Opportunities to Improve Electronics Safety

EE Times

This article originally appeared in Electronic Engineering Times, on December 18, 2020

Climbing out of the potential well of starting a company-wide, individualized environmental/human health safety improvement project may seem daunting: doing the research to identify candidate projects, selecting and defining a target project, getting buy-in and support from other internal — and external — organizations, and obtaining funding from management and doing this all while juggling existing projects and responsibilities is indeed quite challenging.

One approach to reducing, if not entirely eliminating, the challenge is to join an external, industry-wide project. While this will still require obtaining some level of buy-in and support from other internal organizations, funding from management and taking on more responsibility, it may not be as steep a hill to climb and can enable you to leverage others’ work. So what opportunities exist for you to get involved in industry-wide actions, such as they are? Clean Electronics Production Network (CEPN) and The International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI), as mentioned last month, offer the opportunity to work with peers to influence and drive safety improvements in the manufacturing process itself and products, respectively.

The Clean Electronics Production Network (CEPN) is a multi-stakeholder innovation network, launched in 2016 by Green America’s Center for Sustainability Solutions to address complex workplace health and safety challenges in the electronics supply chain. The goal of CEPN is to “move toward zero exposure of workers to toxic chemicals in the electronics manufacturing process.” While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA in the USA and similar government agencies in countries around the world) sets the baseline requirements for these chemicals and their exposure to workers, CEPN sees its role as “raising visibility of these issues in the supply chain, focusing on safer substitutions and developing tools to build worker engagement and participation in their workplaces,” says Pamela Brody-Heine, CEPN’s Director. CEPN members have operations and supply chains that extend globally, beyond any individual country or region.

CEPN has developed a Process Chemicals Data Collection Tool available for free that you can use to gather information from suppliers about process chemicals. While effective use of this tool requires plenty of prep work, it benefits the industry by creating a common format for consistent collection of information across the supply chain. Including a solid explanation of why you are requesting the data will increase the likelihood of your being able to get useful information. Understanding what you are looking for and what actions can be taken based on the data received is also another consideration.

“Joining CEPN provides Network members a framework, credibility and public recognition for voluntarily improving worker chemical safety in the electronics supply chain” and “enables progress on a complex issue no individual leader can solve alone, proactively moving the electronics industry to a safer supply chain,” says Brody-Heine. While CEPN membership is by invitation from existing members, the group continues to grow adding multi-stakeholder innovators and leaders. CEPN is an important organization to be aware of.

iNEMI is apparently the electronics industry’s sole remaining independent research and development entity. The breadth of projects done by iNEMI over the decades cuts across a wide and exciting variety of technical challenges. One area they have focused on over the past few years is Sustainable Electronics.

While some projects in this space have these have been very helpful to the industry in general, they have primarily been point projects. But now a new, more broadly applicable project is in development that more generally addresses circularity. “Eco-Design Best Practices for a Circular Electronics Economy” is focused on understanding how thought leaders go about implementing eco-design — what are the drivers and where do ideas come from? How do they define the requirements? How are these decisions made?

These are great questions — and this presents an opportunity to get in on the ground floor, participate, share knowledge and learn. Circularizing product lifecycles is not an area I believe we should be competing on: the better the industry’s environmental footprint is, the better it is for all stakeholders — and there will still be plenty left to compete on. iNEMI is also a member-driven organization and to get the most out of it your company should be a member. Visit the link above and get in touch with Mark Schaffer at iNEMI to learn more.