Image courtesy Gorodenkoff / iStock / Arena

How Streamlining Environmental Compliance Drives Sustainable Product Development

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From electric vehicles and portable off-grid battery systems to smart solar trackers and air quality monitoring solutions—sustainable technologies are leading the way in innovation. It’s no surprise as rising temperatures, harmful chemicals, air contaminants, and other hazards continue to wreak havoc on our health and planet. With tightening environmental legislation and shifting consumer preferences, there’s a greater push for companies to adopt sustainable manufacturing practices and deliver eco-friendly products. Thus, many manufacturers are stepping up to the plate to help build a greener future and enhance our quality of life.

SUSTAINABLE PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT: WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR TODAY’S MANUFACTURER?

The design and production phases are major considerations for manufacturers in their endeavor to establish more sustainable product development processes. Creating designs that incorporate fewer parts or replacing high carbon footprint materials with recycled or bio-based alternatives can reduce products’ environmental impact. Simplifying the replacement and repair of certain parts or enabling products to be remanufactured and recycled once they reach end of life is another way to enhance sustainability.

How will products be packaged, transported, and used? Gathering insights from customers, supply chain partners, and other key stakeholders early on serves as an opportunity for manufacturers to make improvements in these areas and drive greater sustainability throughout the entire product lifecycle.

ENVIRONMENTAL COMPLIANCE: AN IMPORTANT PIECE OF THE SUSTAINABILITY PUZZLE

With the many design and production considerations at play, companies must also navigate ever-changing environmental laws and regulations which determine the types of parts and raw materials that are sourced and how they are incorporated into the final product.

REACH, RoHS, and WEEE:

REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances), and WEEE (Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment) regulate products that are manufactured, imported, or sold in the European Union (EU) market. These regulations are intended to protect people and the environment from the presence of hazardous materials and ensure the environmentally safe recycling and handling of products.

REACH applies to a majority of products and restricts the use of 224 chemical substances which are deemed carcinogenic, toxic for reproduction, mutagenic, persistent, and bioaccumulative. Companies that manufacture, distribute, or import more than one ton of hazardous substances per year must register them with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). They must demonstrate that they can effectively manage the risks associated with the substances and establish the appropriate safety measures for the product.

In contrast, RoHS applies solely to electronics and electrical equipment (EEE) and restricts the use of these 10 substances above certain concentrations:

  • Cadmium (Cd): < 100 ppm
  • Lead (Pb): < 1000 ppm
  • Mercury (Hg): < 1000 ppm
  • Hexavalent Chromium: (Cr VI) < 1000 ppm
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBB): < 1000 ppm
  • Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE): < 1000 ppm
  • Bis(2-Ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP): < 1000 ppm
  • Benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP): < 1000 ppm
  • Dibutyl phthalate (DBP): < 1000 ppm
  • Diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP): < 1000 ppm

To comply with RoHS, companies must obtain a certificate of conformity. This entails:

  • Testing to confirm that the 10 restricted substances fall within acceptable limits
  • On-site audit of manufacturing processes
  • Review of product documentation (i.e., bill of materials, technical file, assembly drawings, material declarations, test reports, and compliance certificates from suppliers)

Falling within the same product scope as RoHS, the WEEE directive calls for the proper recovery and recycling of EEE once they reach end of life. To demonstrate compliance, manufacturers must complete the following steps:

  • Provide end users information regarding the proper disposal of products and collection locations. Also, mark products and/or user instructions with a crossed-out wheelie bin symbol
  • Create guides and recommendations for easy dismantling and recovery of EEE
  • Ensure collection companies receive the discarded materials, log their weight, and list the name of the manufacturer
  • Provide each EU member state an annual inventory report of all materials collected

Conflict Minerals:

Both the European Union and the United States require manufacturers, suppliers, and importers to conduct due diligence and ensure that certain minerals are ethically sourced from around the world to produce products. Conflict minerals are natural resources that are extracted from areas impacted by armed conflict (e.g., Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Tanzania). They are commonly linked to human rights violations including unsafe working conditions and child labor. Tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold (also known as 3TG) are currently designated as conflict minerals by the EU and U.S.

To adhere to the conflict minerals regulations, companies must file a report if 3TG is used at any point in the manufacturing process and demonstrate that it is necessary for the functionality or production of the final product. Manufacturers must also trace the origin of 3TG to verify that it is not sourced from any of the high-risk areas.

Cal ProP 65 and TSCA:

Cal Prop 65 (Proposition 65) and TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act) regulate products sold in the U.S. market.

Administered by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), Cal Prop 65 requires manufacturers to provide California residents a clear and reasonable warning of any significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm stemming from their products. Warnings are typically included in the product labeling.

TSCA restricts the use of these 14 substances which are deemed harmful to human health and the environment:

  • Asbestos
  • Lead (in paint and paint waste)
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  • Dioxins
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
  • Metallic mercury (in consumer products)
  • Formaldehyde
  • Nitrites (in metalworking fluids)
  • Hexavalent chromium compounds (on metals used in water treatment)
  • Phenol, Isopropylated Phosphate (3:1) (PIP 3:1)
  • Decabromodiphenyl ether (DecaBDE)
  • 2,4,6-Tri-tert-butylphenol (2,4,6 TTBP)
  • Hexachlorobutadiene (HCBD)
  • Pentachlorothiophenol (PCTP)

To comply with TCSA, companies must document the use of restricted substances in parts, materials, and products, and retain the documentation for a minimum of three years.

STREAMLINING ENVIRONMENTAL COMPLIANCE WITH CLOUD-NATIVE PLM AND QMS SOLUTIONS

Compiling and maintaining all the compliance evidence associated with various regulations can be time-consuming and overwhelming for manufacturers, especially when working with spreadsheets, paper, and other disparate systems. Because these systems do not automatically link compliance information directly to the product record, there’s no way to get a clear indicator of product compliance at any given time. It’s also difficult for organizations to keep their quality processes and documentation up to date as regulatory requirements continue to change.

To compound matters, manufacturers are sourcing more parts and assemblies from contract manufacturers and multitiered supply chain partners to address increasing product complexity. This requires frequent communication and coordination between all parties to ensure that compliance certificates, material declarations, testing reports, and other environmental documentation are readily available.

Cloud-native product lifecycle management (PLM) and quality management system (QMS) solutions streamline environmental compliance by providing a centralized platform for internal teams and external supply chain partners to efficiently exchange information and compile all the necessary documentation. Since compliance evidence is electronically linked to the product bill of materials (BOM), team members can quickly view compliance information for each component and assembly with a simple click and retrieve documentation for an upcoming audit. Having a unified system to manage, track, and access the latest information provides greater visibility and traceability, thereby minimizing compliance risks.

Image courtesy Arena

Integrations with electronic component databases like SiliconExpert and Octopart also make it easy to view current market availability and compliance status for regulations such as REACH, RoHS, and conflict minerals. In turn, teams can source the right parts and get compliant products to market faster.

MAKING SUSTAINABLE INNOVATION A REALITY

With greater responsibility now on product manufacturers to reduce their environmental impact and address today’s growing ecological concerns, they must rethink traditional product development practices and adopt a more sustainable approach. Familiarizing yourself with the various laws and regulations that apply to your business will get you on the right path to environmental compliance. In turn, leveraging a cloud-native PLM or QMS solution will eliminate a lot of the manual processes and inefficiencies that often lead to compliance gaps and other missteps throughout the product development process. With the proper planning and resources in place, sustainable innovation is within reach.

This article is sponsored by Arena, a PTC Business.


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