|Information Systems and the Environment | Edited by Deanna J. Richards Braden R. Allenby and W. Dale Compton|
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Environmental Knowledge-Sharing in Manufacturing
THOMAS E. GRAEDEL
Although a wealth of environmentally related information exists within the modern corporation, it tends to be diffusely distributed. For example, one person might know the kinds and amounts of materials that a company purchases and uses. Another person might know the energy consumption of the manufacturing facilities, perhaps down to that of individual manufacturing lines. Other individuals may know about the wastewater treatment processes, the atmospheric emissions, or the process by-products and their values. Still others may know how new products are designed and how readily those products can be recycled. No one person, however, is likely to know all of these things.
Such environmental information is commonly used in corporations for reporting purposes, to verify utility billing, or to ensure that orders are placed for materials used in manufacture. What is less common is to see this information used as an integral part of corporate decision making, although it could and should be. The ways in which this might be achieved are the subject of this paper.
THE GATE CONCEPT IN MANUFACTURING
Modern industrial managers wish to stimulate their design and development staffs to generate numerous ideas for new products, in the hope that a few really successful products will result. However, carrying every product idea through from concept to manufacture is too expensive to be feasible, so a structured process, the "product realization process (PRP)," has been developed to guide business decisions along the way (Ulrich and Eppinger, 1995).
There are a number of versions of the PRP, with names such as "integrated development system" and "integrated product development," and many corporations have developed handbooks to explain them (e.g., Carrier Corporation, 1995; United Technologies Automotive Corporation, 1995). PRP approaches vary in level of detail and in the number of sequence steps, but they all share the general approach, if not each specific step, shown in Figure 1.
Eight steps in the PRP, from idea to obsolescence, are indicated in Figure 1 and described in more detail throughout this paper. The transitions from one step to the next are called "gates," and they are opportunities for managers to decide whether to permit the product development to proceed to the next step. In the formal structure of the PRP, a review is held when a product reaches each gate in the sequence. The review team typically includes representatives from design, manufacturing, purchasing, marketing, and other appropriate corporate departments.
The items considered at each gate review include marketability (Do we still think our customers want this product?); manufacturability (Can we make the product as envisioned?); economics (Can we make a profit on this item?); strategy (Are we ahead of our competitors?); and a variety of other factors. Cost is a major influence on decision making, especially in the later stages of the PRP. As seen in Figure 2, the financial investment required to move to the next step of product development increases as one moves from gate to gate. By gate four or five, if the product is then judged to be unpromising, a substantial unrecoverable investment will have been made. The goal of the review process is to let promising products move quickly to manufacture but to close gates early on projects that will consume investment dollars without the probability of substantial financial return.
PRP gate reviews often omit considerations of environmental issues, largely because tools have not been formalized for bringing such information into the process. Relevant environmental information, therefore, is often not presented even if it is available within the corporation. However, such information can, in principle, be provided at each gate if corporate knowledge sharing is practiced. And, if environmental information is considered in the gate decision, a better overall decision is likely to be made.
ENVIRONMENTAL KNOWLEDGE AT THE GATES
Information of all kinds becomes more detailed as a product progresses from early to later stages of development: Concepts are transformed into designs, materials are specified, sizes and features are determined, costs are calculated more accurately, and customer response can be better estimated. Accordingly, detailed environmental information cannot be provided at early stages, nor is it needed (Hoffman, 1997). As successive gates are passed, however, the environmental information must become more and more comprehensive to be of the most use.
To illustrate these points, Table 1 lists the product and process information available at each gate for a typical manufactured product. The items in this table serve as a guide to the environmental information that can be brought to bear at each gate review.
Gate 1: From Concept to Preliminary Design
The first gate controls the transition from concept to preliminary design. The business questions at this gate are very basic: Does this concept appear to meet a customer need? Is it consistent with the corporate product line? Does it have the potential to compete effectively?
The environmentally related questions are basic as well and are designed to discourage product concepts that involve unfavorable environmental attributes, such as the use of forbidden or highly regulated substances. As shown in Table 1, these questions can be addressed at Gate 1 only for the principal materials and processes.
The appropriate environmental tool at Gate 1 is thus a list of "inviolates": product or process attributes that the corporation has decided will not be permitted. A typical list of inviolates for high-technology product manufacture is given in Box 1. Lists of inviolates include materials, processes, or practices that are illegal or that might involve potential liabilities which a corporation would rather not assume, even if current regulations are not an issue.
