Achieving compliance with the EU's Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemical Substances regulation, otherwise known as REACH, can be onerous, but harried electronics equipment makers and suppliers can more easily scale this hurdle by partnering with companies specialized in components verifications and scrubbing.
One of these is Total Parts Plus (TPP), a Florida-based company that was initially set up about 14 years ago to help the US government manage component risks and obsolescence challenges for its F-15 aircraft. It has since diversified operations to extend services to all segments of the economy, including automotive, computing, consumer, industrial, oil and gas, as well as telecommunications, according to company executives.
From its beginning in 1992, TPP has been on the front lines providing early warning alerts to manufacturers regarding obsolescence on electronic parts, said Peter Robinson, vice president of TPP, in an interview. From its pioneering days to the present, TPP has grown to about 65 employees, 40 of whom are component engineers (CEs) with an average of eight years of component related experience. Some of the engineers have more than 20 years of experience under their belts. This adds up to more than 320 years working with component specifications, verification, performance, and selection.
Robinson cites this concentrated pool of talent as the most unique and vital part of TPP's success. All of the engineers are co-located in TPP's headquarters in Florida — as component research studies have shown, this kind of exacting data retrieval and verification cannot be outsourced to third parties without the results being of questionable quality. In fact, Robinson said that TPP's own historical records have indicated there are critical technical errors on 40 percent of the component supplier's furnished documents. These errors include Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) numbers, which are the most significant identifiers for the chemicals being listed. Imagine having a driver's license without the DMV number. CAS numbers are that critical.
Catching these errant supplier documents and contacting the document owners or authors requires significant due diligence and high attention to detail, and all data needs to be double-checked for absolute accuracy. TPP's engineers work hand-in-hand with quality assurance and data entry clerks, making sure that all the component information, especially supplier documents, is 100 percent accurate. Component engineers are uniquely suited to this kind of detailed work because it is not just the design of the product that makes it market-worthy — what's important is the reliability and suitability of all the components used in the product.
Before any customer-supplied bill-of-materials (BOM) can be used for compliance verification, it must be in pristine condition. The manufacturers' names and part numbers must be exactly right. Acquisition BOMs are particularly targeted for this cleansing exercise because the new host company may or may not be familiar with the “new” parts being added to its databases. The new company does not want the old company's “bad” parts polluting an otherwise proven part master file. TPP's staff will produce a completely “cleansed” BOM as part of its standard service, the company said.
The most significant growth for TPP is in environmental compliance requirements like RoHS and REACH, Robinson said. The pricing structure for TPP begins with a minimum cost of $6000 and 500 parts. This entry-level service provides 24/7 alerts for dynamic, time-critical notices such as product change notification (PCN), end-of-life (EOL), and environmental and regulatory compliance. Robinson noted that a good metric for calculating the cost for higher quantities of parts would be about $10 per part. So, 2500 parts would cost about $25,000 to manage. Robinson cited a recent study indicating it takes between seven and nine full-time staff to collect and maintain the relevant data for 5000 parts. Two of the staff members are compliance engineers, and the balance of the team consists of data entry clerks, quality assurance, and technicians.
The timeline given for initial BOM preparation to furnished reports was 6 weeks to 12 weeks for 500 to 2500 parts. Once these parts are in TPP's secure servers, they are watched continually for any changes or updates. Any new alerts are automatically “pushed” to subscribers via email. This way, every customer is notified at the earliest possible opportunity. The more parts that can be submitted at one time, the more streamlined and efficient the workload becomes because the OEM factories only have to be polled once for their parts information. More specifically, if TPP's customers submit BOMs on a “piecemeal” basis, then each retrieval process for each unique manufacturer or supplier has to be repeated, protracting the turn-around time for every effort.
Robinson also emphasized that all data from TPP's records and reports is directly importable to most PLM systems. He cited Agile's PLM PG&C system as a very common system of choice. If Agile's PLM program is around $150,000, then it follows that the data stored in it is what gives the system its true value. Bad data pretty much negates the value of the entire PLM program. The direct import is very helpful because data does not have to be re-entered manually, potentially introducing more errors via typos and omissions.
Total Parts Plus is the third company in our reviews for REACH Services and Resources. Our next article will cover ProCM, a Silicon Valley company specializing in environmental compliance management. Until then, stop by and and try TPP's free demo. It will be time well spent.