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Help Wanted: A ‘PhD’ in DfE

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.

    30 comments on “Help Wanted: A ‘PhD’ in DfE

    1. _hm
      September 27, 2012

      Why only PhD? Any graduate and post graduate will do almost equally good.

    2. SP
      September 28, 2012

      In recent times environment engineering has come up quite well. And why not the way environment is getting polluted or disturbed these days its important that there are separate courses for it. I am sure the graduates would be never out of job. I remember way back in late nineties when someone chose this environmental engineering as main discipline we all asked why didnt you tkae electronics or computer science and the answer was becuase those seats were full. I am sure that person must be doing very well now. Coming to design for environment, I guess its so vey difficult to set any methodology and process or create any particular syllabus. As there are so many divisions inside that. But soon we got to do that.

    3. Susan Fourtané
      September 28, 2012

      Hi, Barbara 

      This is very interesting as well as good news. I have a question, though, what kind of certification do they offer after completing the program? I don't think this is a PhD program. 

      This program is an example of the many new careers that will lead to new jobs that don't exist yet. This comes to my mind as I remember some discussions about robotics and automation, and so many people being afraid of seeing a day when robots will take all the jobs and leave humans jobless. As we see, there are going to exist plenty of new opportunities, and job positions we don't know about yet. 

      -Susan

    4. Susan Fourtané
      September 28, 2012

      SP, 

      “I remember way back in late nineties when someone chose this environmental engineering as main discipline we all asked why didnt you tkae electronics or computer science and the answer was becuase those seats were full. I am sure that person must be doing very well now.” 

      Indeed, that person sure have found more possibiities in the past decade within environmental engineering, a field that maybe was not so popular in the 90s, but for sure it is today, and will have much more opportunities in the near future. 

      -Susan

    5. ahdand
      September 28, 2012

      Obviously _hm that is something which can be considered in the future.

    6. FLYINGSCOT
      September 28, 2012

      I think it is a great idea to help in this area and to ensure th einformation is in one easy to access place.  It is a good initiative and hopefully will be better that the piecemeal efforts of yore.

    7. Taimoor Zubar
      September 28, 2012

      @Susan: This is one of the areas where an ethical side of engineering practices will be taught and I find it to be a much-needed area. I think it should become more popular over the years.

    8. Taimoor Zubar
      September 28, 2012

      @_hm: I think the kind of research required for this program will be very extensive and may exceed the research conducted at undergraduate or graduate level. This is why a PhD might be a preference.

    9. Susan Fourtané
      September 28, 2012

      Taimoor, 

      Yes. The fact that the world is developing a more conscious understanding of the environmental issues in exsitence will also help to increase its popularity. And yes, an ethical aspect of engineering practice is needed. 

      -Susan

    10. Barbara Jorgensen
      September 28, 2012

      Hi Susan,

      The certification comes from the developers of the program, which have many decades' worth of experience behind them. This really isn't an academic program attached to a university. Within electronics, there are all kinds of standards and certifications that come from individual companies, trade associations, NGOs, etc. IPC and IEEE for example, develop standards and certify users to these standards. The DfE Online team included companies, trade associations and third-parties as part of the development  process. For this particular program, the developers are more than qualified to grant certification.

    11. Himanshugupta
      September 28, 2012

      So Barbara, its kind of certification and not really a program or standard coursework that is typical of a university program. It sounds like a knowledge of best industry practices to make a design for environment then. I was curious about the duration, cost and who can really benefit from this certification? 

    12. Barbara Jorgensen
      September 28, 2012

      Hi himan: yes, the confusion over the type of certification prompted me to put 'PhD' in quotes. Only a university can grant a PhD. To answer your question, the course has 8 modules, all self-paced. You can be certified in 1 module or the entire course. (I think the modules are about an hour each, but they also provide supplementary activities so it may be more than an hour.) The cost is based on the number of users–a single user is in the $1,000-range; for corporations, the cost caps out so they don't pay per user. I think anyone could benefit from the program as it covers design as well as procurement. There are analytical tools in the course that can help determine ROI of a specific activity or design, for instance.

      I believe you can see a demo of the program through the link provided in the blog.

    13. Taimoor Zubar
      September 28, 2012

      @Susan: While concern for environment is one key ethical element in the area, there are also other things that can be added to it. This would include things like ethical labor practices and workforce treatment.

    14. hash.era
      September 29, 2012

      True and I feel labour will be the key factor here. if they can get cheap labour which is ideal, they will feel that they have covered basically every aspect.

    15. Ashu001
      September 29, 2012

      Barbara,

      You think the Program will be Hit?

      Far too many people today are questioning the rationale of taking out Gigantic Loans to pay for Education Degrees in the first place.

      Was just reading some Department of Education data on Student Loans.

