Product Lifecycle Management

PLM Strategies-Lead-Free, Not Necessarily Stress-Free

1 May, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong

Managing compliance in the global supply chain.


APPARENTLY, SOME OF you have grave concerns about whiskers. Some know how to measure them; others aren't so sure. Ongoing panel discussions debate the proper methodology for measuring them. At least one scholar, a certain Dr. George T. Galyon, has published a history and an annotated bibliography about the subject.

The whisker in question isn't the kind you can shave off with a razor. It's tin whisker, a fine growth of metallic particles that can undermine the integrity of electronic equipment. In the introduction to "Tin Whisker Acceptance Test Requirements," published by iNEMI (International Electronic Manufacturing Initiative, www.inemi.org the Tin Whisker Users Group lamented, "In spite of more than five decades of research done on tin (Sn) whisker growth, a basic understanding of the mechanisms that control whisker growth and prevention remains elusive."

If you're involved in, say, semiconductor manufacturing, and your company is, like many others in that field, migrating toward using pure tin (Sn) instead of tin–lead (SnPb) to comply with the European Union's calls for a lead-free environment, you'll inevitably be dealing with tin whisker, a common phenomenon in alloys with a high tin content.

In This Article
In This Article

Perhaps you're already working with your domestic manufacturing partners to keep accurate records of whisker growth to satisfy the JEDEC's (Joint Electronic Device Engineering Council, www.jedec.org) standards. But can your suppliers in Beijing or Taiwan give you the tin whisker data you need? How do they measure it? Welcome to the era of compliance management.

The Rising Sun's Green Policy

Ken Strasser, a staff engineer who oversees environmental compliance for storage-solutions provider Dot Hill (www.dothill.com), has become something of an expert on regulatory acronyms. He can tell you that, in addition to the well-known WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) and RoHS (restriction on the use of hazardous substances) standards, we also need to be aware of the JGPSSI (Japanese green procurement standardization specification initiative) of JEITA (Japanese Electronic Industry Trade Association). He discovered this one when two of Dot Hill's Japanese customers began requesting records for material substances in Dot Hill's SANnet units sold in Japan.

Dot Hill has a manufacturing facility in China and two assembly plants in North America and Europe. "Everything Dot Hill does, in terms of its products and the components that go into them—all reports, specifications, change notices and anything else you can think of—is controlled in Agile Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software [from Agile, www.agile.com]," says Strasser. "So we added Agile's Product Governance and Compliance [PG&C] module to it."

Beginning with Agile 9.2.1, the Agile Product Governance and Compliance module supports IPC-1752 as the default materials declaration format.
Beginning with Agile 9.2.1, the Agile Product Governance and Compliance module supports IPC-1752 as the default materials declaration format.

Agile Product Governance and Compliance Module

"What [the PG&C module] allows you to do," Strasser says, "is to request from your suppliers compliance information. This information is transferred to a particular component, and that's controlled in the configuration management system. The type of information you request is all configurable." Beyond regulatory compliance, Dot Hill also uses the PG&C module to generate reports of substances that its customers want to closely monitor and control for their own internal purposes.

"The specs have to be established up front, before [our manufacturers] even get the bill of materials or assembly instructions to build the products," says Strasser. "If we're using an off-the-shelf part, we'll request the compliance information from the supplier. If it's a Dot Hill custom part, the green requirements are attached to the Dot Hill drawing . . . so these pieces of information become requirements, like any other requirements, for electrical components, or sheet metal, or cables."

Rollup, Please

"Some customers, like our Japanese customers, require what's called a rollup for substances that aren't necessarily banned but must be tracked," observes Strasser. "We have to not only ensure that the individual components within a unit are compliant but also provide the total weight of these substances for the entire unit." Strasser would much rather leave that tabulation to Agile's PG&C module than scour a pile of Excel sheets to add up the numbers. "The manual process would be horrendous," he says. "We'll have to know how many units of a component the product uses. That varies according to product configurations, but it can be done automatically in the PG&C module, because it already has the BOM [bill of materials] inside the system. So we take the BOM of the top-level assembly and get the rollup of any substance we want."

