Designing for sustainability with Autodesk

Designing a better world

“The message that I like to get across is we as a company really see sustainability as a design challenge; as a matter of fact when I spoke yesterday at the conference I sort of challenged everyone in the audience to consider themselves as being a designer,” explained Jake Layes, Autodesk’s head of sustainability and clean technology for Asia Pacific.

“For anybody who is involved within the greater manufacturing or professional world, any time you are intentionally changing the world you are essentially using tools that a designer would use as well.”

Layes spoke to Manufacturers’ Monthly during a stretch of four sustainability conferences in a week in Canberra in early October. Despite the new government’s pledge to do away with the former Labor administration’s Clean Technology Program in a bid to save $400 million, Layes and Autodesk believe that sustainable innovation has a bright future in Australia.

He believes it will only become more important as time goes by, for engineers and everybody else on the globe.

“Whether you’re managing teams, businesses, assets, whether you’re an architect or engineer or industrial designer you’re intentionally trying to shape the world for the better,” said Layes.

“When we as a company speak about a better world, we mean a world that in 2050 will be 9 billion people, living on the planet, and a better world is where the 9 billion people are living within their means and the limits of the planet and can live well.”

As part of US-based software giant’s quest to improve the world, it expanded its Clean Tech Partner Program – which started in 2009 – to Australia and New Zealand this year. The program offers successful applicants up to $150,000 of Autodesk’s software for $50.

The design phase is crucial for how efficiently a product will operate. According to Layes, 80 per cent of the environmental impact of a product gets determined in the design phase.

Making grey water useful

One example of successful sustainable innovation in Australia is Nexus eWater. The Canberran maker of water heating and treating systems – featured in Manufacturers’ Monthly earlier this year – enables its customers to reuse what’s usually considered wastewater.

Grey water accounts for about 70 per cent of water used in homes. Through Nexus’s innovations, recycled grey water can have its waste component converted into heat energy.

Nexus was also Australia’s first participant in the Partner Program.


“They have developed an onsite device for domestic installations and this product essentially harnesses the power of grey water and reduces water heating costs by up to 75 per cent,” said Layes.

Nexus used Autodesk Inventor to build a virtual tank for grey water.

“And using our product to simplify, simulate, visualise, and optimise, the product was built and this process took them much less time than building a prototype, which is very costly and takes a lot of time to make, and if you make a physical prototype you need to make another one, which is another expensive exercise to do,” said Layes.

Engineering the future

Nexus were one of 30 semi-finalists (from a field of 150) in the Australian Cleantech Competition – run by the Clean Technologies Supplier Advocate and sponsored by Autodesk – with the winners announced on October 2. The overall champion was BluGlass Ltd, a semiconductor technology company

The clean technology industry that Nexus and Bluglass belong to represents a significant part of the economy, with the Australian Cleantech Review published in March calculating the sector’s value at $29 billion.

Layes believes that there is a strong and growing global demand for sustainable technology solutions, and cited a recent HSBC report suggesting the industry will be worth over $2 trillion by 2020.

With or without government input, Autodesk can only see the importance of sustainability in product design increasing.

“Any reduction in support for clean tech industries is unfortunate, but business opportunities in this sector have not been artificially inflated by government funding,” said Layes.

“While government support may be unavailable under the new administration, clean tech innovators in Australia can still turn to other sources of support, such as programs run by private companies and the international clean tech community.

He cited the company’s Partner Program, as well as programs such as the GE ecomagination challenge, and returned to the ambitious business of helping Autodesk users make the world a better place.

“Autodesk is looking at driving behavioural change to make sustainable design easy and accessible and effective,” he said.

“So for us this is where we can have the biggest impact, to provide tools to our users to help them create a better world. If we have the possibility to put better tools in the hands of our users, together we can overcome these epic challenges in sustainability."

For more on the Autodesk's Clean Tech Partner Program, click here.



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