Eco-friendly design: Software ensures all materials meet environmental standards

Doing business in other countries means understanding everything there is to know about environmental regulations. Product development specialist PTC helped the APC division of Schneider Electric do just that by leveraging InSight, a solution that supports product compliance tracking at the substance, material, part, and product levels.

03/24/2009



Executives at companies doing global business understand country-to-country differences such as currency and language. But they almost must understand—and, more important, demonstrate—compliance with complex environmental regulations that vary from country to country as well.

Environmental regulatory compliance and “green” product design are now considered critical in numerous industries. Faced with a growing set of standards and environmental compliance regulations governing product development—including the European Union’s RoHS, WEEE, ELV, REACH, and China’s RoHS regulations—manufacturers are searching for scalable platforms to support green design initiatives ( See graphic ).




Several years ago, for example, leadership at the Critical Power and Cooling Services Division ( APC ) of Schneider Electric recognized the need to address emerging environmental rules focused on product design and material content, and wanted to transition more than 8,000 electronic products to RoHS compliance and build sustainable business processes for making environmentally compliance products.

“Companies such as APC must now document information about what every single component they use was made from and how it was made—including whether or not lead solder was used and if chromium is present,” says Ray Lizotte, director, Environmental Stewardship Office, APC. “The problem is most manufacturers don’t have a mechanism in place to acquire and then manage that data.”

The challenge is growing rapidly and becoming more complex, Lizotte says. For example, in 2002, APC tracked 256 laws in 100 countries. By the end of 2006, the number had doubled.

The answer for APC was to implement the InSight environmental compliance solution—now available from product life-cycle management (PLM) software supplier PTC . InSight supports product compliance tracking at the substance, material, part, and product levels. Subsequently, users are able to enhance data collection, analysis, and reporting processes starting with product design and ending with disposal and recycling.

Chief among the reasons APC’s selection of InSight was its out-of-the-box integration with enterprise applications such as APC’s Oracle ERP system. The solution also was working seamlessly with APC’s Lotus Notes application in a few weeks, Lizotte says.

“There’s very low overhead associated with InSight because it integrates so well with the Oracle solution, and it also brings in data from outside parties. Then it delivers all the necessary data to users so they can focus on activities such as designing or purchasing parts,” Lizotte says. “What’s critical, however, is that everything happens behind the scenes so users don’t need to be experts on environmental regulations to do their jobs well.”

This is no small feat, considering that APC makes 4,000 to 5,000 different products—using thousands of items. That translates to roughly 300,000 pieces of data to manage, Lizotte says. Roughly 200 changes are made to the system each week because suppliers are constantly added or deleted from the list, and the suppliers’ parts change as well.

To gain additional value, APC also installed test systems in its factories. This way, Lizotte says, the company can test and analyze incoming parts to determine if a part a supplier says is compliant really is compliant.

“That means we know the data collected and stored is accurate, and that it actually represents the products we use,” Lizotte says.

There are two significant benefits to having such detailed data. The first, of course, is that APC is able to meet its customers’ demand for environmentally compliant products, Lizotte says. “It also helps us win new business,” he adds. “For example, if a potential customer asks us to prove we supply environmentally compliant products, we have access to all the up-to-date and detailed data necessary to demonstrate that our products do indeed meet environmental regulations.”





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