Smart product design: It’s getting easier to be green

By making informed design decisions and using the right tools, manufacturers can take the necessary steps toward making greener—or more eco-friendly or sustainable—products. That's because many of the things considered in everyday good design decisions also are great sustainability design decisions.


There’s no excuse for manufacturers not to be thinking green when developing products, says Kevin Schneider, a product manager with design software vendor Autodesk .
By making informed design decisions and using the right tools, Schneider explains, manufacturers can take the necessary steps toward making greener—or more eco-friendly or sustainable—products.
Advice such as this should come as welcome news to manufacturers, which are under much more pressure to make greener products. And according to Boston-based Aberdeen Group ’s August 2008 report, Greening Today’s Products: Sustainable Design Meets Engineering Innovation , a number of manufacturers are jumping on the green bandwagon, with 56 percent already embracing a greener product strategy and another 26 percent planning on doing so over the next two years.

Making the move to green isn’t always easy. One reason, says Schneider, is product designers’ lack of knowledge about how to incorporate green product requirements into their designs.
“They don’t know where to begin. The subject matter is completely foreign to them. It’s important to explain that a lot of the things
Take overbuilding, for example. Designers often will “overbuild” their products, says Schneider, to ensure that they don’t break.
“And what do you do when you overbuild? You are using more material and more energy than is required to solve the design challenge that you need to solve.”

Digital prototyping tools—such as Autodesk Inventor—can prevent overbuilding by helping designers create virtual prototypes of the products they are developing so they can see how they will work under real-world conditions. This can minimize material requirements.
Tackling problems such as overbuilding could make a big difference, says Schneider. “If only every engineer took overbuilding seriously and attempted to bring their design down to the appropriate material levels, we could see a huge impact on material usage around the world.”
Reducing excess materials isn’t the only step manufacturers need to take when developing greener products. They also need to take a closer look at the materials they’re using. Are they toxic? Do they meet the parameters of environmental regulations? Are they recyclable?
To answer these questions, Autodesk developed the Sustainable Materials Assistant. Offered as a free add-on to Inventor, it not only lets designers determine the sustainability properties of materials, but also helps them calculate the carbon footprints of their designs.
Schneider says Autodesk’s goal is to simplify sustainable design processes.
“If we can make it so easy that [designers] don’t have to change their existing workflow, but still be presented with this information, I think [it could lead to] pervasive change. We could make this more than a curiosity or an interest for a select few into something that everyone does every day. Just as they worry about,‘Does it look nice?, or “Can I make it faster?’, they can, in the same breath, answer the question, ‘Is it sustainable?’”

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