Sustainability Awareness at the Part Level

SolidWorks World 2010 introduced a utility integrated into SolidWorks 2010 that was built in partnership with PE International called SustainabilityXpress (code name "SAGE"). This would enable SolidWorks users to assess the environmental impact of a part's material selection, manufacturing processes as well as transportation impacts associated with the region of manufacture to region of use. SustainabilityXpress (SusX), like many "Xpress" tools in SolidWorks, is used to bring awareness of a technology and/or services that may give insight to certain aspects of design. SolidWorks has quite an "Xpress" list, however this tool could be the first step to an overall understanding of sustainability principals at the global level.

Let's face it, sustainability is typically not at the forefront of our minds when we design because we are honed in on F^3 (fit, form and function) as well as production costs (materials and manufacturing). Since SusX does not take into account these design aspects in it's evaluation, may critics has pitched negative comments toward the tool expressing that if SusX does not determine the costs associated with "Greener" processes and/or material selections then it's value proposition is missing. Obviously cost is a major decision factor when it comes to how a product will be manufactured however additional insight can be a good thing.

Take simulation/FEA tools for example. When these tools first hit the market, many were skeptical that a computer could give advice on design shape or material selection. The term "When it doubt, built it stout" was a successful approach however the amount of material cost that could be eliminated by a better structural shape that uses less material led to a more efficient product design in the end. We all know how that is playing out in today's design landscape.

SustainabilityXpress gives the user a better (green) or worse (red) assessment to choose locations, materials and manufacturing processes that are better than the previous selection. You will still be required to do your homework on cost differences in the material or processes, but using each as a control variable you can determine a selection within budget that is more environmentally friendly.

One tool of SusX that seems to be getting praise is the "Find Similar Material" option. It allows the user to select search criteria for materials that match (any, greater than, less than or approximate) to the material's physical properties like density, yield strength, thermal expansion, and alike. Whether you use this tool for the live environmental impact dashboard below it or just a great tool to find an alternate material that better meets your needs, it is at least worth a look.

SustainabilityXpress is available on the SolidWorks LABS site for download and for a great review and layout of the interface, check out SolidSmack for his recent post on SusX. Remember, awareness starts small and giving all SolidWorks users another tool to help evaluate design decisions inside the CAD tool is a great first step. ~Lou