Environmental regulations worries REACH a head

Posted on 11 May 2011 by The Manufacturer

The storm brewing for manufacturers over environmental regulations is quickly turning into a tornado. With changes to the REACH and RoHS regulations bringing in a whole host of added costs and red tape, few see sunny spells on the standards horizon. Mark Young reports

The aims and objectives of REACH – the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals directive – are commendable, sure. But there are growing concerns among manufacturers that compliance rests too much on the actions of suppliers.

In a nutshell, suppliers of substances covered by REACH must provide the customer with information on how to use the substance safely when sourcing from the EU. If the buyer wants to use the substance in a way that isn’t stipulated by the supplier they have to carry out a risk assessment to prove it is safe to do so. They have a year to complete this and any risk assessment could be subject to inspection by the Health & Safety Executive. Things stipulated might include the use of protective clothing when handling the substance or time limits per day for working with it.

Around 3,500 substances – including commonly used solvents and ethanol – were put on the registered list last year. In 2013 a further tranche will be added before a third in 2018 brings the total number to around 100,000.

So far, not too many problems have been reported as the registered chemicals are mostly well known.

But Jo Lloyd, director of ReadyReach, a sister organisation of the Chemicals Industry Association which advises firms on compliance, says issues are beginning to arise.

“There seems to be a mismatch between what’s going in at registration as regards assumptions over how substances are used down the supply chain compared with what happens in practice. That’s a concern,” she says. “A lot of the communication part of REACH hasn’t happened yet, it’s only just starting – data sheets are being updated and information is beginning to flow down the supply chain including a lot of risk management measures which are not what the customers would do in general practice.” Ms Lloyd says this bureaucracy is starting to transpire into its dreaded paper form too. The standard registration paperwork consists of a 16 question safety data sheet but any additional notes on usage have to be detailed in the annexe. Most of the time this only amounts to one or two pages but, in cases where a substance has a wide range of applications across different industrial processes and ends up in variety of different end products, annexes have already reached several hundreds of pages. It will be the manufacturers’ job to sift through this documentation and find the bits that apply to them.

The second part of REACH could begin to cause a few headaches too. Here, consumers can ask retailers to check if anything they buy in the shops contains any of a list of 46 ‘substances of very high concern’. The retailer has 45 days to comply and the request for information moves back through the supply chain. The problem is, a manufacturer might bring in components from the EU which were originally put together outside of it. The chain of information will be very hard to track at this stage but the manufacturer will still be obligated to state whether any of the substances are present. This list is expanding twice a year and Jo Lloyd says it will reach “a couple of hundred” within the next two years.

“If you’re at that end of the supply chain you often don’t know if the plastic or alloy or paint coating contains these substances or not,” she says. “Manufacturers aren’t trained chemists or formulators. They buy something because of its efficiency, not because of its chemical composition.”

Autodesk and Granta team up to offer sustainability from the outset

Companies that use Autodesk’s Inventor product design software should at least be able to ensure that they are RoHS compliant more easily through the advent of the company’s new Eco Materials Adviser. The system – a free add-on for the Inventor software – allows users to analyse the energy required to build, the carbon footprint, the water use, the cost, the RoHS compliance and the end-of-life considerations for the whole product and each individual material within it.

The user then has the option of swapping materials for ones that are more environmentally friendly which they can find by setting certain criteria or parameters.

The new product has been developed in conjunction with Granta Design – a self styled materials information technology expert which was born out of a Cambridge University project in the mid nineties.

The Eco Materials Adviser is linked by the cloud to Granta’s Materials Universe database which contains extensive details on 3,000 different materials, including properties, applicable processes, environmental performance, costs and aliases.

An in depth report on the product’s environmental performance can be generated at any time with one click of the mouse using Autodesk’s Inventor Publisher feature. This makes it easy for designers to communicate findings with other members of the team.

