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Traceability: The Driving Factor in Ensuring Sustainability in Engineering

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Global warming, rising pollution levels, extensive use of consumer electronics and natural resources, and economic and social inequality are compelling organizations to focus on driving long-term social value—not merely achieving short-term market domination. As a result, organizations are increasingly focusing on incorporating sustainability as a key pillar underpinning their business strategy, alongside innovation, technology adoption, and agile marketplace practices. Toward this end, they are embracing circular innovation best practices. The circular economy (CE) advocates the adoption of restorative or regenerative practices in business by intention and design. It fosters the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals that harm the biosphere, and reduces waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems, and business models.
One of the aims of the circular economy is to optimize resource yields by circulating products, components, and the materials in use, ensuring their highest utility at all times across both technical and biological cycles. However, organizations need to start implementing CE principles right at the product design and material sourcing stage, and throughout the entire value chain to be truly effective.
Hence, design is an integral driver in the shift to a circular economy. We cannot progress toward the circular economy without placing due emphasis on Design for Circularity (DFC). DFC is a step forward to realizing our broader vision of building a sustainable tomorrow. The practice of DFC enables engineering-centric industries including automotive, rail, aerospace, and medical technology to build more sustainable practices, products, and solutions.

The Many Merits of Traceability and the Design for Circularity Principle

Traceability is a key tool in DFC that can improve visibility into a product’s supply chain and help in verifying sustainability claims about commodities and products, thus ensuring best practices across production floors and supply chains. Due to improved product quality and raising awareness about safety in recent years, traceability has become increasingly important across automotive, electronics, aerospace, pharmaceutical, and other industries. Traceability helps organizations focus on every part of the process across the product life cycle—starting with a material’s origin, to its design into a part, to the part’s utility and use in the final product.
The supply chain for each product can be extremely complex, making traceability a legal requirement in many sectors. Traceability helps increase supply chain visibility, improves quality control systems, and reduces the risk of non-compliance to various regulatory standards.
Product traceability is not only about the manufacturer’s ability to trace a product through its distribution network to the end customer, but also their ability to retrace a product backwards through its manufacturing processing history, and farther back to the component and supplier levels.
With this feature, traceability can enable quick and prompt recall of ineffective, unsafe, or sub-standard products which may cause harm to consumers, or negatively impact the brand’s reputation and market value. Product traceability and supply chain transparency may also contribute to more efficient “end-of-use’’ practices. For example, knowing the material composition of a product can help a stakeholder decide its recyclability. The ability to view and analyze historical data from the manufacturing process allows companies to identify potentially compromised products by lot, batch, assembly, kit, revision, component, etc., limiting recalls and customer notifications to only the affected products.
Today, being green is no longer a cost of doing business. It is a catalyst for innovation, enables new market opportunities, and is a mode of sustainable wealth creation. Organizations are assessing and realigning their production processes to minimize the environmental impact of their products. The use of safe processes and green materials across their systems and value chains is helping organizations ensure the ultimate reconciliation of environmental and economic concerns by reducing the use of pollutants and hazardous substances. Green manufacturing is helping companies save costs and create sustainable development and opportunities for re-investment, all with a positive impact on the bottom line. Organizations are increasingly shifting toward responsible and accountable production practices, exploring opportunities to close the production loop and strive toward circular solutions across product value chains.
Traceability, a part of a more transparent and accountable economy, has been making inroads into a wide range of industries such as automotive, electronics, food and beverage, and pharmaceutical. For example, the meteoric rise in electric vehicle sales and car-sharing reveals growing consumer interest in sustainable mobility solutions. However, electric vehicles also pose the challenge of creating a more sustainable ecosystem associated with the production and disposal of batteries. To address this, battery manufacturers are now developing circular supply chains to ensure responsible sourcing, recycling, remanufacturing, or reuse of batteries.
The benefits of traceability in Design for Circularity
The benefits of traceability in Design for Circularity
With traceability in design, manufacturers can retrace the entire history of an object on the supply chain. At the touch of a button, they can summon a validated log of events for permissioned users. Traceability is especially relevant and useful when a product is recycled, since it provides a fundamental foundation to verify a claim made about a product.

