Product Life Cycle Issues Analysis

Product Life Cycle Issues Analysis
Dr. Louis R. Nudy
President, Eco PerformanceTM Ltd.
This paper deals with suggestions for incorporating life cycle (LC) thinking into the earliest
stages of new product development and the unique challenges of selecting the life cycle issues to
consider when there are many uncertainties about the final product design. This is based
primarily upon the experiences of the author in the development of new chemical raw materials
used as intermediates and solvents.
Individual life cycle assessment techniques and tools will not be discussed. It is hoped that a
discussion of some of the unique criteria for applying life cycle thinking to the early stages of
new product development will be of value. One such process for applying life cycle thinking to
new products was developed at ARCO Chemical Company and is called Product Life Cycle
Issues Analysis. The process is intended to bring together discussion of a broad number of
environmental health and safety issues including but not limited to pollution prevention and
waste minimization. Aspects of this Product Life Cycle Issue Analysis will also be discussed.
The specific items to be discussed include;
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) application in the early stages of new product
Guidelines for tool selection and application
Basic information needed to initiate Product Life Cycle Issues Analysis.
Team selection for Product Life Cycle Issue Analysis
Guidelines for the Product Life Cycle Issue Analysis team’s efforts.
Life Cycle Assessment application in the early stages of new product development
Conceptually incorporating life cycle thinking into new product development makes sense.
However, many of the life cycle tools available were developed for a specific category of
products and with a predetermined list of issues to consider. The tools currently available are
most easily applied to existing products with well defined compositions and known
characteristics. Quite often there is detailed information available on at least one manufacturing
process actually in operation when life cycle analysis is applied to products which have been
already commercialized. Although quantitative verifiable data may be difficult to compile even
for commercial products, new products present the added challenges of uncertainties including
those of final product design specifications and production processes.
The process for new product development is often described in stages which typically include
concept, feasibility, development, commercialization and established business stages. Companies
may have more or less stages and define the boundaries differently. Typically it is during the
development stage that the company begins significant investment. The investment may peak
during the development stage or later stages depending upon the product.
As one proceeds to commercialization, more information relevant to life cycle analysis and risk
becomes available. More of the information is quantified and less uncertainty exists in the
quantified information. Obviously, a LCA report resulting from data containing less uncertainty
will be more credible and of better value in making future decisions. A staged approach to the
life cycle analysis will help integrate it into new product development but not alleviate all the
Despite the added challenges, there are several advantages to the early application of life cycle
issues analysis in the new product development process.
First, among the advantages are those related to cost savings. Since it is generally more costly to
makes changes to production equipment after it is designed and installed, certain costs may be
reduced or eliminated if designs needed for pollution prevention and waste minimization are
built into the original design.
After commercialization it is much harder to change product specifications without
upsetting at least some portion of the market. Product specifications decisions which
were made in the absence of thought to environmental health and safety issues associated with
product use and disposal may be inadequate for at least some intended market. To often,
chemical product specifications are set based solely on the physical and chemical functions
desired of the product.
But direct cost reductions are not the only benefits. During new product development, future
commercialization is still uncertain. Information is being collected so that business managers can
make decisions about invest further to develop and commercialize the product.
Considering the environmental life cycle issues of the product early also helps identify more of
the true cost of the product and provides product or business managers input that will help them
make better decisions.
By considering the entire life cycle, one may discover hidden costs of environmental burdens
associated with the customers’ use of the new product that are not associated with a
competitive product. It is much better that the business manager knows this so that he or
she can attempt ways to overcome those burdens or at least factor the burdens into the
development and commercialization decisions.
Better still, one may find that a new product can compete better with existing products because
it does not have the associated environmental burdens of an existing product. Again, it is
advantageous to know this sooner rather than later.
Some additional challenges and disadvantages to the application of life cycle in the early stages
also need to be considered.
