Manufacturing News

Manufacturing sustainably to drive profitability

Manufacturers in Australia face mounting pressures to not only increase productivity in the manufacturing process, but to ensure more sustainable manufacturing outcomes as well.

The sustainability of a manufacturer is measured by the effect of its operations and its products throughout their lifecycle.

However, the manufacturing process is resource-intensive by nature. Common sense dictates that using less materials, energy and water during production and reducing the amount of waste generated will help a business lower its costs and operational footprint.

In reality, however, some producers may be reluctant to modify familiar processes based on the chance that they can create the same quality product with fewer resources.

Two factors reduce the risk of updating a production process to improve its sustainability – one is using a proven methodology and the other, a proven technology.

Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma are well-known process improvement methodologies that target and eliminate waste to drive profitability; they usually improve the environmental performance of a process at the same time.

The other way to reduce risk is to take advantage of the latest CAD software technology. Businesses that use a design platform with digital prototyping capabilities can develop a single 3D model that evolves from concept through manufacturing.

The model allows the designer to evaluate opportunities to reduce environmental impact throughout the manufacturing process–for example, by reducing weld energy through optimisation of material thicknesses in an assembly.

Industrial equipment, consumer electronics, mobile phones-anything with an on/off switch–may consume many times more energy in a year than was consumed during its production or embedded in its raw materials.

In other cases, the choice of materials may be the most critical environmental factor associated with a product.

Both issues are of growing importance to customers, supply chain partners and regulators. Products with low eco-footprints offer a lower total cost of ownership, less chance of liability and fewer regulatory hurdles for producers and buyers alike.

Optimising for Outcomes

Sustainable design practitioners work backward and analyse the impact of materials choices and production processes on the product’s overall sustainability and the desired outcome.

Once the desired outcome is selected (such as lowering energy use during production by 20%), the design team can pick a strategy (reduce the number of heat-treating operations) and analyse the inputs and process steps to understand the impact of each on the outcome.

The team can then integrate all design data into a single digital model, streamlining the design process and improving communication. As the model develops it becomes a more accurate digital prototype of the product, reflecting the material attributes such as weight, strength and recycled content, and process attributes such as energy intensity and water consumption.

As the product design evolves from concept through engineering and on to production, it can be tested, modified and optimised to achieve the desired outcome. Sharing a digital model among multiple team members throughout the process helps keep them aligned and focused on achieving the intended result.

Regardless of the specific sustainable outcome and strategy selected, a digital prototype will save the design team time and money as it analyses and tests alternative options.

In many cases, the digital prototype can help predict the impact of the proposed change on the product’s characteristics and the energy consumed during its manufacture. Armed with such data, the design team can quickly and cost-effectively experiment with different material and process variables until it discovers the optimal combination.

Multiple options for the same product can be saved at any stage, from concept through manufacturing, allowing the team to pursue multiple strategies in parallel. If the market or regulatory environment changes, the product can quickly be optimised to meet the latest conditions.

The digital prototype reduces risk by allowing the design team to incorporate changes much later in the process, increasing design decision flexibility to support sustainable product strategies.

If a manufacturer chooses to design its product for disassembly, the digital prototype simplifies the analysis. By using the assembly design features in Autodesk’s Inventor software for example, the design team can examine the parts and the process needed to dismantle a product and repurpose its materials.

Digital prototyping offers even greater promise for the future, and design software will become an increasingly important tool in efforts to improve the sustainability of manufacturers.

By allowing designers to make better decisions in the early stages of product development, when they are most effective, future product capabilities may make it even easier and faster for manufacturers to design products that are resource-efficient, carbon neutral, healthy and safe.

* By Karsten Hojberg Director of Manufacturing Solutions, Autodesk Australia & NZ

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