Barriers to adopting traceability

While some ERP systems today accommodate limited forms of traceability, the variable data attributes that need to be collected (based on customer requirement, product type, and industry) make it difficult for an ERP system to meet a specific traceability requirement out of the box. Some examples of the very long list of data attributes that may need to be tracked include: job, material, heat/lot (or other raw material characteristics, serial, pallet, container, part (item), each part produced by shift, line, machine, tooling, worker, expiration date, use-by date, truck temperature, or QA results.
Organizations need to address several barriers in order to successfully implement traceability in design. These include determining what product process attributes to collect and maintain a log of. In doing this, businesses need to understand the magnitude of data that needs to be collected and processed to arrive at actionable solutions. Additionally, the involvement of multiple parties at various stages of a supply chain and the related isolated data silos need to be taken into consideration. Product traceability requires interoperable and centralized solutions. It is important to understand and adhere to regulatory norms by regions in order to successfully market the products globally. To address their sustainability performance, organizations must also focus on the usage of tools and methodologies to measure the environmental impact of materials and products and develop common ways to better define sustainable materials on an industrywide basis, while arriving at a common approach to quantifying the financial benefits. Industries will also do well to identify markets for end-of-life materials in fluctuating global commodities markets.

Toward a sustainable future with traceability

Manufacturers are on the verge of transformation today, with a host of new technologies and disruptive tools at their disposal, limited only by their creativity in approach to design.
Organizations are at a critical juncture where we must shoulder our responsibility to create a world that is safe and sustainable, where future generations can thrive. Traceability will help us address both objectives, and ensure a sustainable future where environment, economy, and society can coexist harmoniously. It will help organizations embrace a less resource-intensive manufacturing process that does not result in waste. Society will benefit from reduced greenhouse gas emissions, better soil quality, and reduced usage of land and soil, leading to a reduction in pollution. All of this will lead to sustained and long-term economic growth while optimally using natural resources, eliminating wastage, and generating more employment in the unorganized sector. Businesses will discover new opportunities to profit with optimized production cycles, reduced volatility, conscious sourcing, and improved innovation by adopting innovative circular design solutions to deliver outstanding customer- and brand-focused products.
To ensure cleaner and greener outputs, organizations today are feeling the urgent need to integrate circularity concepts into their and their customers’ design and ERP systems. Organizations like Cyient and Eolos with deep domain and product experience in design are creating a newer, greener future by helping customers redesign products to minimize the use of environmentally harmful raw materials. Cyient is playing a significant role in designing and integrating DFC into existing product lines and NPI. Cyient’s efforts are directed toward steps that could lead to a greener world while ensuring a reduction in manufacturing costs and inventory savings. Eventually, we hope to witness a vibrant ecosystem where both business and the environment can win.
“Cyient and Eolos, recently launched a joint consulting and engineering practice: Design for Circularity. We pledge to restore the world’s ecosystems by designing a sustainable tomorrow together by implementing the principles of the circular economy. Positioning ourselves all along the product value chain as end-to-end solution providers, we have the experience and capabilities to support our customers in their journey toward sustainability.’
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
Ameer JillellaMr Ameer Jillella is Associate Vice President, Global Head – Mechanical, Electrical & Industrial Service Line at Cyient. He is a delivery leader with 20+ years of experience in engineering design, product development, and delivery management. Ameer managed multiple Centers of Excellence for Aircraft Engines &  Systems and industrial customers providing Engineering, Manufacturing, and Aftermarket solutions. Ameer has vast experience in leading large, multi-disciplinary, and multi-national teams delivering programs successfully with customer delight.
Arun Kumar JayasinghMr Arun Kumar Jayasingh is Deputy General Manager – Product Design, Global Delivery Operations at Cyient. He is a Mechanical & Management Professional with over 20 years of experience with a diverse skillset including Design & Development of New Product Improvement, Sustenance Engineering, Change management and Compliance & MOC evaluation.
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Regards,
The CSR Journal Team
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