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PLM and Compliance: A Green Foundation

By Mike Zepp

Mike Zepp, Dassault Systemes

Over the past few years, concern for the environment has gone from a nice-to-have feature to a major business issue that influences decisions. Greening your product—and greening how you make your product—is discussed at the highest levels of the organization and affects who companies partner with, what materials are used, and ultimately how much revenue the product generates.

That said, a balance between environmental and business considerations must be maintained for the organization to run profitably and provide affordable, high-quality products. This balance, then, is important not just for green-company credibility from the public, but for the real business benefits than can result from such an initiative.

While most people are familiar with both the theory and practical use of product lifecycle management (PLM) technology and how it can help design and manufacturing organizations collaborate on a global scale to cut costs and improve efficiency, few may have considered how PLM technology can assist in environmental efforts and contribute to making the organization greener.   For most, the first step toward a greener design and manufacturing process begins with compliance. With strong environmental regulations implemented by the European Union (and gaining ground in the U.S. and Asia), ensuring materials compliance went from one region’s headache to a global issue. Progressive companies have turned to PLM to assist with the real-time collection of product and materials data from all sources and to keep track of what changes need to be made before going to market. 

Because compliance has become a mandatory component of doing business worldwide, it makes good business sense to set up automated processes that can meet both current and future mandates. Aside from the ramifications of non-compliance (shipment delays, heavy penalties, loss of market share, negative public image), using traditional methods such as spreadsheets hurts a company’s ability to compete.  By using PLM to help green the entire product development process, companies also gain public recognition. This leads to interest from investors and support from environmentally conscious consumers. 

PLM assists in incorporating “design for recycling” in the product development process. This enables companies to take into account how materials used in one phase of development will impact the disassembly and recycling of the product when its life is over. It means they can proactively design-in materials that can be reused, reducing the “environmental footprint” of their products. Finally, some companies have seen that going green enabled them to both increase quality—providing a stronger value to consumers by taking a renewed interest in what makes up the products—and lower costs. They do this by streamlining proof of compliance and avoiding late-stage changes, managing the process from the beginning. 

In fact, having such a system in place paves the way for organizations to think ahead of the environmental regulators and ensure that their products are compliant with expected rules and regulations, preventing future changes from needing to be made. There are companies in the high-tech industry who are beginning to eliminate all Halogen-based substances—an action that is not currently mandated beyond a small class of brominated flame retardants.

With new materials and regulatory directives being introduced on a regular basis, companies competing globally can ill-afford to be in violation—and need to implement processes that can help them manage this business-critical issue. Using PLM as the foundation for balancing business needs with those of the environment will help ensure your company’s transformation into a strong and successful green business.

Mike Zepp is the director of material compliance solutions for ENOVIA, Dassault Systèmes. Send e-mail about this commentary to DE-Editors@deskeng.com.

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