Design for environmental compliance

Get ready for some tough new environmental regulations. If you aren't already familiar with them, you'll soon hear the list of acronyms for government directives that will change the way products are developed for the global market. Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS), and End-of-Life Vehicle (ELV) regulations are affecting manufacturers,...


Get ready for some tough new environmental regulations. If you aren't already familiar with them, you'll soon hear the list of acronyms for government directives that will change the way products are developed for the global market. Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS), and End-of-Life Vehicle (ELV) regulations are affecting manufacturers, machine builders, and product designers in a wide range of industries.

Regulations are aimed at reducing levels of hazardous substances in new products and ensuring that materials are recyclable. In the European Union, WEEE mandated the recycling and reclaiming of 85% of hazardous substances in 2006. That level is raised to 95% by 2015. RoHS came into effect in July 2006, restricting the use of such hazardous substances as lead, mercury, and cadmium. Japan and China are enacting similar laws, and the US is considering some form of the directives.

Regulations mandate that OEMs and/or their suppliers certify to the respective governments that their products meet all regulatory requirements and do not exceed certain levels of hazardous substances. The price of non-compliance is severe. Violations can trigger heavy fines and penalties. Products may be refused at entry points to particular countries. Recalls are highly expensive. Lost sales revenue can be huge. Companies often are shocked to learn that exceeding hazardous substance thresholds for individual parts can prompt regulatory agencies to ban the entire product.

In the case of a mobile phone, for example, European standards forbid any single component such as a resistor or capacitor from containing more than 0.001% lead. AMR Research Inc. notes that one major consumer electronics company lost $110 million in sales because the Netherlands government banned a new product for exceeding acceptable levels of cadmium in the insulation material of its power cable.

Make compliance a high priority

Given the consequences, complying with environmental regulations is a high priority at the executive level of companies. Manufacturers and their suppliers must collect, track, analyze, and report materials data across the supply chain. These tasks are particularly challenging for companies in the automotive and electronics industries where products have so many parts, assemblies, and subsystems.

People responsible for compliance usually must manually research, check, cross-check, and copy data from a wide range of lists, spreadsheets, databases, and reports. The task is not only time-consuming, but also highly prone to errors that can jeopardize entire product programs.

Another way of certifying materials compliance is with product lifecycle management (PLM) software. PLM tools enable manufacturers to verify that product materials meet environmental regulations early in development. This technology enables companies to manage product-related information in one system and facilitates Web-based collaboration through every stage of a product's life—from concept through design, manufacturing, after-sales support, and obsolescence.

Develop a conduit for data

By giving people access to information when they need it in a form they can readily use, PLM serves as a unified conduit of data exchange and efficient workflow for a wide range of product-related processes, including materials compliance verification. These Web-based systems help companies connect globally dispersed facilities and outside organizations such as suppliers, partners, and customers.

PLM tools have been developed which are specifically directed at materials compliance for WEEE, RoHS and ELV. These solutions collect, aggregate, analyze, and report relevant material and substance data throughout product development in one system.

For example, users can check product content information from any source (bills of material, parts lists, design specifications, etc.) and cross-reference data against multiple regulation requirements at the earliest stages of product development. Compliance standards and design thresholds are automatically loaded into the system and updated periodically to reflect changes in directives, so product teams can quickly determine if new designs or components meet regulations.

Analyze material content

Material content is automatically analyzed against acceptable levels and can be presented in various ways, such as descending levels of hazardous substances for all parts, best- and worst-case analysis when incorporating a specific component, and descending hazard levels when using only certain suppliers.

Compliance reports conform to appropriate governmental agency requirements and accommodate specialized reporting needs, such as a ranking of suppliers by compliance level or percentages of materials reported for given components. Comparative views, configurable tabular listings, and analytic reports for supplier management, substance use, threshold levels, and recyclable content are also available.

PLM tools allow suppliers to be incorporated into the compliance process early in development to ensure upfront adherence to new regulations. A rules-based reporting tool enables companies to dictate to suppliers the nomenclature and units of measure for reporting material and substance data.

An automotive-specific version, for example, supports the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) standards as well as the International Material Data System (IMDS), the material and substance data repository of choice for many large automotive OEMs. Another version is directed at electronics and electrical equipment industry requirements.

Manufacturers taking a proactive approach to environmental concerns and regulatory compliance can turn a design challenge into a market advantage. Engineers who automate and consolidate the collection of compliance data enable that market advantage. PLM software can help.

Author Information

Mike Adami-Sampson is vice president of product strategy at Dassault Systems Enovia MatrixOne Group, a provider of collaborative PLM solutions.For more information on data management for compliance, visit

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