Electronics Assembly Knowledge, Vision & Wisdom
Electronic Design Firms Get a *C* in DfE
Electronic Design Firms Get a *C* in DfE
This month we asked executives at North American electronics-design firms whether their employees are formally trained in Design for Environment - beyond just compliance with pertinent laws.
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Authored By:
Pamela J. Gordon
Founder and President
Technology Forecasters, Inc.

This month we asked executives at North American electronics-design firms (and design-heavy EMS companies) whether their employees are formally trained in Design for Environment — beyond just compliance with pertinent laws. Respondents at 38% of the firms admitted that they do little if anything in DfE; 36% provide minimal DfE training (mainly for the RoHS Directive); and 26% provide a significant amount of training (including 4 stating that beyond-compliance DfE is one of their core competencies).

Overall industry grade? “C.”

Business benefit for the 26% of firms who embrace DfE strategy? More competitive products, lower costs, and happier customers and employees. Here’s why, and how widespread DfE training is good for the industry, customers, and everyone.

DfE Benefits are Beyond Compliance Most design-firm and EMS executives fail to realize the strategic importance of DfE. They see “regulatory compliance” as the big banana. As one respondent put it, “Our products that sell in particular to Europe must be RoHS and WEEE Compliant.” But designing products compliant with RoHS, WEEE, REACH, and other directives and regulations is just “table stakes” — a minimum requirement for reputable businesses.

Worse yet, some designers view DfE and compliance as being the OEM customer’s issue. Then there are the executives who realize that DfE makes for better products that cost less to manufacture and operate, through competitive efficiency, fewer materials, and higher end-of-life value. So they insist on widespread DfE training.

Cory Forbes, Jabil Circuit’s Senior Director of Strategic Development, said, “Our company has several internal DfE processes and training events in place to help employees both meet regulations and conduct DfE. This all started about 6 or so years ago — starting with hosting TFI’s Design-for-Environment Workshop in-house.”

DfE Required by More OEM Customers Finally, the push and shove for competitive DfE expertise comes from increasing numbers of OEM customers who value DfE and sustainability.

Bruce Klafter, Managing Director for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at Applied Materials, says “Social and environmental responsibility are important to us and we naturally want to do business with suppliers who are like-minded. As the scope of responsible business practices has moved well beyond compliance today, DfE, lifecycle analysis, and other systems approaches are the only way to go. We need our business partners to be as well-trained and thoughtful about DfE as we are…or more.”

Adds Paris Dieker, Blue Coat Systems’ Environmental & Regulatory Compliance Manager, “For several years we’ve had our internal engineers take formal DfE training. In today’s electronics industry, suppliers can have as much influence on product designs as the OEMs, so it’s increasingly important to ensure that outside designers – whether at design firms, or EMS and ODM companies – are at least as knowledgeable about DfE as we are.”

Raising the DfE Grade Today, it’s necessary to train entire product-launch teams in DfE principles and techniques that reduce customer costs, minimally impact the environment, protect workers and communities, and provide customers with smart, efficient products. Otherwise, the results are spotty, as one respondent reported: “We have significant experience in DfE, though not necessarily any formal training. The field and customer requirements are too varied.” With a DfE strategy, however, those “varied” requests are systematically met and applied across customers.

My colleagues Graham Adams, Harvey Stone, and I created DfE Online™ because we didn’t see any other comprehensive, self-paced training program for achieving competitive electronic products through the latest principles and techniques — not only for compliance, but also for business benefits: cost reductions, energy efficiency, de-materialization, benign/renewable substances, and high-value end-of-life. We designed it for online, global training based on easy-to-customize modules, interactive exercises, links/movies, a Q&A forum, “how-to” case studies, and DfE Certification.

What do you think: Is comprehensive DfE training the way to raise the DfE grade?

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