I recently tried to purchase a Marantz CDR500 but I was told that, due to a new EU directive that bans the use of hazardous substances, it was no longer available. Does this mean that I'm not going to be able to buy any gear until manufacturers make new models that comply with the EU directive?
Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns replies: No, not at all — numerous fully-compliant products have been on the market for several years already, so there's no need to panic! However, some previously popular and long-standing models have become unavailable since the ruling came into force, as you have discovered.
The EU directive in question — which became enforceable (in the UK) on July 1st 2006 — is known as RoHS (Restriction of the Use of certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations), along with a closely related partner directive known amusingly as WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive). The first formal European draft of RoHS was published back in 2000 and entered the EU legislation in 2003, so manufacturers have effectively had around five years to reconfigure their design and production processes to conform with the new requirements. RoHS restricts the use of a range of chemical nasties in certain classes of electronic equipment, but the most significant item as far as we are concerned is the prohibition of lead.
Lead was a major constituent of the solder used to connect electrical components on circuit boards. The replacement lead-free solders melt at significantly higher temperatures and this has important practical implications for the design of individual components and the production methods used during equipment manufacture.
Consequently, pretty much every product that was originally intended to be produced using leaded solder needed a substantial redesign to become RoHS compliant. Often that process was simply not cost-effective for the manufacturer, and so the inevitable result was that many products have been deleted completely. Of course, brand new, fully-compliant models have replaced most of these old designs, but some manufacturers have used the introduction of RoHS as the impetus to cease some model lines completely — as appears to have been the situation regarding the Marantz rackmount CD-recorders.
Interestingly, products using leaded solder can still be sold, but only if they were introduced before July 1st 2006. In practice, though, this is only a short-term arrangement and will generally apply to only a few products, mainly from small manufacturers. However, the situation gets a little more involved when it comes to spare parts and repairs. Fortunately, the RoHS directive recognises that non-compliant components will be required to maintain 'legacy' equipment, and so permits their production and sale indefinitely — but whether the manufacturers will feel the market is sufficient to warrant their production is another matter!
Related to all this is the fact that mixing leaded and lead-free solders is really not a good idea at all. So service centres will need to identify which kind of solder is employed in a product and use something compatible when making repairs. Reliability could be adversely affected by lead contamination of a lead-free circuit board, or by mixing lead-free and lead solders on an 'antique' PCB.