November 23, 2009
SolidWorks Launches Sustainable Design Donation Program
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Dassault Systèmes (DS) SolidWorks Corp. has launched a donation program to promote environmental sustainability among designers of products as simple as water bottles and as complex as industrial machinery.

SolidWorks will donate $1 for every download of its
SolidWorks SustainabilityXpress solution, up to $10,000, to
Formula Hybrid, an international competition of university engineering students to develop high-performance fuel-electric hybrid vehicles. SolidWorks SustainabilityXpress is professional-grade software providing advanced functionality that aids engineers in determining a product’s carbon footprint, energy consumption, air and water impact. By downloading SolidWorks SustainabilityXpress, engineers and designers will help educate the next
generation about environmentally friendly design while gaining a tool to help them create “green” designs today. SolidWorks’ goal with this new program is to spread the idea that any product can be designed with the lowest possible environmental impact.

“Environmentally sound principles apply to every product, not just those we automatically think of as ‘green,’ like wind turbines and solar cells,” said Rick Chin, SolidWorks director of product innovation. “A water bottle can be designed around environmental principles if the engineer considers the material they use, how much of it they use, how and where it’s manufactured, and what happens when the bottle isn’t useful anymore. Is it made of injection-molded plastic? Or formed aluminum? Those are the kind of basic decisions that any product designer can make to reduce the environmental impact of their designs, given the right tools and the right mindset.”

SolidWorks’ donation will help offset the cost of Formula Hybrid’s annual May competition, where students from North America, Europe, and Asia test their designs for speed and fuel economy in a professional-style race. Last year’s winning team, from Texas A&M University, used SolidWorks to design its vehicle. Formula Hybrid Deputy Director Wynne Washburn said “Putting sustainability tools like this into the hands of engineers/designers at the earliest stages of the design process is innovative, forward thinking, and vitally important for the future of all product and process design.

“SustainabilityXpress will aid in student’s decision making process regarding sustainability and life-cycle of any one component and/or material that is used in building their plug-in hybrid or electric vehicles for the Formula Hybrid Competition. This product gets students thinking, from the very beginning of the process, about where their resources are coming from,” Washburn said. “If they know a certain material is created through a process that’s not environmentally sustainable while an alternative material is sustainable, they can decide to use the sustainable material. Today, issues of sustainability are critical; this tool sheds light into an area where, previously,
there has been very little information.”

Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor

Sustainability and the issues surrounding it seem to be the catch phrases and buzzwords around the MCAD community this year. Next to direct, history-free modeling, sustainability in design is definitely one of the major MCAD trends for 2009.

These days sustainability goes by many names, including “green”, “natural”, “organic”, “socially responsible” and other terms that regard the environment around us as a fundamental part of the strategic product planning and development process. No manufacturer or manufactured product has yet attained 100% sustainability, but there are several attempting to do so, and it may soon be possible, at least technologically.

When it comes right down to it, the concept of sustainability involves two fundamental concepts:

Pollution Prevention -- Reducing, managing, and ultimately eliminating pollution throughout the product development process.

Resource Recovery -- Redesigning systems so that resources are recovered to be re-used, reconditioned, or otherwise completely recycled.

Back in my earlier days as an industrial designer, product aesthetics always seemed to take a back seat to cost. Sustainability was whispered, but not really seriously discussed in most product development meetings – “Cost was king.”

That all changed for me personally, however, when I met a very innovative designer and teacher by the name of Victor Papanek. He became a strong advocate of the socially and ecologically responsible design of products, tools, and community infrastructures. He disapproved of manufactured products that were unsafe, showy, maladapted, or essentially useless. His products, writings, and lectures were collectively considered an example and inspiration to many designers with regard to sustainability. Papanek was a philosopher of design and was an eloquent promoter of design aims and approaches that would be sensitive to social and ecological considerations. He wrote that "design has become
the most powerful tool with which man shapes his tools and environments (and, by extension, society and himself)."

I read his last book, published in 1995 and entitled The Green Imperative: Natural Design For The Real World, and was greatly influenced by it. In the book, he proposes that designers are the ones who will ultimately influence the design profession and end users of their products as to their ecological responsibilities. He said to design responsibly – for need not greed. These are thoughts I carry with me to this day as I design and purchase products.

Moving ahead to 2009, I’ve been impressed especially by how sustainability issues are being addressed in both SolidWorks 2010 and Autodesk Inventor 2010, both MCAD applications that I have seen evolve and am experienced with. What SolidWorks is doing with its sustainability donation program is just another example of how its community adds value to its users and the MCAD arena at large.

What was a Labs project/product earlier this year, in SolidWorks 2010, Sustainability Xpress helps you understand and improve the environmental impact of designs.

When determining the environmental impact of a product, SolidWorks’ Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) capability looks at everything that happens in the production, use, and final disposal of a product. This includes all the transportation that occurs between the stages. Decisions on the material used and how it is manufactured can result in vastly different effects on the environment. SustainabilityXpress shows you these impacts and helps you to improve a design from an environmental standpoint.

With the Environmental Dashboard in SustainabilityXpress, when evaluating all of the stages of a product’s lifcycle, four environmental impacts are measured:

  • Carbon Footprint – production of greenhouse gasses

  • Total Energy Consumed – self explanatory

  • Effect on Air – specifically the contributor to acid rain

  • Effect on Water – which results in algae blooms in coastal waters

    The values for these impacts update in real-time as changes are made to a design, promoting design decisions that are more sustainable and better for the environment.

    Material selection is an important contributor to determining the environmental impact of a design. It is also important in all other aspects of design. This is the reasoning behind SustainabilityXpress that includes Find Similar (material). It lets you search the built-in material database for close alternatives to your current material.

    Now, let’s take a quick look at Autodesk’s approach to sustainable design. (Also, see what Autodesk is doing from a corporate standpoint to reduce its environmental burden in “The Week’s Top 5” below).

    The Sustainable Materials Assistant for Autodesk Inventor is intended to help designers make more responsible material choices, reduce environmental impact, while meeting performance requirements. With the Sustainable Materials Assistant, designers can determine if their design contains toxic or recyclable materials, and estimate its carbon footprint throughout its lifecycle.

    The Sustainable Materials Assistant provides:

  • An expanded Inventor materials library with fields to add sustainability properties of commonly used materials

  • Sustainability reports to analyze and document the environmental impact of selected materials

  • Capabilities to calculate the carbon footprint of your entire design

    The Sustainability Materials Assistant includes two key aspects:

    • Autodesk Inventor software users can add their own sustainability data into the Inventor materials library through a Sustainable Materials Editor tool. Properties include:


    -Carbon Footprint


    -Regulatory Information

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    -- Jeff Rowe, Contributing Editor.

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