The global electronics market is moving so rapidly that we often embrace an idea before we really understand what it is. Case in point: design for environment (DfE).
You can get a definition for DfE from Wikipedia:
Design for the Environment Program (DfE) is a United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) program, created in 1992, that works to prevent pollution, and the risk pollution presents to humans and the environment. The EPA DfE program provides information regarding safer electronics, safer flame retardants, safer chemical formulations, as well as best environmental practices. DfE employs a variety of design approaches that attempt to reduce the overall human health and environmental impact of a product, process or service, where impacts are considered across its life cycle. Different software tools have been developed to assist designers in finding optimized products (or processes/services).
The three main goals of DfE are:
Promoting green cleaning and recognizing safer consumer and industrial and institutional products through safer product labeling.
Defining Best Practices in areas ranging from auto refinishing to nail salon safety.
Identifying safer chemicals, including life cycle considerations, through Alternatives Assessment.
It is a serviceable definition with a couple of exceptions. First, DfE is now a global imperative. Second, the definition of "safer" flame retardant/chemical formulation is a moving target at best. Wikipedia is spot on when it puts electronics at the head of the list of affected industries, because electronics is squarely in the crosshairs of global environmental directives.
The term "DfE" is used extensively by electronics manufacturers, consultants, watchdog agencies, and, yes, the news media. However, as our colleague Jennifer Baljko astutely pointed out last month, there is precious little data on how electronics companies are achieving DfE. For many companies, DfE is the classic make-versus-buy dilemma. Do you develop a DfE process in-house or hire an outside firm to help? Will the resulting process apply to all your products or just the one you are working on now? Does your process comply with environmental directives such as RoHS, WEEE, and REACH? Most importantly, who decides if your process is DfE?
Three thought leaders in electronics manufacturing and the environment are collaborating on a program that will train and certify individuals and companies in DfE. The longtime manufacturing consulting firm Technology Forecasters Inc.; Graham Adams, the PlesTech founder and president who developed the EcoFly software; and Harvey Stone, an environmental consultant and author, have developed DfE Online, a self-paced certification program in electronics DfE.
The program, released last week, consists of eight modules that can be used individually or together. Each module focuses on a key aspect of DfE, including why DfE is so critical, techniques and methods for the design and disassembly of products, tools for measuring compliance, BOM guidance, ROI, and case studies/recommendations. After each module is completed, users can self-assess by taking a quiz. After all eight modules are completed, a comprehensive test qualifies users for DfE certification.
The program has been in development for a number of years and has been beta tested by electronics engineers, manufacturers, and product designers. Fees are scaled according to the number of users, so that companies of any size will be able to utilize the training. Large companies can pay a flat fee for unlimited users.
"We know a lot of companies out there in the industry are one- or two-person operations, and we didn't want the program to be cost-prohibitive for any potential users," Pamela Gordon, the founder and president of TFI, told us.
Several electronics industry groups have tested the program and are offering it to their members. The program can be customized to reflect a company's industry, products, and staff training strategy. The developers say in their press release that perhaps the most compelling reason for a self-paced program is time management. Adams described the situation this way in the release:
Until today, engineers had to search for DfE methodologies and tools in a piecemeal, time-consuming way. But, with DfEOnline, they have a centralized source of technical and business information about substance impacts, material reduction methods, energy efficiency techniques, end-of-life product strategies and tools for precisely measuring environmental trade-offs and monetary ROI.