Cradle to grave: IBM Consulting PLM offering makes for greener products, processes

Manufacturers are more focused than ever on eco-friendly design, production, and distribution. But enacting the right design, manufacturing, and shipping practices that ultimately lead to environmentally friendly products is much easier said than done. IBM says a new consulting offering unveiled in the fall calls upon IBM's own applications and expertise to ensure products are made to environ...

11/01/2008


Manufacturers are more focused than ever on eco-friendly design, production, and distribution. But enacting the right design, manufacturing, and shipping practices that ultimately lead to environmentally friendly products is much easier said than done.

IBM says a new consulting offering unveiled in the fall calls upon IBM's own applications and expertise to ensure products are made to environmental standards established by the client.

The IBM Environmental Product Life-cycle Management (PLM) solution assists clients in analyzing every phase that their products pass through to ensure regulatory compliance and to find practices that could be greened—to coin a phrase.

Consultants take into account the product's development and manufacturing processes as well as delivery methods and end-of-life reclamation and recycling considerations. This means a focus on three areas:

  • Materials used to make and package the product;

  • Design, taking into consideration whether the product can be recycled or refurbished when no longer usable; and

  • Energy sources required to produce it, transport it, and use it.

For example, says Jeff Hittner, corporate social responsibility leader for IBM Business Services, “One business might look at distribution statistics, another at packaging, another at design for compliance, and another at end-of-life requirements so products can be easily recycled or broken down.”

While this IBM PLM offering is too new to boast a user base, Marc Halpern, a research director with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group , says IBM is well situated to enter the environmental consulting space.

“There are so many dimensions to green, and IBM has a good number of tools to support it,” Halpern says.



Predicting before building: IBM Environmental Product Life-cycle Management (PLM) offerings help companies analyze each phase of product design and development. IBM consultants and researchers tap into a variety of PLM applications—including Dassault Systemes DELMIA digital manufacturing solutions—to determine the proper levels of materials and energy needed to build an environmentally friendly product before prototypes ever enter the production phase.

That is, Big Blue incorporates green practices into the manufacture of its own computers and high-tech electronics, and can offer insight from lessons learned. But IBM also makes its own software applications and infrastructure useful to the manufacturer that needs to produce to stringent environmental standards.

IBM also ensures software is configured and implemented to support processes that meet with a manufacturer's green initiatives and objectives.

Environmental mandates include the European Union's Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive, or RoHS, which went into effect in 2006. It restricts six hazardous materials—including cadmium and lead, in the manufacture of various types of electronic and electrical equipment.

Likewise, the EU's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, or WEEE, puts the responsibility for the disposal of waste electrical and electronic equipment on the equipment's manufacturers.

The automotive industry is particularly affected by changing legislation, in that many automakers must comply with the End-of-Life Vehicle Directive passed by the EU in 2000. That law aims to redirect, from landfill to recycling, the approximately eight million tons of waste generated by the disposal of vehicles in EU countries each year.

The directive specifies the materials and chemicals that can be included in particular amounts in automotive parts. By 2015, about 90 percent of a vehicle must be recyclable, according to the Automotive Industry Action Group.

“This is a huge undertaking, and that's why IBM is interested,” concludes Halpern. “A number of companies need to be compliant with EU mandates. If their markets are in Europe, they'll have to care about this.”





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