Industrial challenge; to design more sustainable products

ENGINEERINGNET.BE – A survey conducted by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) shows that 90% of consumers are concerned about the sustainability of the products they buy.

How can this drastic change be translated into industrial processes? How can industrial companies adapt their processes to optimize the sustainability of their products and minimize their environmental footprint?

A crucial first step
You can not tackle a theme like sustainability by making “small adjustments” to industrial design and production processes. There is a need for a paradigm shift that must be taken into account at all stages of the product life cycle. So not only during production, but actually from the first design phase.

From this first stage of a product’s life, three crucial handles can be used in terms of sustainability:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing by optimizing energy consumption;
  • The choice of components and raw materials of which the product is composed, based on their CO emissions (as a result of production or transport);
  • Reduction of indirect CO2 emissions (transport, use, recycling).

Design products that use fewer raw materials and energy
Not only must the production processes be optimized, but also the design of the products themselves must be radically changed to make them more economical from a raw material and energy point of view.

There is design software with specific tools for this, especially the latest generation of CAD solutions. With this software, the design of a product can be controlled by incorporating certain assumptions, whereby alternatives are automatically considered.

For example, it is possible to reduce the mass of mechanical parts by 80%, thereby significantly reducing energy consumption and the amount of raw materials, while improving technical performance.

This is similar to the tendency of many manufacturers to oversize their parts: Engineers want to be sure that a part is strong enough, so they often choose to make the mass and dimensions unnecessarily large. This often backfires, both in terms of durability and performance.

Use of data for better circularity
Designing more sustainable products also requires clear data management choices. To measure the environmental performance of a product over its entire life cycle, data on each component and its impact on the product’s overall CO2 footprint must be collected.

PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) solutions offer this option. This involves looking at the evolution of the product’s overall CO2 footprint, based on its composition and design. The ecological footprint can thus become a basic criterion that plays a crucial role in the choice of design.

Collection and opening of data on products makes it possible to take into account transport, energy consumption and opportunities for recycling and reuse. By responding to all these factors, industrial processes can become more circular and the most environmentally friendly design choices can be preferred.

As people become more aware of environmental issues, the industry will have to reinvent itself. However, this climate change must be seen as an option.

By optimizing their production and design processes, industrial actors not only reduce their environmental impact, they also streamline their operations and utilize digital tools that are crucial in their transition to Industry 4.0. This is an improvement process that will ultimately lead to better operational results and better performing products.

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