Sustainability is a key topic in all aspects of the global economy and especially so in the world of technical software – the companies whose software is used to design the buildings we live in, the products we use, and the machinery to produce them.
At LiveWorx 2023, PTC were keen to shed light on the crucial topic of sustainability in manufacturing and, in particular, sustainable design. PTC reports that around 80% of a product’s lifecycle CO2 emissions are determined during its design phase. This underscores the importance of viewing sustainability as an intrinsic part of all aspects of design, rather than an afterthought, to effectively minimize a product’s environmental impact throughout its entire lifecycle.
PTC’s message focused on material reduction, material selection, manufacturing processes, and product circularity, highlighting the significance of environmentally conscious practices and advancements in technology. This article delves into the key takeaways from the conference, emphasizing the benefits of material reduction, the importance of materials sourcing, and the challenges related to end-of-life considerations.
Material Reduction: A Win-Win Situation
One of the primary highlights of the sustainability message was the emphasis on material reduction through the implementation of generative design techniques. Not only is material reduction beneficial for the environment, but it also leads to significant cost reductions. By utilizing generative design, companies can optimize the shape of individual components or larger assemblies to reduce weight and material usage,
while retaining strength and manufacturability.
The keynote presentation highlighted industrial machinery company Cummins as a case study of sustainable design, with a follow up presentation from their Director of Technology Strategy, David Genter. To progress towards their ‘Design for Sustainability’ targets, Cummins hired two specialist ‘Design Optimization’ engineers. These workers were made available to the various design departments within Cummins where their expertise was used to reduce material usage on parts by a typical 10-15%. The impact of even a onekilogram reduction on a component becomes magnified when applied across thousands of parts, resulting in substantial cost savings and environmental benefits. For Cummins, the annual cost savings from material
reduction were a factor of x5 bigger than the cost of the two new hires, with many tonnes of metal-ore left in the ground as a result.
Materials Database and Environmental Footprint
Integrating PTC software with materials information management software ANSYS Granta, was the second key message relating to sustainability and CO2 reductions. In addition to key material properties such as tensile strength, melting point, and so on, ANSYS Granta includes information on materials’ environmental footprints, such as carbon emissions and water usage. This integration enables manufacturers to understand how the sourcing and selection of materials affects the embedded environmental impact of their products. Increasingly, both governments and manufacturers are demanding transparency in material sourcing, with an emphasis on environmentally friendly production methods. This trend highlights the growing significance of sustainable material sourcing as a part of the manufacturing process.
While this is a welcome integration, there is potential for further improvement in this area. With the message of ‘design for sustainability’, the authors would like to see material carbon calculations included by default in all CAD software, at no extra cost. Just like the word count at the bottom of a word processor, every change to a CAD model should show sustainability metrics updated in real-time.
Measuring quantifiable environmental impacts like carbon footprint and water usage has become more standardized, but challenges remain in assessing less tangible factors such as disruptions to local communities, ecosystems, and biodiversity. Although quantifying these impacts is challenging, it is an area that requires attention and improvement. An Ansys representative at the conference acknowledged that this aspect is not yet fully addressed and remains a complex challenge for the industry.
End-of-Life Considerations and Circular Economy
The third major area of focus at the conference relates to the end-of-life phase of products and the associated challenges in achieving circularity. Although efforts have been made by some manufacturing companies (including Cummins) to incorporate modular parts and consider end-of-life options during the design stage, there is still room for improvement. Attaining genuine circularity necessitates enhanced processes for reusing, remanufacturing, and recycling products. A prominent example of this challenge lies in electric vehicle batteries, where complete recycling remains unrealized, and the environmental costs linked to lithium and rare earth metal mining are evident.
From a software perspective, PTC Chief Strategy & Sustainability Officer Catherine Kniker acknowledged that this aspect of sustainability is the ‘least digitally mature’. She sees regulation as a key driver for improvement in this area.
The PTC Live Works conference provided valuable insights into sustainability and material reduction within the manufacturing industry. By focusing on generative design techniques and material reduction, manufacturers can achieve cost savings while reducing their environmental impact. Integrating materials databases into the design process enables companies to make informed choices regarding sustainable sourcing. However, challenges related to quantifying the broader environmental impact of mining and achieving end-of-life circularity remain. Addressing these challenges will be essential as the industry strives towards carbon neutrality and a more sustainable future. Software vendors like PTC hold a pivotal role in driving and expediting the necessary changes.
PTC provided Cambashi with flights and accommodation to attend LiveWorx 2023. All Cambashi commentary and analysis is independent.
The images and slides used were all taken by Peter Maskell and Petra Gartzen