European connector makers have successfully persuaded the European Commission to allow the use of hexavalent chromium in the finishing processes of connector housings for a further 12 years. The European REACH regulation has banned the use of the compound, and the original authorisation for continued use was four years.
Connector maker Souriau describes it as a victory for the French connectivity industry, which combines its efforts with its European partners to develop new alternative technological solutions.
The companies, Amphenol, ITT Cannon, Radiall, SOURIAU and TE Connectivity, asserted that connectors are embedded in measuring devices, calculators and all sorts of transportation vehicles, they travel in space, on board airplanes and rockets, at the bottom of the oceans, on the ice sheets, to the most remote deserts.
Such harsh environments dictate to the high-tech and connectors industry complex manufacturing processes, simply because the safety of their users, whether military in action, researchers in Greenland, or civilians on a plane, directly depend upon it.
Among these complex processes, the surface coating uses hexavalent chromium, a product now in the firing line of the European Commission, and in particular of its chemical agency, ECHA, watchdog of the enforcement of the regulation.
REACH (for “Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals”), is a European Union regulation that came into effect in 2007. It was introduced to protect human health and the environment from the risks associated with exposure to chemical substances.
The ban was restricted to manufacturers in the European Union zone, and did not apply to manufacturers or customers in the US or Asia. European companies may have been forced to relocate the manufacturing of their connectors.
But instead, the French and European players agreed on a concerted basis, within the CMG consortium (Connectors Manufacturers Group), to defend the jobs of an industry meeting the needs of a demanding market, while ensuring compliance with international standards.
Gathered under the French professional electronic craft union ACSIEL Alliance Electronique, the CMG managed, after a long administrative process of four years, to win authorisation to continue using this substance, by demonstrating its socio-economic interest and their control of the environmental risks on the European production sites.
As part of the agreement CMG manufacturers have also embarked on an innovative cooperation program, to seek alternative solutions answering the needs of the demanding industrial applications of aeronautics, defence, and space – within a horizon of 4 to 12 years, depending on the use cases.
Hence, the European Commission has extended the authorisation of the use of hexavalent chromium for 4 to 12 years, limited to CMG members only, according to the qualification and deployment statuses of the alternatives.
It is an example of how REACH actively encourages French and European connectivity stakeholders to combine their efforts to take up a complex challenge, and to find innovative alternatives.