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What is the design for the environment?

EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) Program is a voluntary initiative that forges partnerships with many stakeholder groups in an effort to:

* Incorporate environmental concerns into the traditional decision-making parameters of the business world: cost and performance.

* Build incentives for behavior change to encourage continuous environmental improvement.

To accomplish these goals, the program utilizes EPA expertise and leadership to evaluate the environmental and human health risks, performance, and cost trade-offs between traditional and alternative technologies. DfE disseminates information on its work to all interested parties and assists businesses in implementing new technologies identified through the program.

The program currently has cooperative partnerships with:

* Industry

* Government purchasing authorities

* Professional institutions

* Academia

* Environmental and public interest groups


Printing Wiring Boards (PWB) serve to interconnect the devices and components in the vast majority of electronic products. Without this critical component, most electronic products either could not function or would be significantly more expensive if constructed with other interconnect technologies. PWBs play a crucial role in the advancement of electronic packaging and interconnections because improvement in PWBs reduce the size and cost of electronic devices while boosting performance. Progress in PWB technology and manufacturing drives United States competitiveness in both existing products and new technologies. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC), the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), and the European Community (EC) all include electronic systems and components on their critical technology lists.

The total world market for all PWBs is approximately $21 billion, of which U.S. production accounts for about one quarter ([greater than]$5 billion). U.S. Domination of this world market eroded from 1980 to 1990, but has come back slightly in recent years. However, like a commodity industry the PWBs industry is characterized by highly competitive global sourcing with very low profit margins.

There are approximately 700 to 750 independent PWB manufacturing facilities in the U.S. The states with the highest number of PWB manufacturing facilities are California, Minnesota, Texas, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Arizona. However, there are PWB manufacturing facilities in virtually all 50 states and territories. In the U.S., the majority of PWBs are produced by independent manufacturers. Many original equipment manufactures have shut down their PWB operation and now buy their PWBs from independent manufacturers.

Since 1980, rigid multi-layer PWBs have grown to dominate the domestic production value of all PWBs. Rigid multi layer boards now account for approximately 66% of the domestic market. One-quarter of the market is double-sided rigid boards, and the remainder are single-sided and flexible circuits. The market for multi layer boards has grown from approximately $700 million in 1980, to almost $3.4 billion in 1993. The PWB industry directly employs approximately 75,000 people. Of this number, about 68% of employment is concentrated in production jobs - the highest ratio of production jobs for U.S. electronic manufacturing.

The Institute for Interconnecting and Packaging Electronic Circuits (IPC) estimates that a minimum of 2% of PWB revenues in 1991 went to pay for pollution controls. In comparison, the average net profit for the P.B. industry in 1991 was about 2.2% of sales. The cost of waste treatment (estimated at over $140 million in 1990 for major merchant PWB manufacturers) and the additional regulatory burdens of recordkeeping, manifesting, and inventory reporting however, have remained the same and many pollution prevention efforts have reached their cost-effective limits.

What is a PWB?

A printed wiring board is the foundation - both literally and figuratively - for virtually all electronics in the world. It is the platform upon which electronic components such as integrated circuit chips and capacitors are mounted. The PWB, or printed circuit board provides both the physical structure for mounting and holding electronic components as well as the electrical interconnection between components. PWB consists of non-conducting substrate (typically fiberglass with epoxy resin) upon which a conductive pattern or circuitry is formed. Copper is the most prevalent conductor, although nickel, silver, tin, tin-lead, and gold may also be used as etch-resists or top-level metal. There are three types of PWBs: single-sided, double-sided, and multi layer. Single-sided boards have a conductive pattern on one side only, double-sided boards have conductive patterns on both faces, and multi layer boards consist of alternating layers of conductor and insulating material bonded together. The conductive layers are connected by plated through-holes, which are also used to mount and electrically connect components. PWBs may also be either rigid, flexible, or a combination of the two (rigid-flex).

When the electronic components have been mounted on the PWB, the combination of PWB and components is an electronic assembly, also called a printed wiring assembly. This assembly is the basic building block for all larger electronic systems, from toys to toasters to telecommunications.

These electronic systems, in turn, support every other critical technology in the United States. To quote the Council on Competitiveness for their 1991 Gaining New Ground report, "Electronic components are playing an especially important role in driving improvements in information and communication technologies, which in turn are enabling advances in all manufacturing and service industries."

Electronics drive productivity in almost every industry; one electronics job determines the competitive strength of seven jobs in other industries. Electronics are critical in medical systems, defense technologies, information processing, intelligence manufacturing, propulsion, and materials processing. In addition, a number of new, emerging industries depend on advancing their technical capability of the PWB industry. These include artificial intelligence, biotechnology, digital imaging technology, high density data storage, high-performance computing, medical devices and diagnostics, optoelectronics and more. U.S. competitiveness in these new technologies will depend upon advanced PWB technology and manufacturing capability in the United States.

General Nature of Industry

PWB manufacturing is a highly technical, complicated operation requiring large equipment investment and over fifty process steps. Because PWBs are designed for individual, specific applications, the PWB manufacturing industry is not considered a commodity industry. However, like a commodity industry, the PWB industry is characterized by highly competitive global sourcing with very low profit margins. Designs for specific PWBs can be transmitted electronically virtually anywhere in the world for fabrication. In the United States, unlike some other areas of the world, the PWB industry has made substantial investments in pollution prevention and control, and is continuing to spend an average of 2.1% and as much as five percent of sales on regulatory compliance and pollution prevention. These investment have paid off with significant pollution prevention successes. For example, the IPC and several IPC members won EPA Stratospheric Ozone Protection Awards for research on eliminating ozone-depleting substances from PWB manufacturing assemblies. Several IPC members have also won EPA 33/50 Pollution Prevention Awards for their aggressive work on preventing pollution, and many IPC members have won state or local awards for their proactive pollution reduction efforts.

