The management of materials has become vital for engineering businesses. One of the main reasons is the growing number of regulatory and environmental commitments that specify the declaration and often complete omission of some materials and substances.
Companies have had to source completely different materials and substances for products in some cases, such as the removal of lead solder or mercury, and have had to delve in to the supply chain to ensure that components and materials brought in are also compliant.
What is perhaps surprising is this information is not always to hand, or easy to get. In fact it can be spread across databases, sites and even countries. The difficulty of getting this data in place and managing it was highlighted by the Environmental Materials Information Technology (EMIT) Consortium.
The consortium, made up by a number of large OEMs and material suppliers, aims to develop and apply information technology solutions to enable product design and development in the context of environmental objectives and regulations. It guides the development of Granta Design's materials information management software, as well as using it to address environmental issues centred on information and decisions relating to materials and processes.
During a recent EMIT seminar hosted by the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, Boeing highlighted its efforts to capture and record materials data to accelerate its reaction to regulatory restriction on the materials and substances it may use.
"Getting our own information and data in place is a laborious and costly process when you consider the mountains of data," explains Peter Mezey, information technology and services manager at Boeing. "When you start to drill down and go to suppliers – and the suppliers to those suppliers – you end up with a lot of information that you need to verify and essentially audit."
Components and parts can be manufactured in almost any factory in any country. This makes it difficult for large OEMs to verify. For example, a spring manufacturer in Asia could use a certain chemical to clean parts or a raw material supplier in Africa could source some precious metal from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is soon to be banned in the US under the Dodd-Frank Act.
"So we need to know what is our chemical composition and what is our exposure," says Mezey. "For us it is about getting our heads around the data and then we can start to look at using it in the design phase. Some of our products can have a lifecycle of 80 plus years from the early design to recycling."
And here lies the difficulty of the task. It is a slow process involving going through the supply chain to find the exact materials and substance content of every part to a very accurate and consistent level. It affects Boeing's customers that need to operate around the world. Airlines need to be compliant with the regulations imposed in any given region in which an aircraft may land and it is up to Boeing to provide this data.
"Every time a new regulation or restriction pops up we see three major drivers," says Mezey. "We see regulatory, contractual, and the voluntary phasing-out of certain materials and substances. But the amount of time we have to be compliant is getting shorter, while the number of new regulations coming through is only going to increase. So this is a real business risk that could really have an impact if we are not able to act quickly enough."
This risk has seen materials information management expert Granta Design play an increasing role in helping large OEMs manage material data in relation to environmental regulatory pressure. Granta provides a central database to its users, which is regularly updated with validated reference information. It also allows firms to add its own data and information, as well as supplier data.
"Materials information is central to engineering organisations," says Professor David Cebon, managing director of Granta Design. "That information has use from CAD and PLM to procurement, supply chain management and production.
"That data on materials, processes, coatings, substances, legislation standards and specification needs to be identical and up-to-date across an entire enterprise. It's no good if a design office on the other side of the world specifies a material restricted in Europe because they do not work there or because the part is not made there.
"The aim is to manage the risk to a company because of the substances and materials it uses. And that covers new and impending regulations or environmental restrictions for products, as well as things such as nano materials, which may or may not be restricted. But if they are, having this information in place will mean that the risk and disruption of compliance is minimised."
And this is key: once the materials information and data is in place, it allows companies to react much more quickly to new regulation so to understand the risk earlier, so engineers can find alternatives or workarounds. It's especially advantageous in the early stages of the design process where it's most cost effective to find alternatives.
But the advantages of having exhaustive materials data in place is not limited to regulatory compliance as Dan Williams, ? Manager of Product Management & Product Marketing at Granta Design, explains. He says: "There are a lot of other risks that can be picked up and flagged early, once you have this information in place. For example, selecting the wrong material, especially if its price is volatile, can have a big impact on the overall cost of a part. But it can also include anything from counterfeit materials to scarcity and shortages."