In order to avoid misunderstanding, it is important to first point out that in most cases government directives are correct (or at least their original meaning), and we, as manufacturers, should be very glad to have legal references to follow.
Nevertheless, I have noticed that in the last few years, the demands of the European Commission on industry have been increasing at an alarming rate. And since the marketplace is not made up of only large, multinational companies, it seems to me that an enormous amount of pressure has been put on small/medium enterprises, as well as all businesses that don’t distribute to the mass market.
The vending industry is a limited and specific B2B world, which I feel is a good example of the challenges arising from EU legislation. First of all, vending machines have electric and electronic parts, so they both are fully covered under the RoHS and WEEE directives. Besides some minor troubles with product delays, subcontractors and the task of developing a new welding processes for embedded electronics, RoHS has been fairly simple. The fact that the directive had few exceptions, no postponing and no “abnormal” national interpretations resulted in most manufacturers being able to respect its deadline.
On the other side, WEEE still remains a major challenge. The unique directive became a jigsaw puzzle of different national interpretations, with dissimilar application timing and methods. Possibly the most frustration comes from the absence of a specialized disposal/scraping system for vending machines and other professional equipment.
It is important to note that the vending industry tried to be pro-active about this matter. The UK-based Automatic Vending Association (AVA) set-up a collection scheme called “c10c” far before the directive application, but they are still waiting for the UK national law transposition. Also, the Italian Vending Association, which represents around 25 percent of the European vending business, has a stable commission that has been ready for more than 2 years to create a consortium. However, they are still waiting for several ministerial decrees necessary to make the national law understandable and practical.
Consumer trends are also influencing legislation. Busy “nomadic” lifestyles combined with the growing concerns surrounding obesity are changing the face of vending products: in many cases, chocolate bars and sparkling drinks are being replaced with fresh foods like milk-based products and sandwiches. These products have a shorter shelf-life and need be kept under controlled temperatures. The above mentioned trends have been clearly perceived by the European Commission. As matter of fact, in the last Foodstuff Directive 852/2004/EC (also known as part of the “Hygiene Package” that includes 853/2004, 854/2004, 2002/99/EC, and 2004/41/EC), vending machines have been singled out for the first time. The first point assumes good engineering in order to avoid a pest entering into the food area. It also says that the machines should be able to store foods at suitable temperatures and that all exceptions should be managed.
Of course, technical directives are constantly evolving: The first edition of the electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) Directive, 89/336/EEC was recently repealed and is being replaced by a second edition, 2004/108/EC. Both 60335/1, the general directive concerning CE markings, and 60335/2-75, which specifically addresses vending products, had some amendments. Meanwhile, it is already under discussion in Brussels that there will be a major revision to the “New Approach to the CE Marking (1985).” Normally, transition periods for technical directives application are very long to help manufactures “stay tuned.” Nevertheless, there are so many implications that adjustments must be immediate to eliminate duplicate efforts or overlapping activities.
Of course, I have only mentioned the active directives; there are more on the horizon. Currently, the vending industry is under analysis in Lot 12 of the Energy using Products Directive (EuP). In this case, the goodwill efforts of our industry are clear. Since 1999—without any law enforcement—the European Vending Association formalized the Energy Measurement Protocol (EMP) to allow professional customers to accurately evaluate machine power consumption so they could choose the models that fit their needs.
Most manufacturers realize that taking care of legislation is simply a duty with no commercial payback. Resources must be allocated to check, translate and maintain the legal literature, while at least 10 percent of your engineering staff should be dedicated to following the evolution of law compliances. While it is true that everybody must respect laws, the system doesn’t create a merit scale between those making the minimum efforts and those involved in real changes.