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Design Engineers' Strongest Value Proposition Today

By Harvey Stone, Ph.D. on Technology Forecasters blog

Oct 10, 2013

Untangling from the Relentless Cycle of Compliance Fire Drills

If you're a design engineer, the design-for-environment (DfE) value proposition is arguably your strongest value proposition today - bar none.

Now, if you use design solutions from companies like Autodesk, which is a world leader in sustainable manufacturing and DfE practices, it's likely that you're already utilizing one or more DfE practices into your products, e.g., you're using more benign vs. toxic chemicals; making your products easier to disassemble at end-of-life; and/or utilizing more recycled materials at the assembly stage.

The strongest business value proposition for DfE, however, does not stem from piecemeal applications, as important as they are. Rather, it stems from the implementation of DfE principles and practices as a concerted program in the design of your products.

DfE Value Proposition
Over the years, I've interviewed design engineers, compliance managers, purchasing agents, supply-chain professionals and many others. I've been struck by how often these individuals describe a common set of experiences: namely, they've been caught in a relentless cycle of compliance fire drills. They're constantly scrambling to find lower-cost materials and/or alternative materials. And just as they meet one new customer or regulator requirement, another one is dropped on their desks.

Plus, not surprisingly, their jobs are more stressful and less fulfilling than they'd like.

If you've had similar experiences, a DfE program is a very straightforward, cost-effective and proven way forward.

Depending on your level of DfE knowledge, the program will show you dozens, if not hundreds, of ways to reduce the cost of designing, manufacturing, shipping and taking back your products, as well as techniques for reducing your customers' operating costs when they use your products.

Furthermore, DfE will establish a rational, routine process, so you can meet even your toughest challenges in today's business landscape.

DfE will provide you with the information, guidelines and case studies to build better products that are more cost-effective and less harmful to the environment, human health and human communities.

And DfE will eliminate a ton of headaches, late nights and tense meetings with anxious executives.

Does that seem overly optimistic? I honestly don't think so. My quarter century of work with manufacturing companies tells me that a DfE solution can make a tremendous difference in your day-to-day work and in your overall career.

Let's look at why.

Our Business Landscape
The 2013 business landscape is radically different from the business landscape when many of us started our careers.

Consider the following:

  • Today, more than 73,500,000 substances are listed in the Chemical Abstract System; a new substance is added roughly every 2.6 seconds; and some unknown percentage of them cause cancer, mutate genes and make it difficult, if not impossible, to have children.
  • It's harder and harder to locate fresh water, minerals like silver or zinc and many other natural resources. If you're checking the invoices, you know that the costs for these resources are higher than at any time in the 20th century.
  • In the next two decades, 3 billion people - mostly from China and India — will join the middle class. That is approximately ten times the population of the United States. Imagine the demand for cars, computers, cell phones and other consumer items - and the likely spiking costs for the resources to manufacture those products.
  • More and more customers are demanding information from supply-chain vendors and transparency into supply-chain practices.
  • And, finally, like them or hate them, environmental regulations that target the products you design are here to stay. Worse, those regulations are getting tougher. Did you know, for instance, that the EU's Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Regulation is 847 pages long and has hundreds of pages of guidance documents? Already, 144 substances have been identified as Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs), which means they can be banned or subject to EU-authorized uses only. In the next six years, it is estimated that nearly 1,000 substances will be identified as SVHCs - and, potentially, unavailable for you to use in your product designs.

So, given the above, what is the take-away about today's business landscape?

In an nutshell, it's this: as with the shift to Quality Systems and to Information Technology in previous decades, we're right smack in the middle of a global macro shift.

If your company is reactive to these shifts, it will be locked into sequential fire drills, which are the most costly and stressful ways to confront new business realities.

If your company is proactive to these shifts, you are likely implementing some form of DfE program. This program not only allows you to succeed in the near term, but it also gives you a proven process for meeting requirements and outsmarting competitors in the longer term.

To cite a few examples, the DfE practice of:
  • Partnering with your suppliers to collect accurate and complete material data will allow you - at any time in the future - to satisfy both customer and regulatory reporting requirements
  • Opening regional manufacturing facilities to reduce costs and be closer to your customers will reduce your risk of supply-chain disruptions and material shortages
  • Designing your products to weigh less and be easily recycled will cut costs and preserve natural resources
  • Adopting renewable energy to lower your financial and environmental costs will avoid price spikes and reduce greenhouse gasses

DfE Resources
If the DfE Value Proposition makes sense to you, here are a few resources that you can use.

DfE Training Program: DfE Online®
DfE Online® is the only comprehensive, self-paced DfE training program available. It is a cost-effective expansion of Technology Forecasters' DfE onsite training program that was provided to Microsoft, HP, Flextronics, Celestica and many other companies in the USA, EMEA and China. DfE Online® Module #1 Overview is an overview of DfE principles and practices. It is available at no charge at the Autodesk App Store. The full 8-module program can be viewed and licensed at www.techforecasters.com/dfe-online.

"DfE Online® contains a breadth of concepts, tools and resources that will help your engineers design environmentally-friendly and profitable products." -Julie Silk, Environmental Compliance Technical Program Manager, Agilent Technologies

DfE-Related Articles
• EMSNow: "Honey, We're Out of Tantalum & Running Low on Zinc"
• ConnectPress: http://www.catiacommunity.com/feature_full.php?read=1&cpfeatureid=71556&page=all
• GreenBiz: 10 Ways to Detect True Green Design in Tech
• Training Magazine: Design for Environment Training Leads to Lean and Green

Design-for-Environment is a comprehensive set of principles and practices that allow you to design better, safer and more cost-effective products. The DfE value proposition is centered around reducing costs, risks and stress. The DfE Online® Module #1 Overview is available at no charge at the Autodesk App Store.

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