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In the last weeks, I had several discussions related to sustainability. What can companies do to become sustainable and prove it? But, unfortunately, there is so much greenwashing at this moment.

Look at this post: 10 Companies and Corporations Called Out For Greenwashing.

Therefore I thought about which practical steps a company should take to prepare for a sustainable future, as the change will not happen overnight. It reminds me of the path towards a digital, model-based enterprise (my other passion). In my post Why Model-Based definition is important for all, I mentioned that MBD (Model-Based Definition) could be considered the first stepping-stone toward a Model-Based enterprise.

The analogy for Material Compliance came after an Aras seminar I watched a month ago. The webinar How PLM Paves the Way for Sustainability with  Insensia (an Aras implementer) demonstrates how material compliance is the first step toward sustainable product development.

Let’s understand why

The first steps

Companies that currently deliver solutions mostly only focus on economic gains. The projects or products they sell need to be profitable and competitive, which makes sense if you want a future.

And this would not have changed if the awareness of climate impact has not become apparent.

First, CFKs and hazardous materials lead to new regulations. Next global agreements to fight climate change – the Paris agreement and more to come – have led and will lead to regulations that will change how products will be developed. All companies will have to change their product development and delivery models when it becomes a global mandate.

A required change is likely going to happen. In Europe, the Green Deal is making stable progress. However, what will happen in the US will be a mystery as even their supreme court becomes a political entity against sustainability (money first).

Still, compliance with regulations will be required if a company wants to operate in a global market.

What is Material Compliance?

In 2002, the European Union published a directive to restrict hazardous substances in materials. The directive, known as RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances), was mainly related to electronic components. In the first directive, six hazardous materials were restricted.

The most infamous are Cadmium(Cd), Lead(Pb), and Mercury (Hg). In 2006 all products on the EU market must pass RoHS compliance, and in 2011 was now connected the CE marking of products sold in the European market was.

In 2015 four additional chemical substances were added, most softening PVC but also affecting the immune system. Meanwhile, other countries have introduced similar RoHS regulations; therefore, we can see it as a global restricting. Read more here: The RoHS guide.

Consumers buying RoHS-compliant products now can be assured that none of the threshold values of the substances is reached in the product. The challenge for the manufacturer is to go through each of the components of the MBOM. To understand if it contains one of the ten restricted substances and, if yes, in which quantity.

Therefore, they need to get that information from each relevant supplier a RoHS declaration.

Besides RoHS, additional regulations protect the environment and the consumer. For example, REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) compliance deals with the regulations created to improve the environment and protect human health. In addition, REACH addresses the risks associated with chemicals and promotes alternative methods for the hazard assessment of substances.

The compliance process in four steps

Material compliance is most of all the job of engineers. Therefore around 2005, some of my customers started to add RoHS support to their PLM environment.

 

Step 1

The image below shows the simple implementation – the PDF-from from the supplier was linked to the (M)BOM part.

An employee had to manually add the substances into a table and ensure the threshold values were not reached. But, of course, there was already a selection of preferred manufacturer parts during the engineering phase. Therefore RoHS compliance was almost guaranteed when releasing the EBOM.

But this process could be done more cleverly.

 

Step 2

So the next step was that manufacturers started to extend their PLM data model with the additional attributes for RoHS compliance. Again, this could be done cleverly or extremely generic, adding the attributes to all parts.

So now, when receiving the material declaration, a person just has to add the substance values to the part attributes. Then, through either standard functionality or customization, a compliance report could be generated for the (M)BOM. So this already saves some work.

 

Step 3

The next step was to provide direct access to these attributes to the supplier and push the supplier to do the work.

Now the overhead for the manufacturer has been reduced again. This is because only the supplier needs to do the job for his customer.

 

Step 4

In step 4, we see a real connected environment, where information is stored only once, referenced by manufacturers, and kept actual by the part suppliers.

Who will host the RoHS databank? From some of my customer projects, I recall IHS as a data provider – it seems they are into this business when you look at their website HERE.

 

Where is your company at this moment?

Having seen the four stepping-stones leading towards efficient RoHS compliance, you see the challenge of moving from a document-driven approach to a data-driven approach.

Now let’s look into the future. Concepts like Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) or a Digital Product Passport (DPP) will require a fully connected approach.

Where is your company at this moment – have you reached RoHS compliance step 3 or 4? A first step to learn and work connected and data-driven.

 

Life Cycle Assessment – the ultimate target

A lifecycle assessment, or lifecycle analysis (two times LCA again), is a methodology to assess the environmental impact of a product (or solution) through its whole lifecycle. From materials sourcing, manufacturing, transportation, usage, service, and decommissioning. And by assessing, we mean a clear, verifiable, and shareable manner, not just guessing.

Traditional engineering education is not bringing these skills, although LCA is not new, as this 10-years old YouTube movie from Autodesk illustrates:

What is new is that due to global understanding, we are reaching the limits of what our planet can endure; we must act now. Upcoming international regulations will enforce life cycle analysis reporting for manufacturers or service providers. This will happen gradually.

Meanwhile, we all should work on a circular economy, the major framework for a sustainable planet- click on the image on the left.

In my post, I wrote about these combined topics: SYSTEMS THINKING – a must-have skill in the 21st century.

 

Life Cycle Analysis – Digital Twin – Digitization

The big elephant in the room is that when we talk about introducing LCA in your company, it has a lot to do with the digitization of your company. Assessment data in a document can require too much human effort to maintain the data at the right quality. The costs are not affordable if your competitor is more efficient.

When coming to the Analysis part, here, a model-based, data-driven infrastructure is the most efficient way to run virtual analysis, using digital twin concepts at each stage of the product lifecycle.

Virtual models for design, manufacturing and operations allow your company to make trade-off studies with low cost before committing to the physical world. 80 % of the environmental impact of a product comes from decisions in the virtual world.

Once you have your digital twins for each phase of the product lifecycle, you can benchmark your models with data reported from the physical world. All these interactions can be found in the beautiful Boeing diamond below, which I discussed before – Read A digital twin for everybody.

 

Conclusion

Efficient and sustainable life cycle assessment and analysis will come from connected information sources. The old document-driven paradigm is too costly and too slow to maintain. In particular, when the scope is not only a subset of your product, it is your full product and its full lifecycle with LCA. Another stepping stone towards the near future. Where are you?

 

Stepping-stone 1:            From Model-Based Definition to an efficient Model-Based, Data-driven Enterprise

Stepping-stone 2:            For RoHS compliance to an efficient and sustainable Model-Based, data-driven enterprise.

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