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Design for Sustainability: Where's the Data?

Posted By Jeff Moad, January 30, 2012 at 2:50 PM, in Category: Sustainability

Increasingly, manufacturers are attempting to drive sustainability into their products at the design stage, conciously engineering in only parts and materials that meet the sustainability criteria of customers and regulators. One big challenge, however, is finding consistent, reliable sources of information on things such as the toxic properties of materials that might be used.

Varian Medical Systems, for example, is launching a Design for Sustainability initiatve intended to not only let the $2.6 billion manufacturer comply wih existing regulations such as RoHS but also to stay on top of new ones. Last week, I sat in on a presentation by Snehashish Sarker, senior manager at Varian Medical Systems, who said, as part of the initiatve, the company has implemented SAP's PLM application which not only integrates with the company's SAP ERP and bill-of-material but also connects with Part Miner, a cloud-based electronic component database. Varian and its engineers are able to download information about the properties of metals used in some parts. But Part Miner and other such databases lack complete, up-to-date information on the elements in all components, at least in part because many component makers haven't provided that information. This puts a crimp in Design for Sustainability initiatives because companies such as Varian are forced to seek out the information from each potential supplier.While SAP and other software vendors provide tools that can automate the process, this bi-lateral exchange of component information adds complexity.

"What's needed is complete, consistent information so manufacturers can compare options such as whether materials are recyclable, whether they contain toxic materials, or whether they include conflict minerals," said Michael Kirschner, president of Design Chain Associates LLC. "Right now a lot of that information is not readily available."

SAP officials said that company is considering an on-demand product, that would facilitate the sharing of this type of information between manufacturers.

Is your company pursuing design for sustainability? If so, how do you deal with the lack of consistent component content information?

Category: Sustainability
Written by Jeff Moad

Jeff Moad is Research Director and Executive Editor with the Manufacturing Leadership Community. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Awards Program. Follow our LinkedIn Groups: Manufacturing Leadership Council and Manufacturing Leadership Summit


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