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Aiming for sustainable automotive designs

Posted: 04 Dec 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:sustainable automotive? automotive designs? green automotive design?

Consumers, investors and governments have spoken. With motivations ranging from the personal (fuel costs) to the planetary (carbon impact), the message to the automakers is a clear call for vehicles with higher fuel efficiency and lower emissions. Legislation in both the European Union and the United States backs up these demands. EU regulations are forcing a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions by 2015, for example, while the U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard requires a steadily increasing fuel efficiency average to 35 mpg by 2020.

Automakers and their suppliers are feeling pressure to become more "green," or environmentally friendly. But having a green product doesn't really do any good if it costs so much that people don't want to buy it, or it doesn't meet the practical needs of consumers.

That's why the term "sustainable" is now being applied to the environmental conversation. It's not good enough to be green. Automakers and suppliers must be green in a way that is cost-effective and balanced against other requirements to deliver value and minimize the impact across the entire product lifecycle.

Finding the right balance between these three aspectsenvironmental, social and economicis what defines a sustainable product.

Balanced sustainability
How do we find that balance? There are a number of actions automakers and suppliers can take. They are found throughout the product life cycle, and the technology exists to implement them today. Here are some of the most critical.

? Target sustainability in portfolio and requirements planning. Automakers and suppliers should establish environmental objectives alongside other performance and cost targets. Considering a product's entire life cycle in the planning stage and capturing the service/disassembly processes as well as recyclability and disposal (and their associated costs) will ensure more sustainable choices at the start of the development process.

? Give consumers the information they need to make good decisions. Most of the cost of developing a product is committed up front, in the design process, when engineers and designers make critical decisions that commit resources later in the process. This is also true of sustainability decisions. Whether it is deciding between the long-term recyclability of two materials or the carbon footprints of two manufacturing facilities or suppliers, the ability to evaluate alternatives quickly and effectively promotes sustainable products from initial concept.

? As product evolve and enter a formal change process, engineers need to be able to assess the impact of proposed changes, including environmental impact, before changes are approved. In short, managing the product development process to successfully develop sustainable products requires a solid information management foundation that can support milestone or gate reviews, and account for the environmental assessments and deliverables. Dashboards showing design status relative to environmental objectives, cost and quality targets are useful tools, as are workflow management systems that can track sustainability issues across multiple departments and processes.

? Design for sustainabilityEffective weight and materials management throughout the product development process are key to meeting regulatory requirements, fuel economy and emissions targets. Something as simple as the ability to roll up the weight in a bill of material supports a quick practice that helps improve fuel economy. Also, fast access to information about materialstheir source, the processes used to produce them, their effect on fuel economy, how parts made of the various materials will be serviced and how they will be recovered and recycledhelps engineers narrow possible choices to create a design that excites consumers while meeting environmental regulations and cost targets.

? Systems engineering practices help companies use the right processes to ensure that trade-offs are considered and the right design approach is ultimately chosen. In addition, it's important to create a structure within which all of the new (green) design variables can be captured and managed, and more importantly, connected to the rest of the product definition. Ideally, a design team would access environmental datadifferent materials' total carbon footprints, for examplefrom the same product information database that stores existing designs, documents, specifications, models and test results.

? Virtual prototyping is already helping automakers and suppliers arrive at optimized product designs early in the development process and with fewer physical models. This practice (computer simulation of everything from individual parts to assemblies) supports sustainability efforts in a number of ways. First, it allows automakers and suppliers to run "what-if" scenarios early in the design process to make better choices between green design alternatives. Second, when design data from various sources can be combined to form virtual assemblies, it spares resources that would otherwise be needed to build physical assemblies.

? Optimize and validate manufacturing processes virtually. Before spending capital on facilities, equipment and tools, automakers and suppliers can use factory simulation software to determine how to best lay out a plant to minimize use of land, water and energy while reducing scrap. Potential worker ergonomic and safety issues can be eliminated early in the process design through simulation and analysis. Plant assets can be tracked throughout their life to ensure timely maintenance for optimal performance as well as decommissioning and recycling/disposal.

? Monitor the supply chain for sustainability. Automakers must ensure that their suppliers embrace sustainable practices as well, both in the Tier One suppliers' own operations and in their sub-tier suppliers. To do this, automakers and suppliers need a globally accessible environment in which extended design and manufacturing teams can collaborate. In addition, they need formal processes for managing supplier relationships and identifying companies with environmentally-friendly components and processes, such as surveys to assess and track supplier capabilities and supplier "green" score cards that can help teams quickly determine the impact of supplier choice on the product's sustainability.

Other practices include evaluating final bills of material for compliance with environmental regulations. Actions such as these can identify supply chain non-compliance issues before they make it into production.

- Dave Taylor
Senior Director
Automotive Industry Marketing
Siemens PLM Software

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