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Developing a green product development strategy

Posted: 01 Aug 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:green electronics? green design and manufacturing?

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of the book Green Electronics Design & Manufacturing.

One of the most difficult steps in the initiation of a green product development strategy is where to get started. The green knowledge base for product development is widely distributed and not readily available within the organization, in the design or process teams. The supply base has varying degrees of experience with green methods and processes. Several alternatives are available to bring this knowledge into the company: Groom the individual(s) within the organization, hire an experienced green professional away from another organization or competing company, or engage consulting services. Each alternative has its own benefits and drawbacks.

Internal green competency development takes time, and the choice of the individual(s) is very important. There are two elements to the green competency: One is the knowledge of the regulations, be they local, national or international. The other is the knowledge of the process steps, the chemistry, and analysis tools required to evaluate the material properties for hazardous materials and their proposed green replacements. Several larger companies have opted for at least two required skill setsone individual for regulatory and coordination with the appropriate agencies and another for material and chemical knowledge. The former could be an individual in the process, regulatory or quality departments, while the latter could be a highly educated expert in materials as well as complex analysis methods. The majority of companies will probably choose one individual whose skills combine a mix of the two characteristics. However, this dual-skilled individual will be dependent on outside experts and their points of view when forming his or her opinions on green alternatives. That person might have difficulty wading through claims of competing trends in industry. In addition, he or she may have limited capability in undergoing extensive testing and analysis of green alternatives. In most cases where the company started with the two skill set model, one of the two will eventually leave the company or take on a different position internally.

Hiring away an expert from another organization or a competing company can benefit the company in the short term by quickly getting access to the individual's knowledge of green design and techniques. However, the company has to be cognizant of the individual's previous set of skills before she or he acquired the green knowledge and whether that is compatible with the company's future needs. As the green set of skills permeates the company's organization, the need for the green expertise of this individual will diminish, and the company might have to place this individual in a new position, where his or her previous skills could be useful for both the individual and the company. Hiring a consultant or consulting services is very beneficial in two aspects: it is a quick method to obtain information and build the green competency, and it is also temporary, since the services are provided for a fixed time and there is no long-term commitment to the consultant. However, the drawbacks could be substantial and are listed below:

  • The consultant might not be really up to date with green regulations or green process and material selection. A few questions could clarify the currency of the consultant's knowledge.

  • The company should be wary of consultants recommending quick and easy green solutions: Do they have a personal stake in the materials or processes recommended? What is their association with the source of the recommended solution? Are there any hidden patents or copyright issues with their recommendations? Have they participated in studies sponsored and paid for by particular green suppliers? Have they declared all their prior or current associations with any supplier?

  • Consultants deal with today's state of the art in green technology. In any new developing technology, the rate of innovation and research is high. Suppliers of green material and processes are constantly improving their products and can quickly leapfrog the performance of their competitors' materials. Thus the company will constantly have to go back to consulting services to keep ahead of technology or develop its own internal competency.

    A mix of these strategies with short and long-term goals could be the best solution to the green competency challenge. The most important element is the planning stage, in order to devote enough time to formulate the appropriate green strategy and then form the green implementation team and key personnel to staff it.

    Green design, new product life cycle
    In focusing on green design and manufacturing, it is important to understand the latest trends in the new product development cycle. The revolution in the high-technology industries has shrunk the product design and use life cycles to a period of weeks and months through concurrent engineering. At the same time, traditional design and manufacturing cycles in electronics circuits, tooling and packaging had to be modified or outsourced to keep pace with new and lower-cost product introductions. The design team has been extended through the ubiquitous Internet to include collaborative activities within the company, its customers and its suppliers.

    The major premises of concurrent engineering have mostly been achieved, in terms of faster time to market, collocation of the various product creation team members to increase communications and feedback, and the use of design and quality metrics to monitor and improve the design process. The challenge is how to maintain and improve these gains and introduce green design and manufacturing at the same time by leveraging the trends in the globalization of design and manufacturing resources, and the wide use of the Internet as a communication tool.

    The product realization process has undergone several changes with the advent of concurrent engineering. The change from a serial process of product development to a more parallel process has resulted in the need for new paradigms. Clearly, the impact of these new products is very critical, as indicated by vintage charts at different companies. In many high-technology companies, 70 percent of the total revenues of the company come from products introduced during the last few years.

    Traditional product development required a top-down control of the various activities of product creation. Very formal organizational structures were developed and managed with a phase review process. Plans and milestones had to be completed at the end of each phase of product development and were subject to several levels of management reviews. After each review, the project was allowed to proceed and be funded until the next review.

    The pressure toward shorter project time frames, global teams, quality and design, and manufacturing outsourcing have resulted in significant changes in the relationships between the company personnel and their suppliers with more frequent communications occurring earlier in the product development cycle. These suppliers and their own subsuppliers are called the supply chain.

    Green supply chain development
    The major supply companies have mimicked the reach of the OEMs, by distributing their manufacturing centers globally, to be near their customers' sites. In this manner, supply companies can service global OEMs. The issues of global supply chain can be summed up as follows:

    The OEMs are forcing their suppliers to conform to their design specifications. For example, most OEMs will specify that the design and manufacturing documentation from suppliers conform exactly to their in-house CAE/CAD systems, including the system type and model number. In addition, OEMs can specify certain green materials and finishes and force the suppliers to produce them.

    The OEMs are also asking their suppliers for production quality verification, such as final testing, including troubleshooting of their products and systems. This could include reliability and quality testing of new green materials such as adhesion and pull tests of Pb-free soldering by the suppliers, as well as certification of compliance with regulatory bans of hazardous materials (due diligence).

    Increased dependence on supplier quality and lower-cost goals has resulted in eliminating inspection for incoming parts by the company and shifting the burden to the suppliers, making companies vulnerable to spurious quality problems in the supply chain and increasing the need for due diligence on banned non green substances and materials.

    The trend toward increasing the links in the supply chain by further subcontracting to achieve even lower-cost manufacturing has resulted in low-technology suppliers getting into the manufacturing cycle for high-technology products. These suppliers do not have the sophisticated technology or the controls in place to make sure that all necessary specifications are inspected and variances in quality are promptly reported up the supply chain. For an OEM, a poorly managed supply chain is vulnerable to quality problems if changes are made in the subcontractor chain without the OEM's approval or notification. It is recommended that the supply chain not extend beyond three levels down from the final assembly.

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