Fulleon, their switch and the wardrobe

Soldering & Surface Mount Technology

ISSN: 0954-0911

Article publication date: 1 August 2004




(2004), "Fulleon, their switch and the wardrobe", Soldering & Surface Mount Technology, Vol. 16 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/ssmt.2004.21916baf.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Fulleon, their switch and the wardrobe

Fulleon, their switch and the wardrobe

Keywords: Fulleon, Environmental regulations, Legislation, Electronics industry

Industry is being subjected to more stringent environmental legislation. The focus of the End of Life Vehicle Directive, IPP, WEEE and ROHS is to get companies to examine the environmental impact of their company and their products, throughout the total product lifecycle, and take responsibility for it. Many companies equate this with increased expenditure in time and resources, and another slice off the bottom line. Despite British businesses feeling very apprehensive about the effect tighter environmental legislation could have on them, the truth is their fears are as real as the monster in the wardrobe. The government programme, Envirowise, is showing companies how making environmental improvements actually makes good business sense and even better financial sense. Companies grasping the bull by the horns, preparing for tightening legislation by adopting cleaner design principles, are making both monetary savings and improving their competitive advantage in the world market.

Cleaner Design is leading the way as a concept, which helps companies identify how to be compliant with environmental legislation and at the same time bring improvements to the bottom line. Integrated Product Policy (IPP) places the responsibility for a product's environmental impact from cradle to grave, with its producer. Concurrently, the End of Life Vehicle Directive (ELV) and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive hold the producer responsible for product recovery at the end of a product's life. Restriction of Hazardous Substance in electrical and electronic equipment (ROHS) also has end of life product recovery at its heart. Cleaner design considers what happens to the product at the end of its life and then designs it so cost-effective recovery, reuse and recycling is practical. This involves identifying how a product gives rise to environmental impacts during its life cycle. It extends to investigating how these impacts can be reduced through design, while still satisfying customer requirements. This approach "designs out" waste at the beginning of the process, improving efficiency and hence reducing production, distribution, use and end-of-life recovery costs.

There is currently a gap between businesses understanding the importance of achieving sustainability within their product development and actually accomplishing it.

Envirowise, a government programme that provides free, practical advice to industry on how to improve environmental performance through cleaner design and waste minimisation, is stepping into that gap. Through an extensive range of highly relevant products and services, Envirowise is showing companies how to meet legislation and improve their margins. Of particular note is Designtrack, a service, which offers a confidential site visit from a qualified designer who can help a company identify areas that can be improved.

Fulleon Ltd, a company in South Wales making break-glass call points, and other elements for fire alarms, realised the benefits of cleaner design as it sought to improve the competitiveness of its break- glass call point product in a price sensitive market. Prior to taking a holistic view of the design and production process, product development activities were passed from department to department. Now, each department, from design to purchasing is involved in the product development at each stage of the design process. This is known as a team-based concurrent product development approach and is an integral part of cleaner design. Fulleon set about applying the principles of cleaner design and adopted a life-cycle assessment approach that ascertained the environmental impact of each stage of the product's life cycle.

By adopting cleaner design they have reduced manufacturing costs, improved product features and saved an impressive £92,650 a year, maintaining their leading market position in a competitive world economy. These savings came from an average reduction in material costs of 11 per cent, a reduction in labour assembly costs of 34 per cent and a reduction in the overall unit production cost of 21 per cent. The cleaner design process reduced machining times and assembly times through product changes such as introducing snap fit components, using fewer parts and rounding the edges on some moulds. In addition they also examined their packaging and by using plastic bags rather than cardboard boxes, reduced these costs by 24 per cent (Plate 1).

Plate 1 Fulleon cleaner design system in use

The environmental impact of the improved design is significant with reductions in material consumption, energy use, cardboard packaging, transport costs and less waste at the end of the product's life. Fulleon's Technical Director, Dean Arnold, is convinced of the benefits of Cleaner Design. "There are other benefits beyond the savings we have made that improved our commercial position. We were the first company in the world to achieve the BSEN 54-11 European Standard for Fire detection and Fire Alarm Systems as a result of this project. It has also helped to position us as an environmentally responsible, high quality design and manufacturing business," he explained.

Fulleon is part of the Cooper Menvier Division of Cooper Industries Inc. and since introducing cleaner design a new Managing Director has been appointed. Peter Maxwell remains committed to the cleaner design principle and has rolled it out across the group. Peter said, "Cleaner design makes good business sense, good environmental sense and provides us with a tool that delivers a clear long term sustainable competitive advantage. Using cleaner design techniques with a concurrent design approach has allowed us to produce a wide range of environmentally friendly market leading products".

Making similar sorts of savings is within the grasp of any company and preparing for forthcoming directives may be the catalyst for many companies to consider a cleaner design approach. Envirowise is encouraging companies to examine the opportunities more closely and as a starting point they have produced a series of free guides. The first guide (Cleaner product design: an introduction for industry – GG294) is an introduction to cleaner design and takes you step by step through the process of introducing it to your company. There are easy to use checklists to help you. It also highlights ten simple measures that will improve your companies overall financial and environmental performance, without compromising on efficiency and quality. The second guide (Cleaner product design: examples from industry – GG295) provides examples from industry and shows how nine corporate companies have benefited from cleaner design. Whether your business is large or small the approach is the same and there are lessons to be learnt from this publication. The third guide that is worth requesting (Cleaner product design: a practical approach – GG296) looks at cleaner design across businesses of all sizes and has an emphasis on product disassembly and redesign.

It includes instructions for carrying out a systematic dismantling exercise using a standard household item such as a kettle or an iron. This quickly highlights the relative complexity of everyday products and where the opportunities for clean design lie to produce a more cost- effective and efficient product.

Often our perceptions are that cheaper production costs mean quality is compromised and that environmental improvements have a negative affect on profitability. The reality is that with good design you can reduce the costs and environmental impact of a product while increasing its quality. In a commercial world where environmental impact and sustainability is increasingly important the mantra is more with less. Cleaner design can deliver this. Envirowise is here to show you the way with its guides, case studies and designtrack service. To request the three guides mentioned in this paper or for more information about cleaner design, including requesting a designtrack, contact: Tel: 0800 585794; Web site: www.envirowise.gov.uk

Related articles