Current Issue

IMDS is more intensive, but mandatory for the auto supply chain.

Electronics make up over 40% of the content of the average new automobile today, a percentage expected to increase rapidly. With over $240 billion in sales and an annual growth rate of 10%, the segment has become a major lower-tier player in the automotive supply chain, and this has provided opportunities for electronics manufacturers, large and small, to dramatically grow their business by going automotive.

New suppliers of electronics parts and assemblies to the auto industry are finding IPC’s voluntary material data reporting system (IPC-1752A) insufficient for automotive customers. The auto industry has adopted the mandatory International Material Data System (IMDS), which has more stringent reporting requirements than IPC. IMDS and IPC-1752A are different tools for reporting materials data, created by separate industries for different purposes. Suppliers of automotive electronics are obligated to use both.

IMDS vs. IPC Reporting

Some of the important differences in the two industry reporting systems are:

  • IMDS was created for the purpose of reporting detailed materials data within the automotive supply chain to facilitate end-of-life disposal of cars; it applies to any part that will be installed in a car. IPC-1752A was created for the purpose of sharing material data anywhere within the electronics supply chain.
  • IMDS compliance is mandatory for auto OEMs, which pass the requirement contractually down the supply chain. Automotive suppliers cannot ship without it; materials data must be entered into the proprietary IMDS database to get PPAP approval. IPC-1752A reporting is voluntary, independent of shipping, and the material data are retained by the supplier in XML format.
  • IMDS data requirements focus on the basic chemical makeup of each component; IPC-1752A focuses more on functional and performance data.
  • IMDS imposes a more rigid hierarchal structure on its bill of materials (BoM) than does IPC-1752A.
  • IMDS material must be reported using established industry standards (CAS, SAE, ASTM, ISO) and OEM norms; IPC uses similar but not identical standards recommended by the trade group.
  • IMDS is an accumulating database owned by the OEM auto industry, with data quality controls; IPC-1752A provides only a recommended report format for private sharing of data.

Differences between the two material reporting systems mean electronics suppliers must go beyond IPC-1752A to meet IMDS data requirements of their automotive customers. Electronics manufacturers seeking to do automotive business discover being compliant with REACH1 and ROHS2 and fulfilling IPC-1752A are not sufficient; they must also satisfy an additional regulatory requirement: the IMDS sponsored by the global auto industry. This creates some technical issues, additional paperwork and overhead costs that cannot be avoided.

IMDS Compliance for Electronics

IMDS Recommendation IMDS 019 for Electric/Electronic (E/E) Components and Assemblies requires electronics materials data be submitted to the IMDS in the same manner as other materials, with some additional definitions, guidelines and requirements for PCBs and hybrid electronics. Most of the data needed for IMDS compliance are contained in a complete IPC Material Declaration, but there is no data exchange facility to automatically transfer it to the IMDS database. Data must be entered into the IMDS manually, and there are differences in rules, standards and coding. An electronics manufacturer that wants to join the automotive supply chain is forced to master another, somewhat duplicative, materials reporting system.

This is not an issue for large automotive electronics suppliers such as Delphi, Continental and Valeo that have been dealing routinely with IMDS compliance since its inception in 2003. But it is an issue for new entrants to the automotive supply chain, which includes many smaller, innovative firms that are designing and building sophisticated sensors and instrumentation for the next generation of “smart” cars. These organizations may lack the overhead staff to train and assign to IMDS compliance in addition to their regular duties. Yet, they cannot do automotive business without it. IMDS compliance is an obstacle to doing business.

Options for IMDS Compliance

Electronics manufacturers that are recent entrants to the automotive supply chain have three options for obtaining the data required for IMDS compliance:

  1. Require their suppliers to submit data on each subcomponent directly to the manufacturer’s IMDS account.
  2. Require their suppliers to submit complete materials data via an industry recognized format (for example, IPC-1752A).
  3. Subcontract compliance reporting to a consulting firm with experience in IMDS compliance for electronics materials.

