A new Web-based training program teaches cost-savings using best-of-breed design and purchasing practices.

Web-based instruction is a growing market, and developed correctly, offers many advantages over traditional classroom settings. A new comprehensive online workshop aimed at electronics designers and engineers is the first to focus specifically on industry-specific environmental considerations and compliance.

The rationale is clear: Some 80% of the environmental impact of a product occurs during design phase, says Technology Forecasters Inc. (techforecasters.com), which developed the tool.

The training program, DFE Online (techforecasters.com/dfe-online), is really a self-paced electronic workshop. Made up of eight modules, it combines voiceover narration with clear pictorials, drawings, text slides and even links to short, hosted videos to explain a variety of concepts related to designing electronics products for the least environmental impact.

“Designers and the product launch team need to understand the basics of efficient environmental design, so when they do it, they do it in the most efficient, cost-effective way,” explains Pamela J. Gordon, founder and president of TFI.

The developers did a good job considering how an engineer might best grasp and absorb information. Data and images are delivered in multiple formats. There’s even an optional quiz after each of the modules, to help ensure the participant understands the subject matter. If they answer 10 of the 12 questions correctly, a certificate is issued.

Topics range from hands-on engineering advice to the business cases for Design for Environment (DfE). They cover such aspects as toxicity, emissions and energy efficiency. At times, the detail is very specific.

The product disassembly module, for example, shows the process for choosing fasteners for disassembly. Diagrams and schematics detail best practices. Information on building checklists to ensure all the relevant considerations are made is included. The module also shows everything from sample designs to instructing on evaluating plastics, comparing plastics vs. metals, selling recycled product, and even creating new incremental revenue streams.

“We drill down pretty deeply to give engineers the kind of information they need,” said Dr. Harvey Stone. Stone developed the module on disassembly.

Each module has about two dozen videos or documentaries that are rated based by TFI on relevance. They feature interactive exercises, so users can see dynamically the impacts and tradeoffs of material, component and energy choices. Information on documentation is included. A nice touch is the built-in forum at the end of each module, which offers users a chance to interact, compare notes and ask questions.

The program is built to be used by more than just the environmental engineer at a large manufacturer. Designers, buyers, and other hardware engineers at any sized company will find much to choose from. And Gordon stresses that the DFE Online isn’t just a series of reminders to be green for green’s sake.

“There are a lot of economic points in here. Beyond the environment and worker safety,” she says, “it’s about streamlining the assembly process and making products that use less energy. It’s really about the bottom line.”

Indeed, an explanation of modular design shows how to leverage a “used” assembly so that it can be used across multiple products, a move that not only is a more efficient use of materials, but also saves on troubleshooting and component acquisition costs.

“Our experience is electronics products designers do care about the environment; they just don’t know what they can do to design a product to minimize environmental harm, while at the same time saving money for their companies,” Gordon explains. “They don’t always realize how to connect the things they do.”

Compliance with major regulations such as RoHS and WEEE is, of course, a major headache for many companies. It is addressed often, but as a thread inserted in each module, as opposed to as a standalone module.

The program is customizable: Managers can choose which slides a product team or customer should focus on. TFI offers DFE Online as a lifetime single or enterprise license ranging from $995 to $19,500, depending on the number of users.

The rollout was Sept. 18.

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