Integrating LCA and CAD for Sustainable Product Design

The concept of sustainability and being environmentally friendly continues to be a focus in the manufacturing industry. It is now commonly accepted that designing products with sustainability in mind is good for the environment, consumers, brands, and business.

While many businesses are striving to be environmentally friendly as a show of corporate responsibility, growing government regulation may make it required. The European Union has made certain product design decisions mandatory, and it will not be long before other countries follow suit. Accounting for these requirements and the negative environmental impact of products can be cumbersome and costly. It is more effective to build sustainability into the product design to prevent negative outcomes when they are already on the market.

To meet this demand, it is imperative that sustainability is built into the product design from the beginning. One way to implement this is through the use of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) principles. LCA takes into account the entire life of a product into account, such as material selection, manufacturing processes, product use, energy consumption, transportation, and end of life issues. Reviewing product design at this level, LCA assists designers in assessing product development. Ultimately, this helps them make environmentally friendly decisions.

LCA Challenges
Despite being a powerful enabler in environmentally friendly design, integrating CAD/CAE with LCA presents challenges. The most serious challenge is the fact that there is a significant difference between the two. CAD/CAE is an iterative process, while LCA is an evaluation technique.

Product specifications and other factors continually evolve during the design phase; evaluating this moving target can be difficult. Therefore, LCA review is not as effective in the early stages of design. It is most effective as the design nears its final iteration. LCA is most beneficial when comparing options at a specific decision point. This is a key factor in achieving sustainability.

Integrating LCA Principles
Sustainable Brands is a learning, collaboration, and commerce community of over 348,000 sustainable business leaders from around the world. They list six requirements for integrating LCA principles into product design:

  • Initiate design with eco-design principles
  • Recognize iterative process of design
  • Allow designers to easily access and aggregate data about the impact of materials
  • Provide sufficient accuracy to make LCA information useful
  • Store collective design knowledge and make it universally available
  • Incorporate costs associated with alternate designs

Integrating LCA into the basic CAD/CAE design process is not easy, but striving to do so is critical if we hope to reduce the environmental footprint of products that are being created.