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Tools of the Manufacturing Trade, Part V

Software to the rescue…

In part 4 of this series, I introduced the idea of the “design to production pipeline.”  This was to illustrate the design to manufacturing continuum and show a strategy whereby the designer, looking into the pipeline from the design perspective, could see the follow-on steps and requirements for successful production. Although the process is rarely actually serial, it is clear that some things come first, like design, and others come later, like actual production. These days there is (or should be) a lot of iteration between the determination of the final design specs and the establishment of the process plan for manufacturing.

The point is, there needs to be an inclusion of green or sustainable requirements in the specifications of the design (like material selection, for example) and on to the manufacturing stage (like ensuring efficient conversion of materials in to the product).

We have been discussing the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) Sustainable Manufacturing Toolkit. In case you’ve missed the past three posting you can find details on the toolkit in an line Start-up Guide. This toolkit is well suited for organizing your strategy. But, what if you want to design or manufacture something and take green and sustainable principles into account?

Suppose you want to take some action – either at the design end or the manufacturing end. What tools can you rely on after you’ve done the background work and now want to move on to execution? This is where software tools come in.

As usual, it is not simple.

If you are a designer, and are beyond the function expansion stage and into more elements of the detail design, you are invariably led to consider some of the commercial software that is on the market for including sustainable (or at least green) constraints in the design.

As a green or sustainable manufacturer you usually have three basic “levers” you can adjust to optimize the production of a product or component – process technology, energy source and material. That is, you can improve the efficiency of the process in terms of energy or material consumption, you can reduce the embedded energy in the materials or use cleaner sources of energy, or you can introduce processing technology that are better suited to converting materials into product.

Let me state, at the outset, that I am not selling any particular piece of software. But, I am aware of some interesting developments in software that can get the designer (or manufacturer) moving in the right direction. And these offer insight (or a view down the pipe) during the design process. This can be the design of a product or component, design of a machine used in production, or design of a factory.

First is material selection. Some time back we had a series of postings on “less is more” (see for example one on “how much less is less?“). In that series I mentioned software from Granta Design and their CES and  “Ecoselector” software. This particular software allows the designer (or manufacturing engineer) to consider energy (embedded and processing) and recycling potential along with other material properties in the course of designing a product or component.

The Eco Audit Tool is specially designed for this. It is an add on to Granta’s basic material selector software that assists in meeting environmental objectives in engineering and design – objectives such as limiting the carbon footprint of a product, reduce the product’s energy usage, limit wastes and emissions, or specify the details of its disposal at end of life.

First, Granta is clear about the components of the life cycle. In the figure below from the website linked above we can see the the different life stages of a product from material production through manufacture, use and end of life as well as the items tracked (energy, feedstocks and transport) and the environmental stressors. Stressors are the outputs of the cycle that impact the environment – e.g. greenhouse gases, particulates and waste.

Granta software makes an early analysis about where in the life cycle the major impact is seen (recall our discussion of use vs manufacturing phase impacts?). In the figure below, also from Granta, an example showing a product for which the use phase dominates in terms of energy consumption.

Then, in the lower boxes in the figure, different strategies are listed to minimize energy consumption. For the use phase these include minimizing weight, heat loss, electrical loss and systems losses. One can imagine this applied to an automobile where high strength to weight materials will offer enhanced fuel economy or, as a system, the powertrain is designed to reduce losses in power transmission. One can also envision this in the design of a machine tool for production for which the ability to idle machine components when not in productive use can save energy.

Interestingly, Granta has a link to Autodesk Inventor software. Or, perhaps better said, Autodesk Inventor has a link to Granta. This is shown on a clever (if not a bit commercial) Youtube video on how the CES software works and how they link into Autodesk for materials in sustainable design.

The Autodesk® Inventor® 3D CAD software, according to Autodesk’s website info “offer[s] a comprehensive, flexible set of software for 3D mechanical design, product simulation, tooling creation, and design communication.”

More on Autodesk and the Inventor software next time along with other commercial products that address this (like Solidworks design tools) and lifecycle assessment software for a deep dive in the impacts of the product or process.

David Dornfeld is the Will C. Hall Family Chair in Engineering in Mechanical Engineering at University of California Berkeley. He leads the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Sustainability (LMAS), and he writes the Green Manufacturing blog.

David Dornfeld
David Dornfeld Director, Laboratory for Manufacturing and Sustainability University of California, Berkeley55
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One thought on “Tools of the Manufacturing Trade, Part V

  1. Hi David – I work for a structural steel manufacturer/supplier here in Houston, TX. We’re always trying to find ways to make our processes more sustainable and to decrease our impact. Thanks for sharing!

    All the best – Aly

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