Straight Answers: China RoHS

(Q:) OK, I’ve read everything I can about this new China RoHS “law”.  Give me the salient points.

As of March 1, 2007:

All products sold into China must be labeled for restricted substance content.  As almost every electronic product has at least one of the restricted substances, the labeling works like this:

  • Figure out the Environmentally Friendly Use Period (EFUP) and mark that on the product. It looks like an “e” with a number in the middle. 10, 20, 30, 50 years are common.
  • Then, analyze all the components in your product for the 6 restricted substances, aggregate them, and mark your product with a hazardous material “x/o” chart in Chinese.
  • Finally, analyze your packaging material for recycling purposes, and mark the materials. You might also have to mark your documentation and data sheets with this same information.

(Q:) That doesn’t seem so bad.

As usual, the devil is in the details.

To do this, you need to analyze, label, and you must have supporting documents for every component in your product at the substance level.

(Q:) Wait! The Chinese RoHS spec doesn’t say that!

Very true.  All it says is that you have to indicate which of the restricted substances are in your product.  Keep reading if you want to know why you absolutely must have substance-level supporting docs…

(Q:) But, I have all these European RoHS “Certificates of Compliance”

EU RoHS certs do not demonstrate compliance for China RoHS.

(Q:) Why not?

Because most EU RoHS certificates simply say “we meet the EU RoHS spec”.  Also – and this is a biggie – EU RoHS has many exemptions.  China has *none*.  Your EU RoHS certificate might say “no lead”, but what they mean is “no lead after considering all the exemptions”.

(Q:) Fine.  My vendor says they have a “China RoHS” certificate.

Doesn’t mean much.  China doesn’t want certificates from a vendor.  They want a simple chart – from you, in Chinese, showing which restricted substances are in your product. Your entire product.   The only way to know that is to analyze all the components, track the substances, roll them up, and then create the chart and the supporting documentation.

(Q:) My products are exempt from EU RoHS.

They are not exempt from China’s marking requirement.  Everybody has to label.  And to label, you need to analyze down to the substance level.

(Q:) Fine.  We will get to it later in the year when our China sales forecast justifies the cost.

You can’t.  Products without the necessary marking don’t get into the country anymore.

(Q:) Can’t we just put an “X” in each box of the chart and label the thing?


(Q:) Great!  Hey, why are you laughing?

Because, you will get caught.

Think about it:  China is forcing the entire world to spend lots of money analyzing and labeling products.  They also spent lots of time and money coming up with the law.  And they will be checking, if only to protect their own industries.

(Q:) How will they catch me? They can’t check everyone for compliance.

Checking is easy for them.  All they have to say is “You have these boxes marked.  Can you show why you marked them that way?”

Also, the number of entities that can set an audit into motion will astound you: OEM, buyer, importer, wholesaler, retailer or ANY local official.

Even your competitors.

If your supporting document is not a substance level report, you face sanctions and penalties.  Nasty and expensive penalties.  Same outcome if all you have is reassurances and “certificates of compliance”.  They want you to have proof.

(Q:) Fine.  What do I need to support the markings?

You need to show them a list of the individual components and sub-assemblies, and you must identify the hazardous materials in each individual sub-assembly.  In Chinese.

(Q:) But the China RoHS spec doesn’t say this!  They don’t mention supporting documentation at all!

True.  The spec is purposely ambiguous.  Practically anyone can instigate an audit, and the only way to defend an audit is to have supporting documentation.  This is not like EU RoHS.

(Q:) Isn’t there an easier (cheaper) way to do this?

China RoHS is all about substance level declaration.  If you can’t prove it, you have a serious problem.

(Q:) My engineers tell me that substance level data is not even available on all commercial components.  What do you say to that?

They are right.  Published substance level data is not available on all commercial components, especially passives.  There are still ways to get the answers.  Worst case, you can crush up the parts and measure them in a mass spectrometer.  XRF guns are an option too.

(Q:) So, in order to compile this huge phone book of supporting documents, I have to get the material content of *every* component from each of my vendors?

Yes. You must have substance level proof for every component in your product.

(Q:) And translate it into Chinese too?

The Chinese seem pretty insistent on having all the documents in Chinese.

(Q:) I don’t have this budgeted.  We don’t have the time to do this.  My Engineering manager didn’t tell me this.  You are just trying to spread FUD.

The experts have been saying this for 9 months.  Experts with nothing to sell to you.  This is not a “nice to have”.  This is a “must have”.  Most consultants offer various recommendations.  We, on the other hand, are not paid for our “advice”.  We get paid to do the work and keep you out of trouble.

