Achieving a sustainable materials supply to the manufacturing sector through standards.

A major headache for many manufacturers is the worry that their materials supply could be disrupted.

Whether as a result of increased global competition for resources, market speculation leading to volatile prices, or overseas governments acting to preserve domestic supplies through export bans.

This headache is amplified by the complex nature of the supply chains that OEMs with materials and parts. These supply chains are difficult to manage, and each participant generates complex engineering information that has to be retained, archived, made securely available, and communicated at some future point.

This complexity is further exacerbated by an increasing burden of environmental legislation manufacturers need to comply with, as well as enhanced expectations surrounding their Corporate and Social Responsibilities (CSR) from major stakeholders such as customers, shareholders, employees and local communities.

Many major manufacturers operate in highly regulated industries where significant effort is put into getting regulatory approval for a particular design that quotes particular materials specifications, and any deviation from this over the lifetime of the product would require a great deal of resource and costs to ensure the regulator is satisfied with the modified specification. Therefore, it is vitally important that a sustainable materials supply is identified and managed at the earliest possible stage.

The solution lies in the supply chain.

There are no easy solutions to this complex problem, but there are a number of areas where a company can take action to highlight any potential risks before they crystallise, and to manage and mitigate any risks that may still emerge. This requires action at the design stage, and during the time the supply chain is in operation. Such approaches, however, will not work if the company operates in isolation from its supply chain, and for all participants in the supply chain to be able to co-operate on such an important issue requires a standardised approach across all stages.

The British Standards Institution (BSI) is the UK’s National Standards Body and is responsible for the development and publication of national, European and international standards for the national benefit. Recently, BSI has been working with UK industry to develop standards that, if properly applied throughout manufacturing supply chains, can act to help solve the problems relating to the sustainable supply of materials. BSI has a range of standards that could help in this area, and this article concentrates on three in particular, two that are of most benefit at the design stage, and a third that can help once the supply chain is up and running.

Sustainable engineering design

The engineer responsible for the design of a product can improve the sustainability in at least 2 ways. These are:

  • By choosing a material that is fit for purpose and with a supply risk that is within acceptable limits; and
  • By designing into the product the ability for the product to be disassembled, and the constituent parts remanufactured in some way, either through reuse, reconditioning or recycling.

 There are at least 2 standards that can help with this. These are:

  • BS 8905 Framework for the assessment of the sustainable use of materials; and
  • BS 8887 Design for manufacture, assembly, disassembly and end-of-life processing (MADE).

BS 8905

A common misconception about sustainability is that only environmental issues are relevant. In fact, a wide range of social and economic factors, as well as environmental ones, can render a particular materials choice as unsustainable. Sustainable development is defined in BS 8900:2006 Guidance for managing sustainable development as "an enduring, balanced approach to economic activity, environmental responsibility and social progress". BS 8905 builds on the principles enshrined in BS 8900 and uses them to define a framework within which it is possible to perform a full Sustainability Assessment (SA) on the materials choices available to the engineer.

The SA is applicable to materials of all classes being used in all market sectors at all stages within the supply chains. The assessment looks at all stages of the lifecycle and takes into account sourcing of the material, processing of the material, the use of the material, and the fate of the material at the end of the product’s useful working life.

An important aspect of BS 8905 is the setting of priorities for the SA. This is done partly through consultation with important internal and external stakeholders who are likely to be affected by the decision about the choice of materials. This prevents the SA being unduly influenced by short term commercial considerations and ensures the range of issues addressed is as broad as necessary.

BS 8887.

BSI has published, and is continuing to develop a series of standards that aim to give designers recommendations on how best to incorporate into their design documentation guidance on the ultimate reuse, recovery, recycling and disposal of the components and materials used. A number of specific end-of-life processes have already been covered in the BS 8887 series, and this is likely to continue to expand to cover a wider range of scenarios.

By using BS 8887 in the most effective way, a design engineer can help set up ‘closed loop’ systems that allow the reentry of materials back into the supply chains, thus reducing the risk of supply disruption.

Sustainable Management of Supply Chains.

Of course, once a design specifies the use of a certain range of materials, no further choice can be made. It is important, therefore, that the supply chains work together in such a way to ensure the procurement of the materials is done in the most sustainable way possible, thus mitigating risks to the supply.

BS 8903:2010 - Principles and framework for procuring sustainably gives recommendations and guidance that supply chains can adopt and target towards materials supply. By following the guidance outlined in this standard, OEMs and their suppliers can embed common principles of sustainable procurement throughout their networks, and develop common metrics to ensure their procurement activity as effective and sustainable.


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