Why is the EPA Working with the PWB industry?

The printed wiring board is the underlying link between semiconductors, computer chips, and other electronic components. Therefore, PWBs are irreplaceable parts of many high-tech products in the electronics, defense, communications, and automotive industries. PWB manufacturing, however, generates a significant amount of hazardous waste, requires a substantial amount of water and energy, and uses some toxic chemicals that pose potential environmental and health risks.

The industry has already committed to making pollution prevention a priority. However, many PWB manufacturers are small businesses that cannot afford to independently develop the data needed to redesign their processes. To facilitate the evaluation and implementation of alternative technologies that reduce health and environmental risks and production costs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has entered into a partnership with the PWB industry and other interested parties through its Design for the Environment (DfE) Program.

How did the PWB project get started?

In March 1993, Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC), an industry research consortium, released an industry-led study entitled Environmental Consciousness: A Strategic Competitiveness Issue for the Electronics Industry. The study recognized that wet chemical processes, such as those used in PWB fabrication, are a significant source of hazardous waste and consume large amounts of water and energy. The potential for improvement in these areas led EPA's DfE Program to forge working partnerships with the IPC - the PWB industry national trade association - individual PWB manufacturers and suppliers, research institutions such as MCC and the University of Tennessee's Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies, and public interest organizations, including the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

What are the projects's goals and how will it affect the industry?

Since its inception in 1994, the PWB project has established partnerships to foster open and active participation in addressing environmental challenges faced by the PWB industry. The project has also identified, evaluated, and disseminated information on viable pollution prevention opportunities in the industry.

Over the long term, this voluntary, non-regulatory project seeks to encourage companies to consider implementing cleaner technologies that will improve their environmental performance and competitiveness. Toward this end the DfE Project Team, in close cooperation with IPCs Environmental, Health, and Safety Committee, is working to develop and analyze technical information on pollution prevention technologies that reduce risks to human health and the environment, hazardous waste generation, compliance costs, and chemical and natural resource use.

Technical Studies

In 1995, the DfE Technical Workgroup mapped out the primary steps in PWB fabrication and chose one step - making drilled through-holes conductive (MHC) - for detailed analysis in a Cleaner Technologies Substitutes Assessment (CTSA). A CTSA is a comprehensive analytical tool used to evaluate the health and environmental risks, performance, and cost alternative materials, processes, and technologies.

As part of the CTSA, the effectiveness of seven MHC technologies have been tested in "real-world" settings. EPA recruited 26 facilities in the United States and Europe that have successfully implemented these technologies to help test their performance. Each company processed three standard boards through its MHC process line. The boards were then sent to one site to complete the final manufacturing steps and were tested for electrical and mechanical reliability. The results have demonstrated that when implemented correctly, the alternative technologies perform as well or better than the standard electrolyze copper technology. An analysis of the costs and cost savings associated with each alternative technology will also be conducted and included in the CTSA.

Industry partners also conducted a survey to obtain information about the current use of pollution prevention technologies in the PWB industry. The survey report contains data on waste and chemical use reduction achieved through implementing these technologies (Printed Wiring Board Pollution Prevention and Control: Analysis of Survey Results: EPA 744-R-95-006). The PWB Project Team has also compiled information on PWB markets, products, and technology trends, and current methods for manufacturing PBS (Printed Wiring Board Industry and Use Cluster Profile, EPA 744-R-95-005), as well as information on federal environmental regulations that affect the electronics industry (Federal Environmental Regulations Affecting the Electronics Industry, EPA 744-B-95-001). All project documents may be obtained by contacting the Pollution Prevention Information Clearinghouse.

The information in the CTSA and other project documents will allow PWB industry decision-makers to evaluate their processes and identify cost-effective pollution prevention options. The MHC CTSA is expected to be completed in early 1997.

Communication Efforts

Throughout the project, EPA and the project stakeholders have conducted outreach activities to promote awareness of the project and to generate interest in the project's technical and information products technical and information products. Project stakeholders have given presentations at PWB trade shows, written articles for the PWB trade press, distributed DfE information products at booth exhibits, created project fact sheets, and have created a Web site for the project. In addition, the Communication Workgroup has developed several pollution prevention case studies featuring initiatives undertaken by PWB manufacturers. The case studies provide practical information on substitute materials, processes, technologies, and work practices that result in risk reduction, and are available from the Pollution Prevention Information Clearinghouse.

Implementation efforts

The Project's Implementation Workgroup was established to provide education and assistance to individual PWB manufacturers, and to encourage them to consider implementing the cleaner technologies identified in the CTSA. Specific activities of the workgroup include:

* Developing a guidance document for installing and implementing the alternative MHC technologies.

* Conducting seminars in 1997 of PWB manufacturers and local community and government representatives to present technical information about he MHC technologies

* Creating a Web site that contains all documents generated by the project, with links to other related EPA and industry sites.

* Helping Tellus Institute to design total cost assessment (TCA) software specifically for PWB manufacturers. The software will help companies analyze the expected financial benefits of switching to cleaner technologies.
COPYRIGHT 1997 National Environmental Health Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Date:Jul 1, 1997
Previous Article:Pollution prevention education and training: getting the job done.
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