If there were ever any thought that environmental compliance could be a passing fad, think again. Five years after the Restriction of Hazardous Substance (RoHS) and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations went into effect in the European Union, the regulatory landscape has become even more complex, with India, Japan, China, and other countries jumping on board, in addition to 25 US states that have passed similar legislation.
Factor in new directives, like Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), and the litany of revised guidelines and exemptions, and engineering groups are facing a hyperchanging compliance climate that is becoming increasingly impossible to manage with traditional manual systems and supplier management processes.
"The trend in this space is constant change -- there's no question about it," says Mike Zepp, director of market development for Dassault Systemes. "REACH was the beginning of needing more granularity and having to get more quantitative data from suppliers. Today you really better have system solutions and business processes in place. Otherwise, you will never keep pace with efforts to globalize your product in the markets you're selling to."
In addition to the sea of new and evolving environmental regulations is the highly detailed and quantitative data that is now a requirement for proving compliance. "Before, compliance was a checkbox and went on trust," says Ken Stanvick, cofounder and senior vice president at Design Chain Associates, a consultancy specializing in environmental compliance. "Now everyone is looking for full accountability and full disclosure."
Without the proper tools and processes in place, too much of the compliance burden falls on the design engineer, Stanvick says. As opposed to being the point person for tracking down the required materials and validating data around compliance, he believes design engineers should have ready access to systems that give them the full material makeup of a part, allowing them to gauge whether it meets regulatory requirements.
To meet that standard doesn't necessarily mean an investment in product lifecycle management (PLM) or compliance systems, Stanvick says. But it does require companies to formalize some sort of tool strategy while creating new processes and procedures for dealing with suppliers.
"Make sure you discuss your environmental compliance specifications with your suppliers, and at the same time, be sure to understand the compliance specifications of your major customers," he says. "The bottom line is to have support functions built in to assess [regulatory and part] changes and flag parts that are usable. That will allow design engineers to do their primary role, which is to design."