Before Thanksgiving Dinner started in our house, we took the opportunity to raise a glass of wine or beer (in the case of some) to express our thanks for family, friends, good health and life in general.
During the course of our various toasts, our daughter in law looked in the bottom of the (English) beer tankard from which she was drinking and saw the glass bottom. As she commented on it, there were two things she mentioned.
1. Why does the tankard have CE Marking? And
2. Why does it have a glass bottom?
As there is interesting history involved here, let’s answer the second question first. There is a serious reason for the glass bottom.
Continue reading Even the Beer Stein or Tankard Falls Under CE Marking Requirements
For most of us, the term “ground” reminds us of something our parents did to us when we were teenagers. To the electrical engineer the term “ground” is synonymous with “earth” and is considered a generic term that refers to a wide array of methods that offer electrical current a common return path to the Earth. Electrical engineers may use the terms earth and ground interchangeably to describe an EMC ground, signal ground, electrostatic ground or to a lightning protection circuit to name but a few.
While most people would expect that a simple reference to ground or earth would suffice, in the world of regulatory compliance and safety it is extremely important that the electrical design engineer or safety engineer define the type of ground required in very specific terms that are recognised as industry standards. For the sake of brevity, this article will address some of the fundamentals of electrical grounding and leave the technical details for the electrical engineering profession to manage.
Continue reading Electrical Grounding for Dummies 101
On August 22nd 2012, the US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) finally agreed its long awaited (or perhaps dreaded) requirements for conflict minerals reporting, implementing the requirements of Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Full details of the decision (which was passed by only by the narrowest of vote margins, 3-2) were published in a press release from the SEC.
The rules require US publicly-traded companies to trace their supply chains and disclose annually if their products use certain raw materials, known as “conflict minerals”, that originate from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and other specified adjoining African states in that troubled region. The conflict minerals named are casserite, columbite-tantalite, gold, wolframite and their derivatives, tin, tantalum and tungsten – all elements vital to the electronics industry. However, if the Secretary of State decides other minerals or their derivatives are helping finance conflict in the DRC and surrounding nations, there can be additions to that list.
Continue reading New Conflict Minerals Regulation not limited to the USA in a global marketplace!
It’s worth remembering that the WEEE and RoHS Directives began life as two aspects of a single piece of draft regulation back in 1996 when the Parliament requested proposals for directives on waste streams, including tackling WEEE and reducing hazardous substances in WEEE – WEEE having already been identified as priority waste stream to be tackled in the Council of Europe’s Waste Management Policy that was published in May 1990.
Since then progress on both has proceeded simultaneously, with the original versions of both laws coming into effect at the same time in February 2003 and initial proposed revisions from the Commission arriving in December 2008. But from June 2010 onwards, WEEE had been playing catch-up and was becoming bogged down in negotiations.
Continue reading EU’s WEEE Directive Catches up with the RoHS Directive
The charter of the responsible electrical engineer is to design as many safety features into the product as can be imagined, learned, or anticipated. As today’s electrical engineers move out of the picture and into retirement, companies will be challenged to retain the knowledge that has come with their experience. It is imperative that engineering staffs learn from the mistakes of others as they will not have the luxury of making those mistakes again. This is not only a requirement for commercial success, it is a matter of life and death, as electrical tools and devices spread further into third world cultures where the understanding and educational limitations within countries expose a population that neither understands nor respects the power and potential of electricity harnessed to manmade tools.
The challenge described above is composed of two key issues: an aging engineering workforce in theUSA and the ongoing implications of a shrinking world through globalization. As noted by Gregg Kervill in his latest book “The Designer’s Guide to Electrical Product Safety”, as recently as 2008, one in four American workers with a degree in technology, engineering or mathematics was 50 or older. This group represents an extraordinary accumulation of electrical design knowledge and experiences that were often learned the hard way as a result of various failure modes. A typical 50 year old engineer in 2008 would have completed his or her degree in 1970 without access to a calculator, much less a laptop. As engineers are often notoriously poor communicators, there is the real possibility that large chunks of electrical design and safety knowledge may go to the grave with this generation of technologists. There is a ray of hope, however. Recent economic trends are forcing older Americans to continue to work into their 60’s and 70’s. Companies that are concerned about an engineering “brain drain” may start viewing their Sr. Engineering staff as a rich source of experience to be maintained as a resource for their less experienced staff to access through mentoring programs or as on call consultants.
Continue reading Electrical Product Safety Engineering –Our Experienced Engineers Are Retiring – What Now?
Electrical systems and devices are at the same time inherently safe but also dangerous by definition. Considering the relentless proliferation in electrical appliances, devices and power generation facilities within the last century, electricity has to be considered one of the safest forms of energy that we humans interact with. Electricity and the tools that use this energy form are relatively safe, efficient, and dependable compared to other engineered attempts to harness our environment.(Think Bhopal for chemicals, Chernobyl for nuclear, and highway carnage for mechanical systems)
That said, we need to look at some of the gaps in our engineering efforts and our perspective on safety within the world of electrical tools and systems. This begs the question – what is “safe”? This is a loaded question that is often asked within engineering circles but never answered. Reliability engineers are asked to prove that a particular machine will have “X” amount of runtime before it fails. They can probably provide lots of comparative and historical data that will indicate mean time between failures for similar machines, but there is no way to categorically state the life span of a particular machine.
