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Navigating complexities in the automotive industry: Product sustainability & global regulatory compliance  

The challenges facing the automotive industry – from regulatory changes to new chemical replacement proposals – are clear. But how do they solve them?

 

While attending the Automotive Industry Action Group’s (AIAG) Hybrid IMDS & Product Chemical Compliance Conference in October this year, the Makersite team delved into what is driving — and hindering — the race to sustainability in the automotive industry. The challenges were clear: Regulatory changes, eco-design for sustainability, and new chemical replacement proposals are all ongoing issues, and ones that we’ve regularly encountered as we work with companies aiming to take the lead in sustainability and efficiency. 

With a heavy focus on global chemical regulations gradually converging with the core principles of product sustainability, it’s fundamental that responsible automotive organizations protect consumers, the environment, and the long-term viability of their industry. These efforts should be driven by a commitment to enhance environmental and human safety which, in turn, reflect a broader societal shift towards more sustainable manufacturing practices. However, there are still a few speed bumps on the way. 

The challenges of keeping up with chemical laws for the North American automotive industry 

The North American automotive industry is grappling with complex set of challenges when it comes to adhering to regional and global regulations, particularly regarding the complex chemical compliance directives coming out of the EU, Canada, South Korea, and China. While there is progress on the horizon, challenges remain within enterprises that are striving to innovate and move design forward.   

Rapidly changing regulatory environments, without a detailed roadmap, remain a significant barrier when it comes to making swift changes, driving innovation and remaining competitive, while also hindering consistent and valuable supplier engagement. 

Although the automotive industry appears to be unanimously onboard with working toward new compliance practices, the newest chemical restriction proposals, upcoming deadlines of reporting compliance, and maturing customer demands mean that many organizations are struggling to strike the right balance with regional and global governing bodies. Moving towards aspirational targets while staying within regulatory lines is a battle many are still fighting. This, in turn, leads us to the latest PFAS proposals, an area where many within the automotive industry still struggle. 

A love-hate relationship with PFAS 

The biggest challenge many automotive businesses face with PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) is that the chemical restriction proposals do not yet have seemingly solid replacements. There is particular concern around the proposed replacements’ applicable endurance and functionality. On one hand, PFAS have been utilized for their non-stick and water-resistant properties in products including car wax and windshield treatments, as well as in the automotive manufacturing process for certain components.   

However, the concern remains that when these chemicals are disposed of or released into the environment, they do not disappear quickly. Ultimately, those within the automotive industry must continue in their efforts to find alternatives that are just as effective but don’t have such a detrimental impact on the environment. In order to achieve this, more replacement options are needed. But without easy access to those replacements or more knowledge around where to source them, the challenge is clear – who exactly will supply them? 

The search for the supplier

Finding alternative suppliers of the essential elements and components for manufacturing a product is a painstaking process, and even the most sustainability-focused organizations can become confused. Once found, ensuring that suppliers are on board with the latest data requirements, quality standards, and delivery schedules is essential. The right collaboration tools and technologies help to streamline communication, share information, and keep everyone moving in the right direction. Transparency is also key, allowing everyone involved to see – and overcome – the challenges and obstacles that lie ahead. However, many automotive companies lack an all-in-one solution or something that can efficiently, sustainably and economically tackle the obstacles they face.  

The big data challenge   

From chemical proposals to 2050 goals, complex challenges abound. But without the standardization of data collection and enhanced visibility into multi-layered supply chain processes, the automotive industry remains somewhat in the dark. Harmonizing North American automotive standards with those of global markets is crucial for both consistent quality and seamless market access. Areas needing improvement range from supplier engagement to robust data management systems for harmonizing standards globally, but replatforming organizations and digitally transforming processes are offering the industry light at the end of the tunnel. 

Integrating AI into sustainability and compliance processes for data collection is pivotal. And with reporting requirements on the rise, digitizing supply chain data is an imperative. But what does a solution capable of addressing these challenges look like? 

Data management systems 

A properly constructed data management system that can unify these elements is key to ensuring that all stakeholders are working from the same foundations. AI is a new and evolving solution, and one that represents a huge – and logical – step forward. 

Ultimately, this isn’t about the human touch alone. Utilizing AI to meet compliance requirements and asses LCAs is a significant advance on current practices, providing instant granularity, transparency, and swift data scrutiny while allowing you to overhaul your product designs and supply chain choices for greener impact both now and in the future. 

With reporting requirements going through something of a growth spurt – now averaging more than 28 reports per organization – the demand for information has accelerated, making the digitization of intricate supply chain data more important. Ensuring that an organization can report at scale with the data transparency and traceability from in-house domains to the global supply chain landscape is a integral part of a smoother and more efficient operation. Archaic systems and processes risk hindering the futureproofing of a product’s sustainable life and design. 

Navigating sustainability with Makersite 

Sustainability data acts as the cornerstone of any project. Any organization truly seeking to succeed must futureproof product design, cross-referencing data to identify gaps and formulate a layer of aggregation. Unfortunately, many in the automotive or heavy equipment manufacturing industry have noted that their organization’s current processes or resources are keeping them from achieving those objectives. 

Managing your data and improving it rapidly is increasingly becoming an imperative. Integrating AI capabilities to evaluate your LCAs offers not only instant transparency but prompt data assessment, meaning that you can achieve granular visibility into the environmental footprint of your supply chains within months and make the necessary changes needed to your product designs within minutes. By opening up these possibilities, organizations are empowering their procurement teams to go fully green while maximizing their R&D teams’ design choices in the process. 

A SaaS solution that can not only simplify the roadmap to compliance, but also gives organizations the opportunity to make substantial efficiency gains is a game-changer. It enables innovation and industry-leading sustainability practices, casting the time-consuming days of manually navigating and interpreting regulatory complexities to the past.

While Makersite may not have the answer to what’s coming next with PFAS, we can provide the tools to drive product sustainability and enhance supply chain granularity, ensuring that automotive manufacturers can rapidly identify and address any issues from cradle, to gate, to grave.   

 

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