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What Are RoHS Compliant Connectors & Why Are They Important?

If you use electrical connectors in your products — regardless of whether you’re selling to a local or international market — RoHS compliant connectors should be on your radar.

Also known as the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive, RoHS compliance bans the use of ten of the most hazardous substances commonly found in electrical and electronic equipment. The directive was first introduced in the European Union nearly two decades ago, and variations of it have since been adopted by other countries and regions.

In terms of product choices, there are many reasons to select RoHS compliant electrical connectors. Beyond meeting the regulations required to sell in markets bound by these restrictions, RoHS compliance is important because these certain hazardous materials are proven to be dangerous to the environment and to the health of those exposed to them.  

Let’s take a closer look at what it means to be RoHS compliant and how this standard applies to electrical connector finishes, including the different types of RoHs compliant finishes available.

Which Connector Materials Are Banned Under RoHS?

When RoHS was first introduced in the European Union in 2003 under Directive 2002/95/EC, there were six initial heavy metals and flame retardants on the restriction list with the following maximum concentration values:

  • Lead (0.1%)
  • Mercury (0.1%)
  • Cadmium (0.01%)
  • Hexavalent chromium (0.1%)
  • Polybrominated biphenyls (0.1%)
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (0.1%)

Four plasticizers were added in 2019 under directive 2015/863:

  • Bis(2-Ethylhexyl) phthalate (0.1%)
  • Benzyl butyl phthalate (0.1%)
  • Dibutyl phthalate (0.1%)
  • Diisobutyl phthalate (0.1 %)

Over the years, restrictions have expanded in scope to all electrical and electronic equipment — cables and parts included — and, as of July 2021, to medical devices. These stringent directives only apply to manufacturers, sellers and distributors in the European Union.

RoHS-Style Regulations in Other Countries

Other jurisdictions have followed in the EU's footsteps and introduced their own variations of RoHS. China, Japan, Korea, India, Canada and the Eurasian Economic Union, to name a few examples, all restrict the use of many of the same materials as the EU.  

The United States takes a more piecemeal approach, with different states following their own RoHS-style regulations. California, the first state to implement restrictions with a 2007 law, limits use of lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium in “covered electronic devices” — that is, video displays. Illinois, Minnesota, Colorado, Wisconsin, Indiana, Rhode Island, New Mexico and New York have similar rules in place.

All this goes to reiterate that RoHS compliance is not just a European consideration anymore. The rules apply to a wide range of electrical and electronic products sold in many different parts of the world. Companies that don’t comply with the regulations risk fines and legal consequences.

In addition to export implications, these heavy metals, flame retardants and plasticizers are restricted for good reason: they pose a significant risk to human health and to the environment. The impact is felt by manufacturing employees handling said materials, the consumer using them and populations subjected to a contaminated environment.  

What Does This Mean For Metal Finishes?

For an end product to be RoHS compliant, all the parts used for the end product must also meet the regulations, from cables to casings to connectors. And that includes the metal finishes on these components. The finish cannot include more than the maximum concentration values of any of the restricted heavy metals on the RoHS list.

Hexavalent chromium, for instance, used to be among the more popular materials used for electroplating because it increases hardenability and corrosion resistant properties — two desirable qualities in a protective coating. However, this material is now known to cause cancer with prolonged exposure. That’s why it’s restricted in many parts of the world, including several U.S. states.

While hexavalent chromium is an extreme example of the impact of non-compliant RoHS materials, it’s one that reiterates the value of ensuring RoHs-restricted materials don't exceed the maximum concentration values allowed.

In some applications, the benefits of a specific finish may outweigh the fact it’s not RoHS compliant. For example, cadmium plating is extremely resistant to corrosion, especially in salt water environments. It’s commonly used by the military because of the advantages it offers in the harshest of conditions. Cadmium plating can be toxic, however, and is not RoHS-compliant.

Other industries with different requirements and needs have switched to alternative forms of metal finishes, like zinc or nickel plating, which are also anti-corrosive and resistant to salt water but meet RoHS regulations.

RoHS Compliant Finish Options

Choosing a connector with a metal finish that’s RoHS compliant takes the guesswork out of the equation. And if it’s being used in a product that will be sold in the European market or any of the markets that follow RoHS-style regulations, it’s a must.

At Amerline, we offer a number of alternative finishes that are protective, cost-effective and still RoHS compliant. Some of our most popular finish options include:

  • Electro-deposited black, which meets a 500-hour salt spray test
  • Black zinc, a black trivalent chromate over zinc plating
  • Electroless nickel
  • Nickel
  • Electro-deposited olive drab, which also meets a 500-hour salt spray test        

Circular Connector Finishes that Deliver Peace of Mind

At Amerline, we understand that selecting the right finish for your circular connector comes with considerations. That’s why we offer various finish options for our connectors, including custom finishes, to meet the specific needs of your product: finishes that are safe, scratch-resistant, anti-corrosive, durable and visually appealing. And, of course, many of our finishes are certified RoHS compliant for added protection.

Whichever Amerline finish you choose for your connector, you’ll have peace of mind knowing it meets the most extreme industry standards at the most cost-effective prices.

Looking to find a connector with the right finish for your applications? Request a quote today.

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