Archive for the 'Sustainability' Category

EcoDesigner: LCA Plugin for Solid Edge

I’ve posted on similar tools from Sustainable Minds and Sustainability Xpress for SolidWorks, and now entering the Lifecycle Assessment (LCA) arena is EcoDesigner. EcoDesigner is a plugin for Solid Edge and was developed by Trayak, a consulting and software solutions company that focuses on product sustainability. The folks over at SolidSmack spoke to Prashant Jagtap of Trayak to get the deets on EcoDesigner and what makes it unique among other competing products.

Very few designers are aware of the environmental impact of their product designs. If designers are able to understand the baseline environmental footprints of their products and can analyze what can be done to reduce these it would drastically improve the overall sustainable aspects of design. 

I’ve been asking for more case studies to demonstrate the real-world applicability and viability of these tools and Prashant agrees that there is no easy way to “optimize” material choice using multiple properties. We need to use many more parameters that are relevant and important besides the existing LCA indicators. This is a huge problem requiring us to simultaneously solve for multiple parameters to be successful. But with software like EcoDesigner and those like it, we’re moving (albeit slowly) towards smarter product design.

[Read the entire SolidSmack interview here]

Polypropylene Composite Materials

Rain Noe (AKA hipstomp) at Core77 ran a few articles last week that featured a rather interesting flavor of composite materials. What sounds like a contradiction in terms, polypropylene composites combine the ballistic properties we typically associate with traditional glass-fiber composites with the low density, high impact and abrasion resistance of polypropylene. Hipstomp’s first example is Tegris, a polypropylene thermoplastic composite developed by textile and chemical giant Milliken for use in lifesaving armor, NASCAR race cars and protective gear for NFL players. Baggage manufacturer Tumi is now using this material in their new Tegra-Lite collection, starting with a pair of carry-ons (above).

A few days after his initial post, Hipstomp was turned on to Pure, the same type of material manufactured by Dutch textiles manufacturer The Royal Lankhorst Euronete Group. In both products, this material starts with co-extruded tapes that consist of a highly oriented, high strength and high modulus polypropylene core and a specially formulated skin on both sides for welding the tapes together in a compaction process using a hot-press or continuous belt press. This tape can be used as-is or woven into fabric or sheets or laminated onto structural panels like foam or honeycomb substrates from which you can construct a wide range of products. But it’s this ability to mold this material by compressing and heating it so that it bonds to itself that I find so interesting.

Pure has a very nice illustration of this process:

Click to go to the Pure Technology page.

One of the key advantages to considering this type of composite is that in addition to being strong and lightweight, these materials are 100% polypropylene (the inner PP fiber core and the outer layer of PP that is heat fused) and therefore can be fully recycled. This is in sharp contrast to traditional composites using a thermoset polyester resin to lock glass or carbon fibers together and can’t be re-melted or separated. They refer to this as a “mono-material concept” since heating the material to melt temperature results in just polypropylene resin.

Of course there will be times when you don’t want your composites to soften or melt under high-heat situations, but this new technology provides new opportunities for designers who think they need a composite, but are looking for a more sustainable solution.

[via Core77 Tegris article and Pure article]

Bioplastics Fueled by Sugar Cane Trash

A Renmatix employee pours sugar liquor produced from woody biomass with the company's water-based Plantrose process. (Source: Renmatix)

Plastics and chemical giant BASF is betting on a process that converts plant waste materials to sugars that form a major ingredient of biofuels and bioplastics.

The German company has invested $30 million in US-based Renmatix, whose Plantrose process can turn lignocellulosic biomass — such as wood, straw, or cane trash — into large volumes of cost-competitive industrial sugars. Since the process does not use edible plant biomass as a feedstock, such as corn for ethanol, it does not compete with the production of food for people or feed for animals.

Industrial sugars are a key element of bio-based chemicals and fuels, including polypropylene and polyethylene, and can produce these substances via fermentative processes. However, celluose sugars are extremely tough to break down.

Check out this flash animation describing the process (mouse over the individual stages):

[Read the full article at Design News]

Bresslergroup Innovates Greener Shipping Reel

I know, you’re asking “What the heck is a shipping reel?”. I was asking the same thing. Turns out that wooden reels have been used for decades as the preferred solution for wire shipping, but its inefficient design makes them very difficult and cost prohibitive to ship back because they take up so much space. KALAS Wire, a wire and cable assembly manufacturer was facing increased pressure to reduce some of their operating costs. They hired Bresslergroup to focus on one of their biggest operating costs –the cost of wooden shipping reels used to ship millions of tons of wire and cables across the continental US.

Our assumption that a single plastic reel would be better than a single wooden reel, was also challenged by the life span we planned for this product and the series of Sustainable Minds LCAs we conducted. Our final solution ended up being different than we had imagined, a system of multiple wooden flanges and a single plastic core, with a lifespan that exceeded original expectations.

