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PCB REACH Compliance

Key Takeaways

  • PCB REACH compliance is a subset of REACH compliance geared towards electronics manufacturing.

  • Businesses operating in the EU must adhere to REACH compliance, and it avails companies that want to sell to the EU to follow these restrictions too.

  • Designers can work around some REACH issues in the BOM by researching replacement components.

View of a copper plating tank.

Electronics manufacturing has to navigate many different standards for the safety of technicians, operators, end users, and the environment following disposal. Born out of workplace safety and ecological concerns in the European Union (EU), the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) provides an expansive list of partially or fully restricted chemicals for businesses operating within EU territory. The health impact of these measures is undoubtedly beneficial, yet they create an additional item to consider in a long list of compliance for PCB designers and manufacturers.

While a production that is unprepared to meet the requirements of health and safety guidelines will certainly encounter difficulties, preparation by adhering to guidelines and working closely with manufacturers avoids the majority of the issues. Attaining PCB REACH compliance can be more involved than other regulatory compliances, but the process boils down to speaking with manufacturers and internal tracking of substances.

Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive vs. Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH)

Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive vs. Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH)



  • Specifically geared towards the electronics industry
  • The scope is limited to a small list of banned substances
  • Strongly led by its regulatory body
  • A general restriction on all chemicals, some of which apply to electronics manufacturing
  • The scope is vast, containing hundreds of thousands of chemicals, including RoHS
  • Restriction effort falls heavier on industry based on registration, evaluation, authorization flow

REACH Compliance and Industry Effects

Unlike the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive, which specifically targets the issue of electronic waste, REACH is a more general EU regulation. Both aim to prevent hazardous environmental and human exposure to industrial materials used in manufacturing (the final goods and any byproducts). REACH operates as a procedural framework for manufacturers and businesses established in the EU, tasking them responsible for registering substances to determine the potential impact on human health or the environment. It is then up to the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) to evaluate these chemicals, ultimately deciding whether they are too unsafe for continued use or whether authorization (future or prior) is necessary to limit exposure and accumulation.

REACH’s effect differs depending on a business’ role in the industry. The heaviest impact unsurprisingly falls on the chemical manufacturers themselves. After that, EU-based importers must also comply with REACH requirements similarly (but less intensely) to the manufacturers. For importers, this may apply to bulk chemicals and manufactured products. Finally, business use of chemicals may have some obligation if these chemicals are inherent to work activities. REACH fulfillment falls on local companies, importers, and manufacturers for businesses outside the EU with products sold within the EU.

Even though there is no de jure legal requirement for businesses outside the EU to sell their products, many businesses located or operating in the EU are developing and deploying their compliance standards to contractors and subcontractors to ease their administrative burden. Partner businesses can accelerate these compliance measures – or position themselves better prospectively – by ensuring that all items manufactured or purchased and assembled on their end provide sufficient tracking of substances. Quality or component engineers at electronics companies may need to contact suppliers to obtain product chemical information. Product data then requires compilation in a central database that can calculate substance concentration as a percentage of the final assembly.

How PCB REACH Compliance Impacts Designers

For a designer, REACH compliance will most likely be present during the board’s assembly. While the layout will impact the board fabrication and system integration materials, the manufacturer will decide much of the substance selection. The bill of materials (BOM) will include all the components for a board or system (depending on the complexity), and designers will want to practice good data hygiene to alleviate downstream compliance checks. While an up-to-date BOM relies on the accuracy of the manufacturer’s part number (MPN) for the land pattern design, there is usually less emphasis on the manufacturer itself. Designers can insert or update the BOM to collate information before requesting chemical data from manufacturers to facilitate the process.

When issues with REACH compliance arise in components, the best bet is to pivot to replacements. Designers will want to consider a few strategies when researching new components:

  • Drop-in replacement - These components are an exact match in terms of land pattern, schematic symbol, and pinout, and they require the least amount of redesign (technically, only an MPN update) of the possible options.

  • Equivalent component - A component with exact or similar values to the component it's replacing; packaging may differ significantly, requiring a significant layout redesign in dense boards or those where a component appears many times.

  • Alternative component - Alternate components differ so much that electrical characteristics are no longer analogous. However, there is enough overlap between features and functionality that an alternative component can be programmed or configured for the same role.

Unfortunately, production schedules can conflict with chemical information requests from manufacturers. These countervailing forces complicate the efforts of compliant design, leading to abrupt changes in layout and procurement. While the best approach is to contact manufacturers as early as possible to prevent response time from bogging down product development, do not install (DNI) components provide BOMs multiple outs. If, for example, component selection is between a more economical option whose REACH status is uncertain and a more expensive package type that is REACH compliant, designers can include both components in a design (space permitting) to avoid restricting the layout to a single variant. Following confirmation, design teams can remove DNI components from the BOM and layout in future revisions if desired.

With Cadence Software, PCB Design Solutions Are in Reach

Businesses are more responsible for defining PCB REACH compliance than a central regulatory body; production teams can adhere to guidelines by maintaining communication channels with manufacturers and keeping track of substance accumulation in designs. While REACH compliance may seem difficult, design can juggle multiple design variants in a single board and procure as necessary to keep development moving forward. Any design variants must utilize extensive simulation and testing to characterize board performance. Cadence’s PCB Design and Analysis Software suite provides constraint-driven modeling for a vast catalog of common components. Alongside OrCAD PCB Designer, design teams can seamlessly transition from simulation to layout with a powerful yet easy-to-use interface.

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