Craig Livingston, Agile's vice-president of worldwide small and medium enterprise (SME) operations, points out, "The largest companies of the world—organizations with several thousands users and multi-billion dollars in revenue—can track materials at the substance level using Agile's enterprise level PG&C solution. They are recording lead, chromium and so on. But the SMEs don't have the resources to do that. And frankly, a lot of the suppliers won't give them the information even if they ask for it, so we built an SME offshoot of PG&C called Agile Product Compliance Management to help them track it at the part level, and the BOM level, to determine if a part is compliant, noncompliant, unknown or not applicable."

Standard Bearers

In June 2005, IPC, an association for electronics industries (www.ipc.org), announced the IPC-1752, which addresses restricted and tracked substances. Dries D'hooghe, senior director of product strategy and management at Agile, explains, "The goal [of the IPC-1752] was to standardize the data-exchange form and format for materials declaration for the entire electronics industry. Until fairly recently, the problem had been that every company had its own formats—not just forms but also a lot of other information they wanted and how they wanted it. It was driving the supply chain crazy. Not to mention the fact that it took a long time for a supplier to respond in the requesters' forms, in their formats."

With RoHS implementation still in its infancy, the possibility exists that more than one standard might emerge in a certain country and force industry heavyweights to rally behind one or another. So it's up to the collaborative efforts of industry standard-bearers—such as IPC, JEDEC and others—to ensure that the proposed formats are not in conflict with each other, and that they gain worldwide adoption.

Fern Abrams, IPC's director of environmental policy, explains how her association is working with other international organizations to that end: "The draft standard [for IPC-1752] has been downloaded by folks from over 50 countries. iNEMI's members—many of them multinational—have put out a statement of their support. We're going to be doing a series of workshops in China in April, one in conjunction with China Quality Management Association. Our chairman is traveling to Japan to meet with RosettaNet Japan [www.rosettanet.gr.jp/english/index.html, the Japanese affiliate of RosettaNet, an organization that develops e-business standards for global supply chains]."

IPC-1752, like other international standards, has been proposed for adoption by the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission, www.iec.ch). "The IEC standardization process is not a fast process," Abrams observes. Abrams has good reasons to believe IPC-1752 will take off. Even though it was first developed for the electronics industry, she's just been invited to present it to the Aerospace Industries Alliance. "They are grappling with materials declaration and would like to look at IPC-1752," she says.

A New Shooting Target

Without an internationally recognized format for substance reporting and measurement, compliance would have been shooting at a moving target. Strasser points out that "not all suppliers, as yet, can provide all the information, but now there is a uniform target to shoot." Beginning with the release of 9.2.1, Agile uses IPC-1752 as its default standard for compliance reporting.

IPC's Abrams says, "I think, in general, [compliance-management solutions] represent an important tool, especially for medium and large enterprises, to manage the data they get from their suppliers and to integrate it with their internal database systems. Our intention has always been to work with these third-party solutions, not to replace them, because they can go where we can't go in terms of developing customized functionalities." The Agile Product Compliance Management solution is available as part of the Agile Advantage on-demand solutions, which are specifically targeted for the SME market.

"We build our data model to support multiple standards," Agile's D'hooghe says. "It also supports, for example, the Japanese green procurement standard, which is used by many in Asia. It also supports custom formats. The IPC-1752 is a good step, definitely an important step, but it is by no means the end of custom formats. Some companies have the need and power to request and get additional information from their suppliers."

For upcoming seminars and other resources about IPC-1752, visit www.ipc.org/ipc-175x. Whisker watchers can point their browsers to "A History of Tin Whisker Theory: 1946 to 2004" (http://thor.inemi.org/webdownload/newsroom/Presentations/SMTAI-04_tin_whiskers.pdf) and to "Annotated Tin Whisker Bibliography And Anthology" (http://thor.inemi.org/webdownload/newsroom/TW_biblio-July03.pdf).

Kenneth Wong is a former editor of Cadence magazine. He explores innovative usage of technology as a freelance writer. E-mail him at Kennethwongsf@earthlink.net.


About the Author: Kenneth Wong


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