Here’s what they ended up with:

Their engineering analysis led Bresslergroup to realize that the ultimate reel should not be made only from plastic, but a combination of wood and plastic.  It was counter-intuitive, but made sense from a structural standpoint, and added up from an environmental impact stand point. Sustainable Minds has posted a webinar case study featuring Mathieu Terpault from Bresslergroup:

The benefits go beyond this reel in that the firm has awoken KALAS’ environmental conciseness and inspired the company to look at other ways to improve their “environmental performance.” Now there’s an example of a design firm completely changing they their client thinks and behaves.

So what do you think? Have you been considering a tool like Sustainable Minds to add to your tool belt? What’s been you experience? What were the deciding factors behind that decision?

Also see my article about SM’s other case study on fredsparks’ new eyeware line, info on IDSA’s OKALA Guide and a discount on an SM subscription for IDSA members.

[Full text of Sustainable Minds’ case study]

fredsparks Creates Greener Specs Using SM

The team at ID firm fredsparks in St. Louis used green product design software Sustainable Minds to develop the new Misura Eyewear. They used the SM tool to evaluate concept decisions early in the process, allowing them to capture an equity stake in a start up business developing sustainable reading eyewear. The product line is due out this month. So what was their experience using Sustainable Minds?

The business driver for using Sustainable Minds, however, goes beyond ‘the right thing to do.’ As consumer desire to make more socially and environmentally-conscious purchasing decisions continues to grow, we see a future for design that requires knowledge of lifecycle design, and of sustainable design strategies.

Sustainable Minds has published their case study as a webinar featuring Ken Harris from fredsparks:

So one question I have been asking is: does using this tool really make a difference and are clients willing to pay for this kind of in-depth research and integration of sustainability into the design process?

Being an early adopter of Sustainable Minds in the ID consulting arena – we have an opportunity to lead. Often, we find that our ability to offer our clients sustainable design solutions opens doors with them, even if the first project is not expressly a sustainable design initiative.

A couple of interesting notes about Sustainable Minds: First, Sustainable Minds’ life cycle impact assessment (LCA) methodology contains a next generation dataset based originally on the Okala 2007 impact factors, a module in the Okala curriculum guide. The guide was developed under the auspices of IDSA, through financial support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Design for the Environment Program, Eastman Chemical Company and the Whirlpool Corporation. If you’d like to get more information and download the 2010 edition, you can find it here.

Second, for those of you who are IDSA members (including educators and students), you can get a discount on a SM subscription. More information, with the discount codes, can be found here.

So what do you think? Does it seem viable and valuable to you as a designer? I’m watching how this and other tool like it are being adopted by the design community.

[Sustainable Minds case study (full text)]

Seventh Generation Cardboard Laundry Detergent Bottle

Must a bottle be made of plastic? This fall, Seventh Generation began a new path: Its Natural 4X Laundry Detergent is shipping in recycled (and recyclable) bottles made of cardboard lined with a thin recyclable plastic pouch, manufactured by Ecologic Brands. From Ecologic’s FaceBook page:

Our new bottle features a rugged, fully-recyclable and even compostable outer shell made from 70 percent recycled cardboard fibers and 30 percent old newspaper fibers that supports a recyclable lightweight plastic pouch inside. By using 66 percent less plastic than typical 100 ounce 2X detergent bottles, the new container allows consumers to conserve effortlessly.

To see what’s saved, follow the life cycles of both plastic and the new paper pulp containers. This graphic is from Emma Haak’s article in the Dec/Jan issue of Fast Company:

[via Fast Company]

Recompute: The sustainable cardboard PC

I know these have been out for a while now. But I just wanted to add it to my blog for those doing searches for sustainable product inspiration. This one’s a pretty good example…

As a design thesis project at the University of Houston, Brenden Macaluso attempted to answer the question “What is sustainability and design mean?.” Recompute is the result of constant observation and asking questions that few had the answer to. Using a methodology that looks at the entire object life cycle, Brenden looked at all kinds of materials that would lead to a better solution. Cardboard was at the extreme end of the materials spectrum, but if it could be made of cardboard and it worked it would do two things: First, it would validate the methodology and concept. Second, it shows that more conservative materials could be substituted in place of cardboard.

A cardboard electronic device like this can make some nervous, but a combination of proper airflow, component placement and non-toxic UL tested flame retardant makes this product safe. Besides, cardboard as a material is extremely heat resistant. The ignition point of cardboard from heat is 800° Fahrenheit and most of the common plastics used in traditional designs melt at much lower temperatures.

This is an excellent example of how design coupled with materials and manufacturing can move a product in a completely new direction. Check out their website for additional information and videos about the materials and design process that went into developing Recompute.

[Recompute website]


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