Under Option 1 the manufacturer has to enter data into IMDS only on the materials they originate, but they are still responsible for the accuracy and integrity of the data provided by their suppliers. Getting suppliers outside of the automotive industry to comply can be problematic.

Under Option 2, manufacturers receive their suppliers’ data in IPC format, and have to enter it manually into IMDS, resolving any differences in standards and coding. Most suppliers should be able to provide their IPC data in advance, but some may not. Materials data compliance has to be contracted for with suppliers as an APO condition.

Under Option 3, manufacturers do not have to enter any data into IMDS. Instead they select a subcontractor and provide it with their completed IPC templates, along with drawings and a BoM, and contract for a delivery date. The manufacturer is still responsible for the integrity of its IMDS data. Submissions to IMDS are usually reviewed for accuracy further up the chain, and can be rejected for a number of reasons. The subcontractor is usually responsible for correcting the problem and achieving compliance without additional cost.

The best option to choose depends on:

  • The availability of internal staff to learn and use the IMDS system
  • The ability of lower-tier suppliers to provide IMDS or IPC data
  • The anticipated volume of business with automotive customers
  • Whether a shipment is being held up for lack of IMDS data
  • A time-and-cost comparison of the three options.

Another factor to consider is the IMDS record must be updated anytime there is a change of part number or chemistry anywhere in a PCB or other electronic assembly.

Missing Supplier Data

In the automotive supply chain, upper-tier suppliers require lower-tier suppliers to provide IMDS data on every part supplied before it is shipped. Outside of automotive electronics, that has not been the case in the electronics industry; typically, IPC data are shared only when requested or contracted for. For reasons of cost and convenience, designers of assembled PCBs usually specify standard components, such as resistors and capacitors, which can be purchased from commercial distributors. Because distributors purchase their products from manufacturers and other distributors, they usually do not provide the detailed materials data required for an IPC template, and it is difficult if not impossible to elicit IMDS data from the original manufacturer. Thus a PCB may have several components for which the manufacturer knows the brand names and performance specs, but not their chemical compositions (by weight) required by IMDS. What can be done in this case?

A lot of data on standard discrete components already resides in the IMDS database. If the exact component can be found there, it is acceptable practice to utilize that data to specify the unknown chemical substances. Sometimes an exact duplicate can be found; otherwise, an experienced IMDS user with a materials science background may be able to replicate the material codes and weights with sufficient accuracy to satisfy the IMDS reporting requirement on a best-effort basis. Failing this, the only alternative is to try to elicit the data from the manufacturer, which will take time and may be unsuccessful. Unless a temporary waiver can be obtained, PPAP approval and shipping will be delayed. This is where an experienced IMDS practitioner may be able to save the day by coming up with compliant material specs.

Technology Catch-Up

IMDS Recommendation 019 covers discrete components and hybrid circuits. IMDS has yet to issue recommendations for coding materials in VLSI and nanotechnology architectures, which are now common in digital instrumentation and control applications. This reflects the higher rate of innovation and obsolescence in electronics technology than in the automotive industry in general, due to differences in end-product lifecycles. In the absence of applicable IMDS guidelines and recommendations, suppliers of electronic parts using VSLI and nanotechnologies may need to consult with outside experts for advice on how to satisfy the spirit and intent of IMDS.

Conclusion

IMDS is an established international standard in the automotive industry and is not going away. In the future, mandatory material data reporting by manufacturers is likely to expand to other consumer products with embedded electronics. Like other suppliers in the automotive chain, producers of electronic systems and devices need to comply with IMDS reporting in the most cost-effective way. Production managers have options, including outsourcing. Although IMDS compliance is mandatory, its resource costs can be managed.

References
1. REACH: Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals, an EU regulation on the production, import and use of chemicals, first enforced in June 2007.
2. RoHS: Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive, 2002/95/EC, (RoHS 1), an EU directive on the restriction of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment.

Derrik Snider is a past examiner for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and founder of IMDS Data, which helps companies meet IMDS requirements; derrik@imdsdata.org.

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