What Can PLM Do for Green?

  • Written By: Yu Chen
  • Published On: February 2009

We all agree that being “green” (more environmentally conscious) is great. But businesses often struggle with exactly how they can get closer to this wonderful color. To a certain degree, product lifecycle management (PLM) can help manufacturers with their “green initiatives.” There is an excellent Green PLM blog series—written mainly by Kate Bourdet, at Dassault Systèmes—explaining what PLM has to do with green, more or less from a product lifecycle activity point of view. In this blog post, I will provide some complementary writing from a slightly different angle.

I have been involved recently in a consulting project for a global manufacturer on the topic of tackling climate change issues within management systems. What I’ve learned from this project is that organizations need to look at three levels of needs, followed by the urgency (from high to low) of addressing environmental issues.

The most urgent aspect is risk management. Businesses are facing increasing pressures to become more environmentally conscious. So, the first thing that an organization needs to do is make sure it will meet regulatory requirements as well as the external expectations of being green. The second is related to the cost efficiency of a company’s existing business. (Being green is not necessary expensive.) Finally, environmental issues also open doors to opportunities by inspiring new technologies and better ways of doing business. In the following section, I will explain how PLM can address these three levels of needs.

Bring Down the Risk

Risks related to environmental issues may reside in many areas (e.g., physical, financial, reputational, and regulatory), and different industries may have different patterns of risk exposure. Amongst these risks, regulatory risk is probably the most critical issue that manufacturers are facing. Risk management is a high-level issue that requires strategizing and planning. When it comes to the operational level, management systems and tools are needed to support companies’ strategic moves. PLM is one of the systems that people can use in many areas, including the following.

•           Design for compliance: Internal compliance standards and regulatory issues must be addressed early in the design cycle, in order to minimize the cost of compliance and reduce the risk of noncompliance.

•           Management of hazardous and controlled substances: Being able to identify and track hazardous or controlled materials through the supply chain increases the visibility of material flow, thus providing better risk control.

•           Regulatory and compliance documentation: Functionality that imports, creates, stores, and distributes regulatory and compliance documents increases the efficiency of both internal and external reporting processes.

•           Managing recyclables and controlled waste: Both recyclables and controlled waste should be identified, tracked, documented, and reported.

“Show Me the Money”

Organizations need not only to control environmental risks, but must also watch the cost impacts associated with their green initiatives. Being green requires extra resources (such as technology, investment, and labor) which might be costly in the beginning. However, being green can also open new doors for cost savings. By having a PLM system in place, companies can expect to make their green initiatives less expensive and make their business more efficient. As such, they will be saving a substantial amount on the costs of materials, energy, and labor. In fact, the idea of managing the entire product life cycle and facilitating the collaboration among different life cycle stages imposes a strong keyword—efficiency. The following are just a few examples of what PLM can do.

•           Green design: By taking economic, social, and ecological sustainability into consideration at the possibly earliest stage, green design enables consequent processes (e.g. production, service, and consumption) to be managed in ways that minimize environmental impact.

•           Requirements management: Managing product requirements enables innovation from multiple sources to be systematically captured and evaluated. Requirements may be for new products or for enhancements to existing products.

•           Change management: Engineering change management is the process by which changes to product designs are implemented during the production process. This synchronizes planning, production, purchasing, and other processes to reduce obsolescing materials and rework.

•           Design and project collaboration: This functionality allows multiple people with different perspectives to provide input into the design process. An example would be a design that cannot be produced on existing equipment that could be flagged early in the development process.

Build a Brighter Future

Organizations that are leaders in tackling environmental issues not only recognize and manage risks, benefiting from financial returns from their existing business, but also treat the green wave as an opportunity for exploring new revenue sources by developing new technologies and building new business models.

As a comprehensive and collaborative approach to managing the entire life cycle of a product, PLM can help capture opportunities in a sustainable way. By getting people involved with upstream and downstream processes (such as suppliers and customers), products that are more appropriate for the market can be developed and introduced, and potential problems can be avoided through advanced visibility.

From my personal point of view, the “PLM 2.0” concept, introduced in 2008, is something that will become strong and contribute to a more sustainable future. Using this concept, consumers will be involved earlier in the product development cycle in an information-rich manner (e.g., Dassault Systèmes’ 3DVIA, which equips ordinary consumers with 3-D capability). I’d like to think of PLM 2.0 as the “democracy of product definition,” which is undoubtedly highly related to sustainability.
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