Gone are the days when the impact of products on the environment or human health were optional business concerns. Regulatory constraints on materials and chemicals are increasing, and many companies struggle to respond – and to do so quickly and efficiently. Restrictions on hexavalent chrome are one well-known example. Another is REACH – the European Union regulation concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & restriction of Chemicals – which applies to products that are either manufactured in, or imported into, the EU. Companies are under obligations to report the use of restricted substances, and to limit or avoid their use.
Similar constraints on use, or supply chain disruptions due to fluctuating availability, can also result where so-called ‘conflict minerals’ or ‘critical materials’ are used in a product. Problems relating to at-risk materials range from delays in the design and development process to, at the worst case, product withdrawals and legal liabilities. The risk of costly, time-consuming and reputation-damaging disruptions are particularly high when a product has a long lifetime, as in aerospace.
The general response of the market to these challenges has been to focus on meeting the most urgent regulatory requirements around compliance reporting, and thus on assessing the substance content of existing products. But a more strategic approach would, surely, aim to consider environmental objectives, regulations, and materials availability early – i.e. before the design stage, when changes to the product cost the least and have the most impact. The Environmental Materials Information Technology (EMIT) Consortium is a collaborative project that aims to minimize, if not remove, these risks before they are built in.
Empowering Materials and Process Decisions
EMIT members include manufacturing organizations and related agencies with a heavy aerospace influence such as Boeing, Airbus Defence and Space, Airbus Helicopters, Emerson Electric, GKN Aerospace, Honeywell, NASA, NPL, Pratt & Whitney, and Rolls-Royce. The Consortium develops and applies information technology solutions to enable product design and development in the context of environmental objectives and regulations, especially those relating to restricted substances.
A key principle of the Consortium is that it focuses on decisions relating to materials and processes. Many of the restricted substance issues appearing in products – such as the discovery that a substance of very high concern (SVHC) is present – are due to the initial choice of material. Material selection drives both the intentional and unintentional use of chemicals, be it through a compound within a material, coating, or method of processing. Companies need to be able to identify possible regulatory risks associated with specific material choices, and to make material decisions that minimize those risks. The earlier in the design and development process this can be done, the greater the benefits – a typical rule-of-thumb is that 80% of the cost of a product is built-in during the design phase.
This is fundamentally an information management problem. Businesses need to collate and connect information on material specifications, actual engineering materials, related processes and substances, and regulations – and to connect all of this data in order to answer questions like “which of our materials specifications are impacted by this regulation?” Managing this level and complexity of information has historically proved challenging for engineering enterprises. That this information is typically found in isolated and disparate siloes only adds to the difficulty.
A Single Integrated Source of Truth
The first requirement is to get all of the necessary information into a single database. Then we need good tools to maintain this information, connect the related pieces, and to query it. While this may sound simple, compiling this information to standards that render it comparable, and within a system that makes it easy to use, requires time and expertise – especially given that the nature of the information means that it has its own lifecycle. It constantly changes as regulations are updated, new testing is completed, or specifications are tweaked. Granta Design has been working with EMIT Consortium members since 2008 to build such a system, based on the GRANTA MI™ materials information management platform. Key elements of the system are:
A data schema: adaptable data structures for capturing all of the necessary information in a database and linking it efficiently and effectively. This deceptively simple-sounding component is enormously valuable for user organizations, bringing together an enormous amount of real implementation experience gained by working with EMIT members over a decade.
Linked reference data, stored within the database, covering more than 100 regulations and thousands of materials, coatings, and substances – regulations are linked to substances that they impact, substances to materials that contain them, and so on.
Web and Excel-based tools that import a company's own material, process, and specification data, and enable users to analyze and make the vital links between related items.
Reporting tools that can query the database to answer key questions.
This package enables, firstly, the ‘derisking’ of a company's material and process portfolio. It is possible to run constantly-updated queries across your known materials to identify those where the restricted substance risk is highest. This enables you to avoid the use of those materials, or to focus time-consuming efforts to gather more information. Secondly, the system can be connected to CAD (computer-aided design) and PLM (product lifecycle management) systems so that, for example, a design engineer could flag up restricted substance risk associated with a material before specifying it in a design, or a product steward could ask “which of our products contain materials that might be impacted by this changed regulation?”. Finally, tools to import, construct, and edit ‘Bills of Materials’ within the system provide a means to run fast compliance analytics during early conceptual design, or to organise information about legacy products so that it can be quickly scanned for risk.
One important aspect of the system is the potential to predict problems. For long-lived products, like aircraft, there is risk that materials that are available today may become obsolete tomorrow, if regulations change or supply chain problems increase. The reference information available in the EMIT system provides not only lists of currently regulated substances, but predictive lists like the ‘Substitute it Now’ or ‘SIN’ list that identify substances likely to be restricted in future. Thus you can flag future obsolescence risks.
For a sense of the potential impact of such a system, we can turn to the EMIT members themselves. Presenting at an open seminar, Peter Mezey of Boeing explained the pain of connecting and mining data on materials, specifications, regulations, and parts—“a laborious and costly process when you consider the mountains of data”. So Boeing adopted GRANTA MI to provide a centralized hub for materials and restricted substance information. “For the first time we have the linkage all in one place,” he said. Return on investment has been significant in areas such as data cleanup, risk mitigation, and efficiency benefits. For example, Boeing were able to respond much more efficiently when questions arose around mercury usage in Canada. At the same meeting, Andy Clifton of Rolls-Royce discussed the goals of data-driven assessment of materials supply and environmental risks to design-out problems. This enables the aero engine maker to develop approaches that deliver a “triple win scenario” benefiting customers, the environment, and suppliers/manufacturers.
Restricted substances, critical materials, conflict minerals, environmental impact. These are business-critical challenges for aerospace and other enterprises. But they are challenges that can be met – and met more proactively than by analyzing and reporting on the compliance of a company's products after-the-fact. To do this takes a systematic approach to the relevant information. The recommendation of EMIT members: start with the materials, and this is a problem that you can beat!
This article was written by Stephen Warde, Vice President, Marketing; and Beth Harlen, Technical Marketing Communications Specialist, Granta Design (Cambridge, UK). For more information, visit here .