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Keeping toxins at bay

Photonics Spectra
Jan 2009
Anne L. Fischer, Senior Editor,

One important trend affecting photonics manufacturers is the restriction of hazardous materials. Without the restrictions, hazardous materials would adversely affect workers during manufacturing and would leak into the environment when equipment is disposed of or recycled.

European governments have developed strict regulations in the form of RoHS, which stands for “restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment.” Specifically, RoHS restricts the levels of six materials: lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE). The last two are flame retardants.


Compliant from day one

Whether or not companies are based in Europe, it behooves them to comply with international regulations so that they can do business around the world. Selling non-RoHS-compliant parts makes the end product non-RoHS-compliant. Breinigsville, Pa.-based Cyoptics, a company that makes optical components for broadband solutions, ensured from day one that its products were compliant, according to Sean Hannam, applications manager. And it’s paid off because, as Hannam noted, “In most cases, RoHS compliance is essential, and our customers would not approve our products or put us on their approved vendor lists if we did not demonstrate it.”

The legislation adopted so far is just the tip of the iceberg. Many countries are working on RoHS-like directives, many of which will include a greater list of banned or restricted chemicals. According to Hannam, RoHS is the most widely recognized and universal hazardous materials safety standard the company has to meet, but there are others, as well as new ones coming down the pike. “RoHS compliance is certainly not the final destination, and we expect to be continuing to devote a certain amount of resource to environmental compliance going forward.”

A little help, please

Various industry organizations are guiding manufacturers in tracking and reporting the material composition of products. San Jose, Calif.-based SEMI is an industry group that represents companies that supply equipment and materials to the semiconductor industry. According to Aaron Zude, senior director of SEMI’s environmental health and safety division, with different countries asking for a range of materials lists in various formats, “The challenge is not so much that there is a regulation – everyone agrees that that’s appropriate – the challenge is in the details of how each supplier provides information in an appropriate format to agencies in different countries.” As with other industry groups, SEMI helps individual companies not only by providing an early warning mechanism regarding the regulations they must follow but also helping them make sense of the details. Through its international compliance and regulatory committee, the organization is working to develop a common materials format.

Overall, the regulations are seen as good for the industry, Zude reports. He noted that being a responsible corporate citizen is important in today’s environment. “For our membership, everyone is clear that, from a sustainability standpoint, compliance with regulations is extremely important.”

The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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