First, the product specification and process design assumptions that went into the life cycle are
more likely to be changed after the earliest stages. During the early stages of chemical product
development, all impurities inherent in the manufacturing process may not have been fully
characterized yet. Even for those impurities that have been characterized, there may not be
sufficient data to determine the performance and process trade offs associated with each. While
zero impurities may be a good target, production costs often rise exponentially as one develops
designs for higher and higher purity. It may not be ecologically beneficial to product a product
of higher purity than needed. For example, more energy and sometimes more chemical process
aids may needed to attain a higher purity.
Secondly, data is generally incomplete and laboratory analysis of samples is based upon
materials obtained from small scale laboratory experiments, pilot plants or in some cases
mixtures produced in an attempt to mimic the final product anticipated from computer models of
the process. Thus, there may be no samples from the actual product unit. This could be
problematic if the properties reported and ecological tests done on the samples used in the life
cycle analysis did not include certain impurities or had different concentrations of impurities that
will effect the properties and ecological test results.
An additional disadvantage is that the amount of data available is insufficient to credibly judge
the reproducibility of analysis results.
Finally, many new products fail in initial customer trials before becoming fully commercialized.
Thus, there are no sales to offset the costs for the rigorous testing and life cycle analysis .
If we still believe there is value in introducing life cycle thinking into the earliest stages of new
product development, then we need to design life cycle tools that can be applied to the unique
characteristics and challenges of the earliest stages of product development.
Consider the typical stages involved in new product development from idea to concept
development, commercialization and established business.
Thus, while there are pro and cons associated with applying life cycle early, those of us who
believe it can be beneficial need to provide our product development colleagues with appropriate
Guidelines for Tool Selection and Application
Some simple guidelines for selecting LCA tools for the early stages of new product development,
are proposed as follows;
The most important and often overlooked guideline is to match the rigor of the tool to the amount
of data available and the uncertainty in the data. The value and credibility of conclusions from
the LCA is going to be limited by the uncertainty of the data and not the rigor of the LCA
technique. The LCA tools available today which are very rigorous are also over developed for
the uncertainty inherent in the early stages of many new product development efforts. Applying
some of these tools early in the new product development process is like trying to accurately
weigh several tons of a powder using a precision microbalance.
If you apply the rigorous LCA tools at the earliest stages, you will find yourself frequently
having to redesign the calculations and reluctant to apply the technique to all the possible
product design variations and choices.
Using simple screening tools facilitates the second guideline which is to apply the simple
screening techniques to all the life cycle stages and include consideration of the relative potential
health, safety and environmental burdens, impacts or risks involved with each. Sometimes
because certain LCA tools are so burdensome, they are consciously not applied to certain options
being considered or some of the life cycle stages are left out of the analysis. Thus, one may have
a very rigorous report on a narrow set of options and circumstances that may not be very
representative of the final commercialized product and circumstances of manufacture,
distribution, use and disposal.
Using electronic tools can make even some of the more rigorous tools easier to apply. In such
cases the more rigorous tools should be considered so long as this is not done at the expense of
not considering certain stages or options. Also, be prepared to have to recalculate projected
environmental outcomes or repeat the entire LCA based upon revised data.
Even when less rigorous life cycle screening techniques are applied, the results can be useful. In
the absence of firm conclusions from more rigorous life cycle assessments, the following should
be the expectations of any life cycle screening applied to new product development.
There should be an identification of the more rigorous life cycle assessment techniques and the
environmental data and costs that will be needed as the product proceeds to commercializations.
Using the screening tools is not meant to be a substitute for applying more rigorous tools when
the product and data set becomes more developed.
Gross comparisons of the type of environmental burdens associated with different options and
different portions of the life cycle should be summarized.
A list of the regulatory compliance issues that must be addressed at current and future stages
should be an outcome of the PLCIA.
