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    The Importance of Compliance Awareness in Circuit and PCB Design

    Altium Designer
    |  October 3, 2017

    Compliance sign maze

    I had an English professor once who was a lot of fun, but man, his requirements for essay writing were brutal. Making a decent grade required a ton of work. I had to check and recheck my paper’s content to make sure that every detail he asked for was painstakingly covered. These tedious rituals, though annoying and painful, helped teach me how to be thorough with my research. This was something that came in handy when I began my career and had to wade through extensive electronic design compliance requirements. Meeting compliance requirements for board design can be a serious challenge, but being methodical about the approach can make the task at least possible. Here’s some ideas regarding the why and the how.

    Why Compliance requirements are important

    Compliance requirements are put in place by experts to protect the life and property of consumers, businesses, and the environment. In theory, this should be enough reason to meet them. However, it’s often the punishments for not meeting compliance standards that convince people to follow them. Having a product held up in port due to the lack of a Conformité Européene (CE) mark is more than an expensive setback. More so, if that device is also not found to be Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) compliant, then your company might have its property seized and be banned from any future import. In the United States, if a device does not meet Radio Frequency (RF) emission or susceptibility guidelines, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has the ability to impound your products and issue fines or even jail time. To keep the playing field level, companies have been known to alert the FCC when a competitor’s product is not compliant, and these events can sink product lines and ruin careers.

    RoHS, FCC, CE and WEEE symbols
    Symbols that you’ll come to know very well.

    Considerations for Determining Compliance Types

    When it comes to determining what types of compliance are necessary, serious research is required. A good place to start is by defining the intended product’s market (i.e. consumer electronics, industrial equipment, medical etc.). Devices that are for engineering development, demonstration, or evaluation purposes only will usually have the fewest requirements. Consumer, medical, aerospace and military devices will often have from several to dozens of unique requirements to ensure safe operation in their intended environments. These can include standards like the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) appliance Class 0 through Class III determinations, and Institute for Printed Circuits (IPC) J-STD-001 Class 1, 2 or 3 manufacturing requirements.

    Naturally, the type of device will have a bearing on what types of compliance need to be considered as well. Intentional RF transmitters, from cell phones to garage door openers, must meet the relevant frequency range, noise and amplitude requirements governed by the FCC. Unintentional transmitters should also have their regional Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) compliance assured in order to prevent the device’s operation from interfering with others or being damaged by ambient RF. If a device uses high voltages, considerations regarding Protected Extra Low Voltage (PELV) or Safety Extra Low Voltage (SELV) must be observed to maintain safe operation.

    While the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the IEC have gone a long way towards creating the regulations that many international certifications rely on, it’s a good idea to research regional safety marks as well in potential foreign markets. For example, it might be hard to sell a commercial power supply in Germany without a Geprüfte Sicherheit (GS) mark.

    Drone undergoing EMC testing
    Know what sort of compliance requirements your device will need to meet.

    Know Your BOM’s Compliance Level

    Once a product’s operational parameters have been designed to ensure compliance, it is necessary to construct the device using components and materials that are in line with the requisite environmental regulations. At this point, knowing with absolute certainty what components are in your BOM is critical to knowing whether or not your device will comply. Using a BOM tool to help ensure that your BOM reflects the actual components used in your device is the best way to stay organized. Altium’s BOM tools can filter search results by compliance status and compare results from multiple manufacturers. These include: RoHS, Ingress Protection (IP) Rating, Radiation Hardening, Lead Free, Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals Substance of Very High Concern (REACH SVHC) and Halogen Free compliance status. The Analysis and Management features can help analyze your BOM, and provides organized storage for documentation critical to demonstrating compliance. 

    Contact an expert at Altium to learn how to keep compliance simple.

    About Author

    About Author

    PCB Design Tools for Electronics Design and DFM. Information for EDA Leaders.

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