RoHS recasts, and widens, the net
The RoHS recast (Restriction of Hazardous Substances), agreed in September last year, is to open its scope quite significantly. The original RoHS directive from 2006 covered eight out of the ten product categories defined under the Waste electrical and electronic equipment directive: household (large and small); IT & telecom; consumer; lighting; electronic tools; toys leisure & sport; and automatic dispensers.

The recast brings in the other two – medical and monitoring & control – along with a new category 11 – all other electronic and electrical equipment not specifically excluded. The first two additional categories will come into force from 2014 while the third will be from 2019.

What’s more, the original RoHS covered equipment which uses electric or electromagnetic fields to fulfil its primary function; the recast changes this to items that use electronic or electromagnetic fields to fulfil any of its functions. This means something like a gas oven which has an electric clock could now fall under the scope of RoHS.

One of the main concerns for industry was that testing equipment used in research and development – particularly low cost, printed circuit board evaluation kits – would fall under the scope of RoHS following the recast. We now know this isn’t the case. They have been included in a list of exemptions effective as of 18 months from June.

But Gary Nevison, head of legislation and regulation at electronic components maker Farnell, says we shouldn’t count our chickens. “There’s every chance that these, like most of the exemptions, will indeed be included with the open scope in 2019,” he says.

“This could well just be a period of grace.” Industry’s concerns are that this is just another barrier to growth.

Another bonus is that, after pressure from industry, this recast includes no new substance restrictions, although three plasticizers and a flame retardant have been put onto a list for urgent review.

Manufacturer spotlight: Renishaw

Engineering company Renishaw had the vision to start early on its RoHS compliance. If it hadn’t, Peter Satchwell, director of product compliance & quality, says the company “would certainly have its work cut out for it now”.

Only one of Renishaw’s products fell under the original scope but many of its metrology products will fall under the control & monitoring category of the recast. As these products fall under the industrial side, they’ll have to be compliant by 2017. Because of the foresight that this would indeed be the case, Renishaw has already put a lot of resources in to ensure its design, sub contract work and supply of proprietary parts across all of its products are leading to compliance. Following calls from the market place, it already declares its compliance on a number of lines.

Renishaw’s investment into RoHS has included Michael Gambie’s dedicated role as RoHS project manager, along with further buy in from many other personnel. “What we’ve learned is that the tail is quite long,” says Gambie.

“Some people see the length of time as quite a way away but in effect, think about the length of the supply chain, the earlier you start the better.” He recommends companies start talking to suppliers, customers and partners now to gauge where they are at and where they need to be. Of course, many industries have a lot less time than Renishaw’s to become compliant.

Most of the company’s work so far has been in support of non-electrical items and this can be down to things as small as checking the inks and adhesives on product labels. This has presented some bottlenecks. Gambie says many suppliers outside of the electrical industry – particularly the smaller companies – have a limited knowledge of the directive. “This means it can be difficult to get the data we need and sometimes means we have to undertake assessments on their behalf,” he says.

Peter Satchwell adds that the quality of the data sometimes does not meet Renishaw’s standard and there have been times when the company has felt the need to validate it. “To some extent there’s a lack of information available over what is acceptable information,” he says. “Perhaps there could be more readily available and easy to understand guidance for suppliers.” The deadlines in themselves aren’t necessarily a bad thing, according to Satchwell. “At least there is now clarity,” he says.

A Commission has been tasked with reviewing the directive and will report back within the next three years on the scope, the substances and how the assessments will be done. The latter could either follow the REACH way of risk assessments or RoHS based as now, which is just defining hazards and whether alternatives are available. The route they choose will have a big impact on the amount of data firms will need to collect and process. Gary Nevison says the fact that the RoHS is now going to become a ‘CE Mark’ initiative, meaning products must display their compliance, will bring concern enough for SMEs in this regard.

“This looks like it could be a bottleneck,” he says. “A lot of small firms approach me and say ‘God, this is horrific’, and it could well be. There’s a lot of information that needs to be retained. There will be a lot of technical files that will need to be kept for ten years, including on obsolete products. But it’s no surprise; it’s the way things are heading.” An independent review is currently being carried out for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on the cost burdens of RoHS on industry. We await their findings.