      As of today,over USD 120 Billion worth of Federal Loans are now in Default.

      http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/first-official-three-year-student-loan-default-rates-published

      http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-09-28/student-loan-defaults-soar-as-government-scrutiny-grow.html

      In such a sceanario,I don't think taking on Bigger loans to pay for more education is the solution to anybody's problem.

      Yes if the company is willing to pay for this education themselves;it is a completely different story.

      Regards

      Ashish.

    16. Houngbo_Hospice
      September 29, 2012

      @tech4people,

      Yes if the company is willing to pay for this education themselves;it is a completely different story.

      Some companies might be willing to do that, but we should not count on that. Also, student loan repayment is conditioned upon their future income, right? 

    17. Ashu001
      September 29, 2012

      Houngbo,

      Not at all.

      The moment you graduate;the clock starts ticking on all your Student Loan Payments!

      If The company is willing to foot the bill for this expense,I see no problem;Just feel most students are too cash-strapped today to pay for this expense.

      Regards

      Ashish.

    18. Houngbo_Hospice
      September 29, 2012

      @tech4people,

      The moment you graduate;the clock starts ticking on all your Student Loan Payments!

      Thanks for ellaborating. I didn't know about that as most of my university courses was funded through grants and scholarship. What happens if students are not able to pay their loans back?

    19. Himanshugupta
      September 30, 2012

      Thanks Barbara for providing the details and link. So, one can finish the certification in one-day work hour (i do not know the intended difficulty levels). 

    20. Himanshugupta
      September 30, 2012

      @Hospice, i do not think that anyone need to answer the question 'what if you cannot repay your loan'. Don't we all know the harse reality of this democracy that if a student cannot repay loan then he/she will be a bonded labour of the bank and govenment will ensure that bank are bounded by law to limit their torture to keep student alive. And on the other hand if a bank fail to repay loan then government say,” oh my friend…which loan…have a cup of tea and please keep the keys of my treasury.”

    21. Daniel
      October 1, 2012

      Barbara, it’s a PhD or certification course. Only universities are authorized to issue such research degrees. I think there are scopes for some research degree too because its quiet new and interesting area.

    22. Barbara Jorgensen
      October 1, 2012

      @Jacob: It's a certification program. The headline was meant to be clever.

    23. Barbara Jorgensen
      October 1, 2012

      Hi tech4: I think this is a very good program and will not require a student loan. It is a certification based on completion of the course.

    24. Susan Fourtané
      October 1, 2012

      Taimoor, 

      Of course. I didn't mean to exclude any aspect of it. 

      -Susan 

    25. Wale Bakare
      October 2, 2012

      >>In such a sceanario,I don't think taking on Bigger loans to pay for more education is the solution to anybody's problem<<

      You are right. But are you expecting that to stop when demand for university graduates to fill lucrative and better jobs is high? Or do you think certification of this kind is enough for substitution for degree certificates? Meanwhile, are there loans available for many students today compare to pre-recession times?

    26. Ashu001
      October 2, 2012

      Hospice,

      That's when the fun starts!!!

      Search online for Student Loan collector Horror Stories.

      Man,its not a pretty existence at all for most people.

      Extemely,extremely frightening for most Young people as the Debt-Burden never seems to ease.

      They are forced to Delay Buying Cars(and other Discretionary items),Delay Marriage ,Delay starting their families and Delay Buying their Own Homes.

      Its not a pretty existence for most Debt Slaves.

      Not at all.

      Regards

      Ashish.

    27. Ashu001
      October 2, 2012

      Wale,

      If you see the tremendous Decline in MBA Applications for all the Top Schools this Year;you will know that this is no longer the case.

      Even in Highly Specialized Fields;more and more Students are extremely wary before Taking Loans worth Thousands and Thousands of Dollars for a Degree which may not even promise a lucrative job at the end of it all.

      Regards

      Ashish.

    28. Wale Bakare
      October 3, 2012

      Interesting! What implication would online courses running freely by the top universities around the world have on their high tutions?

    29. Ashu001
      October 3, 2012

      Wale,

      It depends.

      If the Online Course is priced at the same price as Offline Tuition Fees[Which seems to be the established practice];it won't have any difference on costs.

      On the other hand,if its priced much-much less[Say 40%-50% less] then it can make an appreciable difference on Tuition Costs.

      Regards

      Ashish.

       

    30. Daniel
      October 5, 2012

      Wale, for online tuition the recurring costs are very less, so they have the flexibility to offer or fix the fee at any level, when compare with the in-class room training. But I know some universities are charging separately (optional) for contact classes along with the online training course. Since majority of the online class students are from working environment (employed), they are not that much bothered about the fee or other expenses. For them timings are the only constrains.

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