Continue reading The Integration of Safety, Quality and Reliability in the Design of Electrical Systems
There is no debate that for over a century electrical energy and the products associated with this power source have been on an exponential growth curve that shows no sign of flattening out. The computers and the components used to build them are infinitely more sophisticated than anything that was commercially available even 10 years ago. Machines that were previously dominated by mechanical systems, such as the airplane, are today composed of a myriad of electrical systems that make flying safer, more efficient and more comfortable. While electronic components and systems have continued to grow in capability and number, the fundamental safety standards that protect us from our products has seen an irregular and erratic path of adaption and refinement.
To understand the current situation with regard to electrical safety standards, it is important (and fascinating) to look back on a few key moments in the history of electrical energy and our attempts to ensure safe operation of the products that either were the source of or users of that energy. In 1893 the Chicago World’s Fair included, for the first time, a display of electrical products and demonstrations. There was a large tussle between proponents of DC vs. AC power to the extent that Thomas Edison became involved in the discussions. The insurance company carrying the liability for the expo wouldn’t cover the electronics display until a well respected electrical engineer, William Merrill, was hired to approve the safety of the display in its entirety.
After the fair, Mr. Merrill began receiving numerous requests for similar audits and certifications throughout the country and as a result, he started a company to perform these certifications. Such was the birth of Underwriter’s Laboratories and the all important “UL” seal we are so familiar with today. By 1895 there were 5 different electrical installation codes in the USA and things were starting to get out of hand. As a result, in 1886 a group of industry leaders got together and formed a single uniform code called the National Electrical code or NEC as it is known today.
In 1970 Congress created OSHA, which originally used the NEC based standards for their electrical safety standards. While all of this was going on domestically in the United States, a parallel effort was happening on the international scene. In 1906, following a series of meeting that included electrical engineers and safety consultants from around the world, the IEC, or International Electrotechnical Commission was formed. Today, IEC is the accepted leader in the field of electronics safety and its standards are adopted by over 80 different countries. It publishes standards for electronic products as well as installations in multiple languages. The graphical symbols you see on electrical devices and appliances are IEC designed standards that are used throughout the world. Today, the IEC works closely with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as well as the IEEEE to maintain worldwide standards of measurement for such electrical quantifiers such as gauss and hertz.
Going forward, there will be multiple challenges for the keepers of our electrical safety standards. The issues surrounding batteries used for computers as well as the next generations of electric autos will need serious attention as will the details and procedures required when independent solar and wind generators start contributing energy to the electrical power grid in significant amounts. Electrical energy is possibly still in its infancy and the safety standards associated with this phenomenon will need to evolve and mature in rapid fashion to remain viable going forward.
EU’s REACH regulatory approach spreading to the USA?
There is a strong lobby in the USA aimed at reform of chemical control regulations. The current primary legislation is the existing Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (“TSCA”) passed under President Ford’s administration. Many people are concerned that such a serious matter (many believe rightly so) should be controlled by such an old law. Lobby groups suggest that a sizable majority of the public want to see it reformed as soon as possible, once the reasons are explained to them – see for example the fact sheet published from the The Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition .
On 15 April 2010 a new bill, the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 (“SCA 2010”), summarised here, was introduced by Democrat Senator Frank Lautenberg (New Jersey)in the US Senate aimed at reforming the existing law. Senator Lautenberg has been very vocal on this issue, having originally proposed a reformed TSCA in 2005.
Continue reading REACH — Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals
In our last blog article on Environmental Regulations, our author, Nigel Burt, made a reference to the Dodd-Frank Act Section 1502. To quote the last blog, “In the USA this burden (tracking content of materials in the supply chain) will likely increase soon due to the conflict minerals reporting requirements” in section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
This week’s blog will examine Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act and assess its implications and get a taste of what is to come for manufacturers selling into the US. Although the Dodd Frank Act focused on major financial reform, this particular section 1502 requires companies to disclose if they are using conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). So the question arises, why is the SEC involved in traceability in the supply chain? Some of the issues driving the act are military control, rebels fighting over the mines, 1000’s of death in the DRC and child labor.
Continue reading US Environmental Regulations on EEE – 2012 Where Are We Today and What’s In the Future?
Environmental legislation like the EU’s RoHS Directive and REACH regulation and similar laws in China, India and other nations around the globe,now require manufacturers to keep detailed records from their supply chain of the materials used in their products. In the USA this burden will likely increase soon,due to the conflict minerals reporting requirements in section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
Whilst RoHS is only concerned with six substances, as we mentioned in the last part of this blog, REACH has a growing list of chemicals identified as possible Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC) and it currently stands at 84 types.Producers must report if any article they are responsible for in the EU contains any one of these SVHCs above a 0.1% limit by weight. Also 14 of the SVHCs already require specific authorisation for use.
Continue reading Tracking and recording the material content of your products