can I ensure the PCBs I purchase are RoHS compliant?

When purchasing PCBs, be sure to work with manufacturers who:

  • Have a robust RoHS compliance management system in place
  • Carefully vet and audit their suppliers for RoHS compliance
  • Can provide full material declarations and XRF test reports for their products
  • Stay up to date on the latest RoHS regulatory requirements and exemptions

Do all countries follow the EU RoHS directive?

While the EU RoHS is the most prominent hazardous substance regulation for electronics, many other countries have implemented their own similar regulations, including:

  • China RoHS
  • Korea RoHS
  • Japan RoHS
  • India RoHS
  • California RoHS
  • UAE RoHS

The specific substance restrictions and implementation dates may vary by country.

Where can I find more information on RoHS as it relates to PCBs?

Some good resources for staying up to date on RoHS and its impact on the PCB industry include:

  • IPC (Association Connecting Electronics Industries)
  • ECHA (European Chemicals Agency)
  • RoHS Guide (
  • RoHS Compliance (
  • Your PCB supplier’s compliance and regulatory experts