NEW RESEARCH: How to build sustainability into product design
Designers and engineers tend to focus on cost and quality when developing new products. But they don’t always consider sustainability.
Now, a new study out of Concordia is set to change all that.
A team of researchers at the university has developed a methodological approach that enables engineers to build sustainability requirements into the earliest stages of the design process.
“The earlier, the better,” says Nadia Bhuiyan, a professor in the Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Aerospace Engineering and vice-provost of Partnerships and Experiential Learning.
“It’s best done while they’re making design trade-offs that fix 70 per cent of the product’s cost, early on in the product development process.”
Bhuiyan is a co-author of an article recently published on the method in The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology, along with lead author Meysam Salari (PhD 2017), for whom Bhuiyan acted as advisor.
“Our model is actually able to make trade-offs that consider sustainability, cost and quality. None of the other existing models do that, to our knowledge,” Bhuiyan says.
“Other models might look at one cost versus another, but we’re designing sustainability right into the design process, alongside the traditional measures of cost and quality.”
Three methods in one
The mathematical model that Salari and Bhuiyan have come up with combines three well-known methodologies: quality function deployment (QFD), multi-attribute utility theory (MAUT) and analytic hierarchy process (AHP).
The combination allows designers to weigh various trade-offs across three factors: cost, quality and sustainability.
“All engineers have to make trade-offs during the design stage,” says Bhuiyan. “Whether you’re talking about a car, an airplane or a coffee maker, that’s the best time to address environmental impact and consider it a customer requirement on par with cost and quality.”
The mathematical model, however, can appear to be complex and daunting — even for engineers. It is something Bhuiyan believes could hinder its adaptation in industry.
“Next, we need to make it more accessible by putting it into an easily understandable format, perhaps by coding the model in a software solution that does the calculations automatically.”
Bhuiyan highlights the general misconception in industry that sustainable design will be expensive for the manufacturer, or will compromise the quality of the product.
“We now know it’s not necessarily true. For example, setting a goal of reducing the use of non-renewable resources in the design of a product can lead to simplified design,” she says”
“This, in turn, can reduce complexity of manufacture. As the complexity of a product increases, so too does the potential for defects during production.”
For this reason, she points out, sustainable design often translates to increased product and process quality.
“And the subsequent use of less material is not only better for the environment, it also keeps transportation costs down. So, several benefits can emerge.”
In the meantime, Bhuiyan hopes engineers and designers will keep thinking of environmental impact as a customer requirement — one that’s just as important as cost and quality.
“With growing concern over climate change, making more sustainable products helps boost a company’s reputation and its image,” says Bhuiyan. “That can only be good for the bottom line.”
Read Salari and Bhuiyan’s published study, A new model of sustainable product development process for making trade-offs.