As the economy tightens and manufacturers look for ways to trim costs, the largely unknown IMDS requirement gets pushed further down the supply chain. While the IMDS does nothing to improve your bottom line, you're still on the hook for it. What can you do?
This scenario has become a common refrain in plastic-molding companies from coast to coast. If you're successful, it's likely you've been supplying top quality plastic components to the automobile industry for decades without hearing a word about the IMDS. You've always delivered your products on time and within budget. You've even come through when your customer needed a rush order.
Now all of a sudden, there's a problem. The customer who's been so appreciative and responsive in the past is being unreasonable. You can't ship your products until you complete an additional step, an added requirement, some kind of paperwork issue.
Worse, automakers and their subsidiaries have started refusing to accept delivery of parts without an IMDS number. One empty line in the paperwork is holding up your entire shipment.
What is the IMDS?
IMDS stands for International Material Data System. An internet-based platform that you can find at MDSystem.com, it was designed to facilitate recycling efforts that target scrapped vehicles. To recycle a car, you first have to know what it's made of.
The IMDS, therefore, is a universal database of the materials used in automobiles. The IMDS contains the list of every part in every car for every participating international automobile manufacturer. Each listing, or database record, includes the weight, size and material composition of every single component.
Begun as an agreement among nine automakers, the IMDS now is the global standard for classifying parts used by the automotive OEMs. By using a global system, all OEMs ensure that their many suppliers are in compliance with national and international law. While all cars sold in Europe must meet the terms of the IMDS, automakers have gone above and beyond by requiring IMDS data on all parts used anywhere in the world. So a plastic part going into an F250 Super Duty pickup being assembled at a Ford plant in Kentucky still needs data.
Your IMDS options
So what can you do when your customers ask you to supply an IMDS number? You have four options:
1. Learn it yourself
2. Go to school to learn it
3. Force your suppliers to do it
4. Contract out the work
Learn it yourself
Obviously, you can read the free manual and figure it out yourself. It's not rocket science. You probably have an engineering degree or at least some engineering experience. Once you learn your way around the IMDS, you can handle this requirement now and in the future.
You may find, though, that while the system isn't complicated, it's not intuitive either. The IMDS was designed by a legislative committee, not by a human factors expert.
In addition, learning the system takes time, time you could be spending running your business. You could delegate the task to one of your engineers, but he's trying to meet a deadline, too. In the end, while you may want to spend the time to do it yourself, it's not always feasible. It's a matter of priorities.
Go back to school
You could attend a specially licensed training program to learn the IMDS, saving yourself some time and aggravation. A number of European companies offer training, but there is only one HP-certified IMDS training partner in the United States ... and it's in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
While a classroom setting makes learning easier, the cost of the training, airfare, hotel, and per diem for two people - so you always have a backup - may be prohibitive. Plus, you essentially lose any productivity from these employees for several days.
As an alternative, you can find an IMDS training partner who'll come to your shop to teach you how to navigate the IMDS. This tailored approach might be a perfect solution as long as you can overcome three factors: finding a truly qualified consultant, arranging the training space and equipment, and getting your engineers to drop everything for several days.
Force your suppliers to do it
You could push the requirement down to your suppliers. After all, it's their responsibility too. There are two problems with this strategy:
1. Your suppliers are often smaller companies than yours, meaning they have even less flexibility to fulfill the IMDS requirement than you do.
2. Even if your suppliers completed their IMDS requirement, you still need to create a record for your product.
For example, your molded plastic interior door panel or dashboard console includes components from other suppliers. You assemble them with your own piece before shipping. It's a system that's worked since the beginning. Even if your suppliers send you their IMDS data, however, you still have to merge it into your IMDS record for the door panel or dashboard. You still have to analyze and record its chemical makeup.
So while you've maybe made your job a little easier, you haven't avoided it completely. You're right back where you were when you started, with an IMDS requirement to meet.
Contract out the IMDS work
Finding a contractor to do the work for you is an option that has pros and cons. You obviously have to pay for the service, and multiple components needing separate entries can push up those costs. You can outsource large jobs overseas, say to India, but that solution comes with its own challenges.
There are other concerns as well. You have to provide the contractor with the specifications, blueprints, or chemical analysis of your products - in other words, your proprietary information. If you have to reveal trade secrets, you will want to know for sure that the IMDS provider is trustworthy.
Outside contractors will tell you that their work is guaranteed, but you need to do your homework to find their referrals and credentials. While you'll save time and money by farming out the work, it's still ultimately your responsibility to make sure it's done correctly. If you find a contractor you can trust, though, you have a professional you can turn to even when your deadlines are looming.
The IMDS is here to stay, regardless what you think about it. More and more automotive manufacturers are turning to it to make their products more recycling-friendly. Moreover, you can expect to see this requirement more consistently in the future.
If you find yourself stuck with an IMDS requirement that you must fulfill to ship your goods, remember that you have options. Make the right choice, based on your circumstances.
Derrik Snider has been improving quality for 20 years. He's worked as a Quality Engineer for companies such as Borg-Warner, and he's served as an Examiner for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Derrik is also a member of the American Society for Quality. He founded IMDS DATA in 2010 to help companies with their IMDS requirements. You can contact Derrik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's note: The author is a PlasticsToday contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.