Riversimple’s Rasa

Sustainable design and product lifecycle management: setting new standards

Image credit: Riversimple

If we accept that manufacturers only build what people want to buy, how do conflicting pressures between cost, performance, quality, longevity and sustainability balance themselves within a manufacturer’s portfolio? Can environmental factors ever prevail? If so, it is time to take sustainable design seriously. New standards are in the pipeline to add structure to the discipline.

Whether the brief for the engineering and design teams is to be green, eco-friendly or sustainable in their work, there’s a lack of definition of what that actually means. It has long been the case that companies have used trees, leaves, pandas et al on their packaging to enhance their green credentials. The most common refer to what can be recycled while others demonstrate adherence to some guidelines. For example, the Forest Stewardship Council logo means that the manufacturer has used wood or wood-based products taken from sustainably managed forests.

All of these are good but limited. What is now focusing minds is what ‘sustainable design’ really means. Wood taken from a sustainably managed forest is one thing, but if that wood is then transported across the globe to where it is made into an end product, and possibly then makes another long journey to its marketplace, its environmental footprint is a whole lot bigger than if it is grown (sustainably) near both manufacturer and market.

When it comes to minerals the situation is far more extreme, as minerals are often found in the most difficult of places and require a lot of processing, often with undesirable by-products, even before they are ready to enter the lifecycle of the end product.

Further are issues about how long a product lasts in operational life, is it environmentally sound in performance, and to what extent can it, or parts of it, be reused or recycled at the end of life. It is a difficult balance, particularly as all these drivers are often going in different directions. A car that is made of carbon fibre is light and therefore requires less fuel to run, but carbon fibre is not recyclable. However, to build a car that lasts a long time – the longer the better, from the environmental perspective – can mean bulking up the structure, making it heavier, therefore requiring more materials, a bigger engine and creating more pollution. True product lifecycle management (PLM) is a complex issue. So where does an engineer start with creating a sustainable design?


Surprisingly, there is not a single software design environment that covers this cradle-to-grave approach. David Falkingham, senior director professional channel for Northern Europe at Solidworks, says: “People must make sure they are looking at the whole picture – manufacturing close to market, using recycled materials, considering obsolence. They need to make customers aware of what they are doing so they can make informed choices.”

A starting point for Falkingham’s customers is Solidworks Sustainability. “If you select a material or part from the database it gives you an indication of how green that product is,” he continues. “It can cover a component, a material, an entire assembly. You can factor in the extraction process, the mineral processing and the transportation to you. But it only takes it up to your point of manufacture; where you go from there is up to you.”

Equally. Siemens PLM Software has a solution called IMM, Integrated Material Management, which sits within its Teamcenter PLM platform. It views all parts as a material and assesses the environmental impact up to the point of specification, but also classifies according to end-of-life reusability, recyclability or disposal requirements.

“The importance of sustainable design has been growing rapidly in the last two years,” says Bob Haubrock, senior vice president NX, Siemens PLM Software, “even in countries like the United States that don’t lately think so much about the environment, I’m sad to say. There are increasing government laws and corporate philosophies, but the driver in the US is liability. If you have toxic materials in your product, what is the producer’s liability?

“I would say it is very prevalent throughout the motor industry and high-end consumer electronics companies, less so in areas like machinery. Most automotive companies have groups who simplify the classifications down and give their designers a ‘goodness scale’. They tell the designers the things they can and can’t use. In these circumstances it is not the designer who will make the overall decisions about the environmental performance; they are more concerned with individual parts or assemblies.”

One automotive company that is guided by an overall environmental philosophy is Riversimple, whose leadership team don’t regard themselves as car makers, but as providers of mobility. It is a fundamental change of position that completely alters the design parameters of the car. Hydrogen-powered cars will be offered under a mobility contract, typically for a one- to three-year period with a fixed monthly fee and a usage rate – much like mobile phones.

Founder Hugo Spowers says: “That principally changes our [design] drivers from obsolescence into longevity because, for us, it’s a revenue-generating asset on our balance sheet and the longer we can keep generating revenue the better. It also turns our interest from high running costs, selling spare parts, to low running costs because we’re paying for all of those running costs.”

Automotive manufacturers have had little incentive to improve fuel efficiency, as customers historically have been reluctant to pay a premium for it, but Riversimple’s model of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) needs reliable cars that last, and the more fuel-efficient they are the more profit the manufacturer can make. Spowers envisages that the fixed rate will be around £370 a month with mileage charged at 18p. This will compare favourably with a VW diesel Golf.

“It also future-proofs our business because it makes us less dependent on commodity prices and resource shortages – whether it’s oil or copper or platinum or whatever. Because we don’t sell the car, we gradually build up greater and greater reserves of capital resources,” adds Spowers.

The Rasa car has an ‘ultra-efficient’ design and is powered by a fuel cell. Trials will start in Abergavenny, Wales, in 2018, where Riversimple will provide a fuelling point. Further roll-out is expected the year after.

This sustainable approach is rarely adopted according to Professor Martin Charter, director of the Centre for Sustainable Design at the University for the Creative Arts. “I always look at sustainability as the so-called bottom line. The mass of work that you’ve seen in the design side has been, in my opinion, not sustainable design but eco design. It’s been much more focused on the environmental and the economic side, rather than the social damage. Very few organisations have fully integrated the three components with sustainability, design and development.”

One thing that may bring some conformity is a pair of ISO eco design standards that are in development at the moment. One is ISO 14006, for which Charter chairs the working group. This is a guidance standard about how to integrate eco design into environmental management systems (EMS) such as ISO 14001. It was originally published in 2011 but it’s been going through its revision process, with publication planned for the end of 2018 or early 2019.

Charter says: “It is very much a standard aimed at environmental managers on how you bring eco design into EMS. It has become more of an issue because in the latest ISO 14001:2015, products and lifecycle were mentioned for the first time. Previously it was very much about environmental management systems that were geared towards manufacturing systems. Product didn’t really come into the scope.”

The second standard, ISO 19991 –Environmental Conscious Design, will cover how to do eco design at an operational design level. It sprang out of IEC 62430, which is targeted at the electrical and electronics sectors, and is applicable to all new and modified products including all the materials, components and materials in the components.

“What this does is broaden the scope of the standard to cover all products in all sectors,” Charter explains. “Essentially the idea is to provide guidance to those involved in the design and development process about what sort of issues you need to consider when you’re designing and developing your products and services – from materials used, operational life to end-of-life reuse or disposal.”

Another set of standards is being created to facilitate implementation of the European Union’s Circular Economy Package. With sustainability as its core objective it sets ambitious recycling targets (75 per cent of packaging by 2030, for example), but a key aspect is the use of PLM techniques, including a range of standards to guide designers. There will be 19 of these standards, covering issues surrounding a product’s durability, upgradeability and ability to repair, re-use and remanufacture. They are not intended to be product-specific but horizontal so that vertical product legislation can tap into them.

Chair of the of CEN-CENELEC committee creating these standards is Richard Hughes, who is also technical manager of the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances (AMDEA). Hughes explains how this matrix of standards and regulations affects his members. “Our members all need to comply with various EU regulations under the Ecodesign Directive and similarly the Energy Labelling Directive [now an EU Regulation]. These EU laws will, in the future, include requirements for material efficiency and these standards will support those laws.”

Sustainable design appears to be gathering momentum. These two suites of standards, coupled with increasing PLM capabilities in the design software, could help turn ‘green’ design into something more meaningful. 

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