Gate 2: From Preliminary Design to Mature Design
The initial or concept stage of product development typically involves a small group of people and the only expense is their time. At the next stage, preliminary product design, the size of the group expands but the activities are still limited to sketches, conceptual CAD/CAM products, and lists of preferred materials, so the embedded development expense is still modest. At Gate 2 the major design decisions have been made, but few details are available.
The typical business questions at Gate 2 are formulated from the perspective of the preliminary design: Do the estimated performance specifications meet the product goals? Is the design visually attractive? Is the product likely to be profitable? The answers are important because the corporate investment in a product that passes the second gate begins to increase rapidly.
Because the product design has progressed significantly by Gate 2, there is now significant information that can be reviewed from an environmental perspective. The review team can evaluate the environmental aspects of the design approaches for both the product and the process. In some corporations there is little formal guidance for such review, which can make it difficult to evaluate a product's compliance with Gate 2 criteria. However, some corporations have systemized this process. For example, Lucent Technologies (1996) publishes an internal "Designer's Companion," which is a series of case studies of fortunate and unfortunate design choices (some environmental, some not). The result is a manual of design choices that can be reviewed as part of the Gate 2 approval process.
Gate 3: From Mature Design to Development
At Gate 3 the design team presents detailed information on the product design and moderately detailed information on the associated manufacturing processes. At this stage the product can undergo a reasonably thorough environmental review. If the product is relatively similar in type and materials to other products of the corporation, there may be little need for a comprehensive environmental review of the manufacturing processes. If new processes are required, however, the manufacturing review will be more extensive.
The Gate 3 product review is in all cases quite detailed. From a business standpoint the questions become more focused: Are there technical impediments to development? Are the manufacturing processes satisfactory? Are the electrical and mechanical goals for the product fully realized? Will the product have customer appeal?
Environmental information at Gate 3 can be derived from guidelines and checklists for environmentally preferred design decisions (Figure 3 illustrates an excerpt from such a checklist). In many corporations, such tools are now incorporated into the computer-aided design process and has the potential to become part of the designer's product development goals. The Gate 3 review can thus evaluate the degree to which a product design incorporates recommended attributes from the checklists. At this gate there is also enough information available to perform a semiquantitative or "streamlined" life-cycle assessment (SLCA) (Graedel, 1998). In such an assessment, the entire range of potential environmental impacts is evaluated for each product life stage--premanufacture, manufacture, product delivery, product use, and end of life. By taking advantage of checklists and the SLCA, designers can correct a product's unfavorable environmental attributes before the design is finalized.
Gate 4: From Development to Manufacture
By the time the Gate 4 review committee meets, the design is completed, the manufacturing process is set, the materials and components have been chosen, and the suppliers have been at least tentatively identified. The decision at this gate is whether to proceed with manufacture--the most costly of all the stages.
The business decisions at Gate 4 are obvious and important: Have the cost estimates been met? Is the product manufacturability satisfactory? Has a reliable set of suppliers been identified? Will the final manufactured product retain the desirable characteristics identified at Gate 3?
With the product and process information now finalized, either an enhanced SLCA or a comprehensive life-cycle assessment can be performed (Curran, 1996). Most items of environmental concern will have been identified by Gate 4, but product delivery implications can be addressed in detail for the first time, and the overall results can be made quantitative to the degree desired.
Gate 5: From Manufacture to Sales and Use
The Gate 5 review is often ceremonial, especially if decisions at previous gates have been sufficiently thoughtful and comprehensive. Provided that no unexpected and unwelcome information has arisen, the product is released for sale and use. The business questions involve a review of the degree to which the product manufacturing meets expectations and the ways in which the marketing campaign should move forward.
From an environmental standpoint, questions asked at Gate 5 concern whether environmental issues have been properly reviewed at previous gates, whether the product delivery and marketing activities will meet environmental goals, and whether provisions need to be made for end-of-life activities, such as product takeback or battery recycling. These reviews, and those of earlier stages, are aided by tools such as corporate environmental management protocols or International Organization for Standardization 14000 standards.
As this paper shows, a wealth of environmental information is available within corporations to aid in the decision-making steps of the PRP. In many cases, however, corporations have not implemented procedures to integrate that information into their decision making. The PRP format provides an important and convenient way to accomplish that integration.
Although PRP gate passage is a discrete and reproducible sequence of actions, the use of the described environmental information tools is less circumscribed. Different corporations and review teams may use variations of these tools or implement them in a different manner. The way in which an individual corporation proceeds will be a function of its environmental management plan. The important factor is not that environmental information is used in a prescribed manner, but that a mechanism is in place to guarantee the use of the information at PRP gate reviews. When that mechanism is established, there is great potential for benefits to the environment and, increasingly, to the responsible corporations themselves.