(Q:) The Chinese government can’t audit everyone.  I’ll take my chances until I have more China sales.

Good luck.  As mentioned earlier, the real risk is NOT from the Chinese government.  It is from everyone else in your distribution chain, as well as the risk that your competitors can turn you in.

(Q:) Wait. My competitors can audit me?

The spec says everyone who accepts responsibility for your product – OEM, importer, wholesaler, distributor, and retailer – accepts responsibility for your labeling.  If your labeling is inadequate, wrong or unsupported, they risk the same sanctions that you do.

Kind of like passing around a phony $100 bill. The last person who gets caught with it loses the $100 and has to speak with the authorities.  That makes people very nervous.

If you knew you could be left holding the bag, wouldn’t *you* ask to see the justification for the marking?  Wouldn’t *you* delay taking possession of the product until you were convinced it was correct?

All it takes is a well placed competitor telling *your* distribution channel that they are at risk – because you don’t have supporting documentation.  And they’d be right.  The Chinese were smart.  They made everyone responsible, and therefore there are many potential enforcement agents.

Your OEM/Buyer/Importer/Wholesaler/Retailer is thinking like this.

Q:) OK, you made your point.  What is your pitch?

It is simple. The only way to comply with these laws is to know exactly what is in your product.  We analyze your product, produce certified documentation, and keep it updated.

Here is how we do it:

Under NDA, we analyze your BOM along with your assembly drawings, where more components are usually found – on a product-by-product basis.  Remember, your supporting documents need to be on a product-by-product basis too.

Then we get the material and substance list directly from the component manufacturers and analyze the substances.  If you specified custom parts, we get the information directly from the engineering specifications.

Since we know all the restricted substances and levels for all of the different RoHS laws, and we know the substances in your product, we generate evidence of compliance.

(Q:) That is going to cost a fortune!

Compared to what?  The risk of not doing it is penalties, payoffs and product sitting in quarantine. The numbers speak for themselves.  We do it for a fraction of what it will cost you to do it in-house.  Besides, aren’t your engineers supposed to be designing the next quarter’s new cash cow?

(Q:) Then what?  How do I maintain all these different RoHS documents?

As part of our annual service, we maintain them.  Important, since you will probably be changing your products all the time.

Typical example #1:

Engineering wants to change a part.  You feed it to us as part of the change review, and we tell you if it is compliant – for all the RoHS laws at the same time.  When you actually change the part, we update your documents and send them back to you.  Your supporting documentation is always up-to-date and available to anyone who may demand it.

Typical example #2:

Purchasing wants to change a part – or 20 – because the lead times are better.  Or because the price is better.  Whatever the reason, you send us the proposed changes and we quickly verify compliance (usually in a day or so).  When you actually change the parts, we update your documents and send them back to you – for all the RoHS laws – and all RoHS languages at the same time – even Australian.  You have version controlled supporting documents, specific to each product and revision.

(Q:) You keep mentioning this Australia RoHS?  I don’t want to keep paying for every new RoHS law that comes along.

Assuming the new laws are all asking for the same type of information: “what substances are in your product?” we provide coverage for new RoHS laws because we already know the answer.  We might have to translate it into Australian, though.

(Q:) What does this service cost?

It depends (but you knew we’d say that).

Mostly it depends how many products you have, how many parts in each product, and how many of those parts are custom.  Commercial off-the-shelf parts are easier – therefore cheaper – to get substance data for.  Custom parts take more time and effort.

The initial cost to get down to the material level is more expensive than to maintain the documentation.  After that, the annual cost is inexpensive.

(Q:) I already have my products marked.  But I could use some help on the supporting documentation.  Maybe quite a bit of help.

We understand.  Since you must have the supporting documentation, that’s what we do best.

(Q:) How do I get this process started if I want Lead Free Design to do it?

Email us with some general information:

The number of products, brief description of what each product does, maybe a picture or data sheet, number of commercial components for each product, the number of custom components for each product.

Or call us at (719) 785-4888.  We’ll just ask you the same questions, but sometimes it is nice to talk to a live engineer.

Ask us. We’ll tell you how much it will cost and how long it will take.

(Q:) Anything else?  This didn’t exactly make my day.

We are sympathetic.  Most of us were designing something really interesting, like FDA-approved medical devices, and Boeing jets, before these RoHS requirements showed up.

We know you want to get out of this in the least expensive, fastest way that you can.  That is our goal too.  No need to make work where there isn’t any.  Many of us have advanced business degrees too.  We feel your business pain, as well as understand your engineering problems.

We are cost effective and efficient experts at RoHS.

That makes it cheaper and easier for you.

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