There should be complete documentation of all the product, manufacture, market and distribution
plans that were used in the PLCIA as well as all the physical, chemical, biological and ecological
data available. The documentation should include a road map to retrieve to original test data and
There should be a list of experts who participated in the PLCIA so that they can be called upon to
help answer future questions. Opportunities arising from different pollution prevention costs
associated with different options
To the extent that the PLCIA team was successful, the PLCIA report should identify
opportunities to develop pollution prevention advantages over competitive products,
management systems that may be needed to further reduce environmental burdens and the
estimates of pollution prevention and waste costs.
Basic Information needed to initiate new product life cycle issues
At the early stages of new product development, the key is to expand choices and considerations
rather than restrict them. Thus a tool should be flexible. One approach used by ARCO Chemical
Company involved formation of a Product Life Cycle Issues Analysis (PLCIA) Team. The
PLCIA is designed to facilitate discussion regarding available data but does not assign
predetermined values to different potential impacts including pollution and wastes. It merely
facilitates the teams’ consideration of a variety of environmental health and safety risks, burdens
or impacts and allows the team to engage in informed deliberation on the best options to pursue
further. The value is that life cycle thinking is done in concert with the product development
The PLCIA process includes questions the team should answer or discuss at each stage of new
product development. Some of the categories of questions are as follows;
Some example questions in the concept stage are shown and this is usually answered by the
product designer who is typically not trained in EH&S but trained in chemistry or chemical
The questions do not, in of themselves, necessitate any particular level of detail but rather
depend upon the judgement of the team members including at least one environmental expert
along with experts in other related areas. This method allows for a great deal of discretion by the
team and consequently places a large burden upon the environmental professional to select the
important issues the team should consider. The environmental professionals on the team have the
added burden to help the other team members understand the importance of the issues and
engage them in finding means to deal effectively with the environmental burdens that may be
associated with the product
Team Selection for Product Life Cycle Issue Analysis
Specialists in waste reduction and pollution prevention can provide better options when they are
better informed about the product specifications, process design, packaging and distribution
plans, end uses and disposal. A team approach that brings together other specialists in addition to
the environmental specialists provides the opportunity for discovering synergistic efforts and
avoid mutual exclusive or conflicting objectives. Risk trade offs also become more apparent and
product management plans should be more readily implemented through a coordinated
comprehensive approach. A team should include representatives of functions including product
management, market management, sales, customer support, logistics, industrial hygiene,
toxicology, chemistry, engineering ,manufacturing and legal. Other specialists should be asked
to either participate on the team or provide advice as needed. The more functions represented the
greater the opportunity for coordinated and efficient efforts provided that the meetings are well
organized and information is shared and reviewed in advance by all participants.
Guidelines for PLCIA Teams’ Efforts
Participants in the PLCIA need to understand their roles and the scope of their input into the
process. Electronic mail and databases should be used so that information can be readily
documented and available to all members as soon as new information is obtained. The
participants should understand the expectations of each meetings and should view PLCIA as a
continuing process rather than a project. Individuals should be assigned tasks or projects as part
of the PLCIA but they should recognize that they may need to re-evaluate their input and
conclusions as new data becomes available from other members of the team.
There is no lack of protocols and procedures for the evaluation of a variety of environmental
health and safety issues. The challenge of the PLCIA team and new product development
manager is to utilize the appropriate tools in a manner that will improve the manner in which
their product is managed throughout its life cycle.
Closing Comments
LCA can be and should be applied to the early stages of new product development. But, it
requires a flexible and iterative approach that includes input from a variety of business, research
and development and environmental, health and safety professionals. The LCA should not be
viewed as box checking exercise but should be an integral part of the entire new business
The following individuals and references were instrumental in shaping the views expressed by
the author of this paper. However, it should not be assumed that this paper is a representation of
or is entirely consistent with the references or individuals acknowledged which include;
ARCO Chemical Company Product Risk Management Manual and the employee contributors,
Winning at New Products by Robert C. Cooper,
Roy F. Weston Life Cycle Analysis Roundtable members, and
Environmental Life Cycle Assessment by Mary Ann Curran.